Newsletter June 2018

Dear Archaeology and History Enthusiast,

Gach rath oraibh go léir.
Welcome to our brand new quarterly newsletter.
We will fill it with items that we hope are of interest to you, our dear reader. This includes local history, events and news from the Society. We hope you enjoy it and will share it with friends and family.
If you have topics or news of interest to the readers of this newsletter please contact the PR Subcommittee by email to the following address:

Tá súil againn go mbaineadh sibh tairbhe agus taitneamh as an nuachtlitir úr nua seo.

Happy reading from Kilkenny Archaeological Society

Remembering Ellen Prendergast (1918-1999)

Members of Kilkenny Archaeological Society at the opening of the Coolmore Cists in 1961. Ellen Prendergast is second from the left at back
John Lucey marks the centenary of the birth of Ireland’s first female professional archaeologist with a brief outline of her life.

This month marks the centenary of the birth of Ellen Margaret Prendergast who was born, with her twin sister Catherine, at Killure near Paulstown, Co Kilkenny on 11 June 1918. She was educated at St Brigid’s Convent school in Mountrath, where she was a boarder and where her interest in archaeology was inspired by Helen Roe (1895-1988), then the Laois county librarian, who instructed the girls on local history and they would work together a decade later on the excavation of a mound in Wicklow. After school Ellen joined the staff of the National Museum in 1938 as a technical assistant in the Irish Antiquities Division. While working there she attended UCD and graduated firstly a BA (1943) and later an MA (1947) in Celtic Archaeology. With her academic qualifications she became a professional-grade assistant within the Division and was involved in a variety of research projects and began publishing her work in local and national archaeological journals from the mid-1940s. She was an accomplished illustrator and did many of the drawings for her technical reports and papers some of which were subscribed with her initials.

Despite her many achievements in archaeological exploration and publishing on behalf of the Antiquities Division of the Museum, Ellen felt disappointingly unfulfilled there and in the 1970s was transferred, on request, to a similar position in the newly created Folklife Division where she was eventually promoted to assistant keeper. Her almost half a century working in the then male-dominated Museum was never properly rewarded and she retired at full age in 1983 in the same professional grade. During her career she had worked with such luminaries as Adolf Mahr (1887-1951), Seán P. Ó Ríordáin (1905–1957) and Joe Raftery (1913-1992). Ellen Prendergast has the distinction and lasting legacy of having been the first professionally employed Irish woman archaeologist. Throughout her time with the Museum and afterwards, she always kept in close contact with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (KAS) of which she was a life member and served on its committee, publishing her local research in its journal, e.g. she contributed 28 papers to the Old Kilkenny Review between 1955 and 1993 and was editor in the early 1980s overseeing three issues.

On retirement from the Museum, where she spent all her working career, Ellen had returned to Kilkenny and it was then that her native county really benefitted from her expertise. To her friends in KAS she was known as Nell Prendergast and worked closely with its members particularly Margaret Phelan (1902-2000) who had been an early mentor and close friend. Ellen Prendergast continued to write on archaeology and history after her retirement publishing her final paper, on a crucifixion stone from Co. Meath, in 1998 and passed away on 10 May 1999 a month before her 81st birthday.

Dr Patrick Wallace, who had worked at the National Museum during Ellen’s latter years there, wrote a contrite obituary, for the Irish Times and Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, in which he regretted what he and many of his contemporaries could have done collectively to help somebody in the civil service backwater that was the Museum 30 to 40 years previously. Margaret Phelan, in a short obituary for the Old Kilkenny Review on deceased members, wrote that ‘Nell had a great sense of fun and her company was always pleasurable’. Margaret, the doyenne of KAS, passed away just nine months after Ellen.

Ellen Prendergast’s achievements have never been properly appreciated nor fully documented and it might be fitting that this be done, in the centenary year of her birth, at the ‘Third annual Kilkenny Women of note evening’ in September.

News from the Kilkenny Archaeological Society’s Library

Official launch of the lá na mban project –
come to Rothe house on 7th June

The full list of Kilkenny women who signed the pledge against conscription a hundred years ago is now up on the KAS website:

Were your relatives among them? Are they on the Lá na mBan list?

