Northern Ireland news

Archaeologists uncover one of Ireland's largest prehistoric settlements at site of new Downpatrick school

Around 950 Famine-era burials were uncovered at the new Down High School site by archaeologists. Picture: BBC
Paul Ainsworth

ONE of the largest prehistoric settlements ever found in Ireland has been uncovered during preparation work for a new school in Co Down.

Archaeologists have excavated the site of the soon-to-be built new Down High School in Downpatrick and found evidence of the ancient settlement alongside a graveyard dating from the time of the Irish famine.

One of those excavating the site, close to Strangford Road, said the bronze age site could be the largest prehistoric settlement yet found anywhere on the island.

Among items found include a burial urn with cremated remains inside along with a flint arrowhead that is believed to be around 4,000 years old.

Christopher Lynn, who worked at the site alongside colleagues from archaeological consultants Gahan and Long, said in an interview with the BBC the prehistoric finds followed after the discovery of a workhouse graveyard dating to around 1847.

The graveyard revealed around 950 burials.

"The people in these burials would have died in the workhouse of various illnesses such as fever, and we can learn quite a lot from them," he said.

Speaking of the much older settlement that was unearthed, he added: "We had no idea it was there. It proves that we had urban settlement before the vikings or early Christianity came in."

Down High School's deputy head Ken Dawson said the famine-era remains will be reinterred on an adjoining piece of land beside the new school "with dignity and respect", with plans underway to create a permanent memorial when the new school is completed by 2025.

"The plan is that the new school, when it is built will have a commemorative event to mark the historical significance, and also to make sure that our pupils, in their learning, are fully aware on the school site the archaeologists have discovered an area of huge historical development," he said.

Northern Ireland news