Where Community and Ecology meet Archaeology!
In the town of Birr, Co. Offaly, nestled behind the ancient site of St. Brendan’s Monastery, (see here) is the Old ‘Banbh’ (piglet) Market on Castle Street. At the turn of the century this walled and gated yard was the site of a weekly pig and livestock market. Adjacent to the market is the oldest leased building in the Birr Castle archives, dating from the mid 17th century CE/AD, which formerly housed the Old Union Hall, stables and a forge.
In 2017 the Social Soil Network entered into a partnership with Birr Tidy Towns to develop the Banbh Market into an Outdoor Classroom/Community Facility, specifically as a living library of native plants, medicinal herbs (that the monks of St Brendan’s Monastery would have used), and rare wildflowers. This was no small task considering that there was no soil present!
To demonstrate how ecology, archaeology and outdoor learning can make a powerful partnership, the Social Science Network hosted students from Indiana State University (ISU) as part of their Service Learning Program with the Irish Heritage School (IHS). In May 2018, the archaeological division of IHS and ISU students delivered a series of archaeological workshops with pupils from each of the four local primary schools. The ISU students also undertook preparatory works for what will become a native hedge spiral in the Banbh Market.
The workshops were a hugely enriching and educational experience for the local children. A real cultural exchange took place and the students from ISU were rewarded for their patience when the pupils of Gaelscoil Na Laochra sang Irish songs to a visibly moved audience. Sheer Magic and all in the great outdoors!