KAS library is about to launch a project to collect stories and photographs of the women.

On Lá na mBan, St Columcille’s Day, 1918, the women marched from the Callan Road to the Black Abbey and then to the Tholsel.

At the Tholsel there was a ledger waiting for their signatures. On the first page was the pledge. Under it, a thousand women entered their names and addresses.

The ledger still exists today. It is held in the KAS archives. Two Kilkenny people, KAS members Edwin Stallard and Cissie deLoughry, played a significant role in its survival. About thirty years ago, they donated the ledger containing the women’s signatures to the society’s archives at Rothe House. They recognised its importance.

On Thursday 7th June at 8pm, come along to Rothe House and see the ledger for yourself. Meet some of the people who have already started to collect stories of their grandmothers and great aunts. Bring any photos of your relatives – we can scan them for you. Our keynote speaker on the night will be local historian, Ann Murtagh. She will talk about this truly important protest by Kilkenny women against government plans to force Irish men to join the British army.

Signatory to the Lá na mBan pledge, Elizabeth Treacy

News from the Kilkenny Archaeological Society’s Curator

Artefact in the Spotlight: Giant Deer Skull

by Olivia Bergin, Honorary Curator
Welcome to the first ‘Artefact in the Spotlight!’  It gives me great pleasure to bring the collection of your Society to you.  For the inaugural newsletter, I would like to share with you an artefact from Rothe House that has always been a fascination of mine, ever since I saw it on my first Tynan Tours School trip!  It is, of course, our Great Irish Deer Skull.
First off, let me give you some background to where, when and how we came to be the care takers of such a magnificent beast.  The wall mounted skull and antlers of a Giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus) item number RH66/116 was unearthed c.1900 from bogland.  It came to Kilkenny Archaeological Society from Major GSE Briggs Swift, Swiftsheath, Co. Kilkenny in 1966.  It sits in pride of place over the fireplace in the Phelan Room, a representation of his height when he once walked the earth!
It was felt that the Deer skull was in need of some much needed care and attention.  The left antler was hanging precariously, its bracket no longer fit for purpose, forcing most of the skulls weight on to the delicate nasal bone against the wall.
Older repairs had decayed and techniques used had since become outdated.  With this decay, the repairs had become evident and unsightly.  He was also covered in a thick layer of dust and dirt that had gathered over the years. The initial condition inspection was carried out by Kate Aughey of Conservation Letterfrack, Connemara, Co Galway.  She deemed the skull to be at a high risk, not least due to the poor condition but the support structure had become a public safety issue.  Our skull was in danger of complete destruction.
It was decided by the Curator and supported by the Council that the skull would go for conservation work in September.  Over the course of three months, he was scraped, vacuumed, painted and hoisted all in the name of beauty!  He was returned us on a snowy day in December looking healthier than ever.
In the course of conversations with Kate, I learned that our deer is most certainly a jigsaw of two or more animals.  This is certainly not an uncommon practice and there are sacrificial skulls, as such, that are unearthed for such purpose.  The lower half of the skull (the tip of the nose) to around the bridge was taken from a different animal to complete the face.  This was apparent as the teeth on the lower half didn’t match the line of the teeth on the upper portion of the skull.
The troublesome left antler may have also been relieved from another fellow who no longer had use for it, but this is harder to verify as it may also have been a previous repair to the original.  Interestingly, on the right hand side, there is an line reconstructed from wood.  While Kate agreed this made mounting the skull problematic, she couldn’t argue with the craftsmanship!  Sven Habermann constructed a new bracket system which would not only give better structure to the skull but proper support and display. Overall, remounting the deer took three hours, but he now sits proud and tall again over the fireplace.

Work on the Great Irish Deer Skull was generously paid for by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society.

Dear Subscribers!

Rothe House needs you! If you can give me two hours of your time every second Saturday, starting from the 2nd June (14th June, 28th June etc), we would be delighted!!

Rothe House needs sprucing up and we are short on hands! Nothing too heavy but just some light work from 10am -12pm.  Come out and enjoy the good weather while it lasts!!

The more the merrier!!

Thank you,
Olivia Bergin, Honorary Curator