Discover the rich archaeology of Gleann Cholm Cille, no matter where you are, through this lively and innovative online programme.


Our summer 2020 series of online courses ran from May 24th–August 7th. We are extremely grateful to the 400+ people who participated. We hope to offer further courses in the winter—more information will be available here in September.

Gleann Cholm Cille (The Valley of St Columba) and the nearby valleys in southwest Donegal contain some of the most interesting prehistoric and early historic structures in Ireland (some would argue, in Europe). Monuments from the early Neolithic (c.4000BC) onwards are dotted across this beautiful and informative landscape; among them the huge dolmens at Malinmore and the great court-tombs at Clochán Mór and Farranmacbride. The previous name of the valley—Senglenn (‘the old glen’)—was very apt.

But in medieval times (roughly AD500–1600) that name was changed to honour one of Ireland’s best-loved saints: Colmcille (in Irish) or Columba (in Latin). Legends and folkore claim that the saint (c.AD520–593) came to the valley and founded a church there. An important legacy from that Christianisation is the surviving cluster of stone cross-slabs (some probably dating to around AD800) and other early ecclesiastical features around the valley. Another legacy is the famous Turas (‘pilgrimage’) made around those sites; primarily on June 9th, the day the saint died—his feast-day.

The course is divided in two parts:

  1. Participants will receive five pre-recorded videos, created specially for this course, exploring the landscape and archaeology of Gleann Cholm Cille. See how archaeologists read the visible landscape and take an in-depth look at some of the megalithic and early-Christian monuments in the valley.
  2. Five hour-long, live online sessions during the week of August 2nd–7th will allow participants to meet archaeologists who have studied the monuments. A mixture of talks, question-and-answer sessions, and informal discussions will allow those taking part to engage with the material in an interactive, relaxed and enjoyable way.

The course is suitable for adults with no previous knowledge of archaeology as well as those interested in learning more about the particular monuments in Gleann Cholm Cille. Apart from the local monuments, the course will provide an introduction to the archaeology of Ireland in general.

Live classes will take place at 7pm each evening Monday–Friday, with a brief welcome session on Sunday evening. There will also be some opportunities for online social gatherings outside of the classes themselves. These classes will be delivered via Zoom: no particular computer skills are required, beyond being able to make and receive a call, but you do need a computer or device with a microphone and a reliable internet connection.

Summer School Director

The 2020 Summer School will be directed by Dr Brian Lacey who has been researching the archaeology and early history of Counties Donegal and Derry for over 40 years. A former university lecturer and museum director in Derry, he oversaw the Archaeological Survey of Donegal (1979–83). His particular specialism is the lore of St Colmcille. He has published 14 books and many research papers.

Background to the Summer School

The Gleann Cholm Cille archaeology summer school was established in 1973 by Fr James McDyer with Prof. Michael Herity, University College Dublin, acting as director. Fr McDyer extolled the abundance of archaeological riches in Donegal thus: ‘Rarely has the uncouth hand been raised to deface the monuments here. Never has the march of progress been allowed to brush them irreverently aside’. Prof. Herity served as director until 2015. He sadly passed away on 22 January 2016. Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam.

Wondering how our online classes work and what's involved? Curious about dialects or class sizes? Find the answers to your questions at the link below!

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Oideas Gael

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