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The Ballyhanna Research Project

Ballyhanna is a small townland located on the southern bank of the River Erne, on the outskirts of Ballyshannon in south County Donegal. In July 2003 human skeletal remains were uncovered in a field at Ballyhanna during archaeological testing, in advance of the construction of the N15 Bundoran-Ballyshannon bypass. Over the winter months of 2003-4, the area was excavated by Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, under the direction of Brian Ó Donnchadha (Licence no. 03E1384), funded by the National Roads Authority (NRA) through Donegal County Council. During the course of the excavation the foundation of a previously unrecorded medieval stone church and a small graveyard, which contained the remains of some 1296 human skeletons, were uncovered.

To facilitate the scientific study of this highly important skeletal population the cross-border Ballyhanna Research Project (BRP) was established in 2005 by the then NRA, now Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII). The project was a cross-border research collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the Institute of Technology, Sligo (ITS), and was funded through Donegal County Council. The main aim of the Ballyhanna Research Project was to examine the human skeletal assemblage using techniques developed in osteoarchaeology, biomolecular science and analytical chemistry to learn about the people buried in the medieval cemetery. It was recognised by the founding project members that this multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the skeletal population had the potential to yield exciting new insights into medieval Ballyhanna and, by extension, to add significantly to our knowledge of medieval Gaelic Ulster.

The project resulted in the publication of two books. An edited volume entitled The Science of a Lost Medieval Gaelic Graveyard: The Ballyhanna Research Project, aimed at a popular audience, was published in December 2015 (McKenzie et al. 2015). A second book which contextualised the osteoarchaeological findings from Ballyhanna - Life and Death in Gaelic Medieval Ireland: The Skeletons from Ballyhanna, Co. Donegal (McKenzie and Murphy 2018) was also produced.

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