As you might expect, there’s more to Ferns than meets the eye! Archaeologists have been studying Ferns for years.
A Bronze Age burial site, consisting of six cremation pits was found just 70m from St Edan’s Cathedral site while an Iron Age ring-ditch was identified on the southeast side of the village. This excavation produced the skeletal remains of a minimum of seven individuals, as well as glass beads and dates indicating a site lifespan running from the fourth century BC to the first century AD.
A combination of both geophysics (which allows archaeologists look under the soil without digging) and actual excavation has located the outer wall of the original monastery from over a thousand years ago – and it’s huge! Measuring some 300-350m across, this wall enclosed an area of between 7-9 hectares (17-22 acres), and possibly more depending on where the line of the outer wall is traced. One way or another, this is one of the biggest monastic enclosures in early medieval Ireland – even today much of the modern village, Cathedral and graveyard lie within it.
At the Castle archaeologists have found the original moat that surrounded the stronghold. It was 5m wide at the top and 3.5m deep, cut through the living rock. They also found evidence of the drawbridge the Knights clattered across on their way inside.
In recent years the focus of research has been in the fields around St Mary’s Abbey, near the Cathedral. In May 2015 The Discovery Programme undertook geophysical survey here as part of the Monastic Ireland Project. The survey revealed an incredible wealth of archaeological features under the surface including part of the monastic enclosure, an unusual double-aisled structure inside a circular enclosure and what looked like part of a cloister on the south side of the ruined St Mary’s Abbey. Excavation by the Irish Archaeological Field School from 2021-2023 supported by the EU-funded Ancient Connections project investigated these further. Meanwhile a commercial excavation by TVAS (Ireland) Ltd in 2019 and 2020 at the northeastern corner of the site, revealed the remains of medieval settlement, including a water-mill!