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HTANI Annual Field Trip –Historic Plantation Landscapes

The sun was out for our annual HTANI field trip on Saturday. The theme of this year’s trip was the Ulster Plantation in the North-West with a focus on how archaeology can support revised understandings of a contested period and enhance the historical record. In the morning, Dr Colin Breen, Ulster University, took us on an immersive site visit to the recently uncovered plantation settlement at Dunluce Castle. After lunch we enjoyed an informative tour of the Movanagher Plantation Village with Dr Audrey Horning, Queen’s University, Belfast and William & Mary College, Virginia. Visits to plantation settlements such as Dunluce and Movanagher brings to life the history of the Ulster Plantations for Key Stage 3 and A/AS Level students.

Dunluce Castle

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Dunluce Castle played a significant role in the socio-economic and political life of northeast Ulster and the Western Isles of Scotland and familial connections from the medieval period remain evident in today's communities. In 2008, a five year programme of excavation and survey work began at Dunluce Castle to examine these past connections. The undisturbed remains of an early 17th century town, discovered outside the castle walls by Dr Colin Breen, represented one of the best-preserved examples of the period. The settlement was one of the earliest examples of a regionally planned town in the early modern period and the archaeology has provided key insights into society at the close of the middle ages. This urban site was established a number of years before the official Plantation of County Londonderry which significantly alters the official histories of early 17th century Ulster. This settlement should be understood as part of a broader cultural process within the context of British colonial expansion and the newly founded towns and settlements across north America such as at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Dr Colin Breen, reader of Geography and Environmental Science at UU, author of Dunluce Castle, Archaeology and History uncovered the lost plantation town of Dunluce in 2008. Colin’s research focuses on historic landscape and societal change, environment and conflict, and the historical archaeologies of past maritime societies.


Movanagher was the principal Londonderry Plantation settlement of the Mercers Company of London. Situated close to a medieval ford and established fisheries on the Bann, the location was selected for its economic, rather than defensive, advantages. Building work at Movanagher began in 1611. Sawmills and brick kilns were built alongside the Bann, and construction was begun on a masonry bawn. Thomas Raven’s map of 1622 depicts Movanagher as a scattering of dwellings, with the riverbank hosting warehouses and a gristmill that reportedly ruined grain. The population at this time consisted of 3 freeholders, 52 British men, and 145 Irish. Like other London Company villages, the architecture at Movanagher combined English and Irish traditions. Of the 10 structures depicted on Raven’s map, only four are English-style timber-framed dwellings, three others appear to be stone or earthen-walled, while two are small Irish-style cabins. The village was abandoned and likely destroyed in the mid-17th century. Portions of three of the four bawn walls and one rounded corner flanker survive today as the outer walls of a farm dwelling. Excavations carried out in 1999 focused upon the village site, and unearthed materials associated with an English timber-framed house and a vernacular Irish dwelling adapted and occupied by English settlers. Associated artefacts included a mixture of Irish and English ceramics, materially reflecting day-to-day interaction between the settlers and the local inhabitants.

Dr Audrey Horning’s archaeological fieldwork projects include excavations at Jamestown, Virginia, and seventeenth-century Plantation-period sites in Northern Ireland (Movanagher, Roe Valley/Limavady, Goodland). Her ongoing research in Northern Ireland focuses upon the potential of community-inclusive archaeology to contribute measurably towards conflict transformation.

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