Unveiling of ‘The Souls of Ranelagh’ monument

On the 21st of December 2023, a monument was erected on a mound on the new roundabout on the N61 just outside Roscommon town.

This was sculpted by local sculptor Mark Feeley to commemorate, depict and represent the forgotten souls of a nearby townland, Ranelagh, who had been excavated during an archaeological dig in 2015/2016 – and their long-forgotten story.

In 2021 at a meeting of Roscommon County Council a motion was passed by county councillors to erect a sculpture in recognition of the discovery of the archaeological site on the N61 in Ranelagh. Thereafter, the proposal was forwarded to the Roscommon Town Team to proceed with the project.

A sub-committee of the Town Team was established and a project plan established and implemented. The main objective was to produce a monument that would depict/represent the find in Ranelagh, the lifestyle of the people and what had happened at the site.

The features of the Ranelagh monument are multifaceted in that they represent many different aspects of this extraordinary archaeological find in the townland of Ranelagh.

Monument features

The stone is a feature in itself, in that the back is covered with amazing fossils which are millions of years old. This stone, like the people found on the site, and their lifestyle, are of the earth of Roscommon. The stone was acquired by the sculptor, Mark Feeley in Lecarrow Quarries, just outside Roscommon town.

A CELTIC CROSS: This represents the transition from Paganism to Christianity during the lifetime of the site in Ranelagh. It is also a religious memorial to the people who were buried there, affording them dignity in their death and acknowledging their existence.

WARRIOR WOMAN: The Warrior Woman depicted in the sculpture is symbolic of all the invading races that attacked, and often settled in Ireland in the past. She represents the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings and any other invading force that has settled here in years gone by.

Analysis of an older female remains found on the site shows that she, or her immediate ancestors, were migrants to Ireland. She had no other relatives in the Ranelagh area and she exhibited links with the Anglo Saxon population in Britain. Research indicates that she had “red hair, pale to intermediate skin tone and brown or hazel eye colour”.

THE LIFE-SIZED FARMER: This represents the farming community that lived in the ringforts surrounding this site and who used it as a regional administrative centre. He also represents the males that were buried in this forgotten cemetery. He is holding a spear, which represents one of the artefacts found on the site – the only single weapon found – a socketed iron spearhead. He is depicted as a strong man, indicating the strength needed to farm completely manually during this time.

THE CHILD’S FACE: The child’s face which is carved in the rock represents the children found in the forgotten cemetery on the site. Like the farmer, the child is coming out of the rock, representing the fact that the children buried in this cemetery were of the land of the area.

The teardrops on the child’s face reflect the hardship of the times. Life for men, women and children was an arduous physical existence, with a high risk of dying in infancy and younger childhood.

Sculptor Mark Feeley said: “It is only fitting that there is a proper memorial to this population of this area who had been forgotten for centuries. All I want to do is to spark an interest in people to learn about the fascinating story of the people of Ranelagh, our ancestors here in Roscommon, to research it properly and learn about our rich history and culture here in this amazing county of ours”.

Background information

The N61 Coolteige Road Project was initiated to straighten, and make safer, a dangerous stretch of road just north of Roscommon town.

An archaeological assessment before the road works began uncovered a previously unknown archaeological site consisting of an enclosed settlement and burial ground near the summit of a low hill in Ranelagh Townland, just north of Roscommon town.

Full excavation of the Ranelagh site commenced on 15th of October 2015 and was completed on 28th of October 2016. Extensive analysis of the findings opens a fascinating window into the lives of generations of ordinary people in the area.

Findings

Over the space of 1000 years the Ranelagh site, which began as a simple univallate settlement cemetery grew, through several phases of expansion and modification, into a substantial regional or administrative centre for the surrounding population, becoming central to their burial practices.

The remains of 557 articulated burials (the remains were in one piece and the bones were in order) were recovered from the site; 170 adults and 387 juveniles. In addition, disarticulated bones, representing a minimum of 108 individuals – 33 adults, 45 children and 30 babies – were recovered.

The earliest in situ burial discovered at the site was that of an older adult female who dated to AD 428 to 601. The latest burial comprised of a baby dating to 1463 to 1641 AD. The majority of the remains date to the early medieval period – AD 640-1020.

The demographic profile of the Ranelagh cemetery contains burials at a ratio of 1.8:1 (female to male). It is likely (or at least possible) that at least some of this disproportion comes from later males being buried off site.

A notable aspect of the Ranelagh burials was the occurrence of a high proportion of juveniles aged less than 18 years (69.6%), the majority of whom were babies less than one-year-old. Premature babies, unborn babies and their mothers and those who were newly born are all represented in the burial ground in Ranelagh.

Further information

In 2023, TII published an excellent publication titled The Forgotten Cemetery by Shane Delaney and Eileen Murphy, which describes the excavations – and post-excavation work – carried out at the Ranelagh site. (The book has been shortlisted for a series of high profile heritage awards, including at Listowel Writers Week, the European Association of Archaeologists’ book award and in the Publication and Dissemination category at the very recent Archaeological Achievement Awards. It has recently been shortlisted for the 2024 Current Archaeology Book of the Year Award).

The digital version of the book is available at:

https://www.tii.ie/technical-services/archaeology/publications/tii-heritage/

A StoryMap is available at:

https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0abac355011e4b92b8624fdaa5e3cf9a

*Article submitted by Marie Gillooly on behalf of Roscommon Town Team sub-committee