I was sorting through photographs on the PC recently and came across ones from a field trip the children and I did last year. It was such a fantastic day for us, and we’d like to share our Carrickfergus castle archaeological excavation field trip with you.
It was March, but the weather was dry and calm so we packed up some lunch and left the house for our adventure. Carrickfergus castle is just a train ride away for us. The children enjoy taking the train as much as I do! Relaxing and looking out the windows to pass the time you can see the sea birds, and sometimes even a seal!
Carrickfergus Castle began construction about 1178, and it is was in constant use for 750 years, until 1928. When it was originally built, it jutted out into the Belfast Lough, proud upon a head of volcanic rock. It’s just in the past few decades that part of the sea has been reclaimed to form the car parks and restaurants that are near the castle.
The old town walls of Carrickfergus can still be seen around the town, and add a nice charm to local parks. Of any castle in Northern Ireland, Carrickfergus Castle is the one to be seen. It’s been well-preserved and can easily be reached by car or train. It’s only a shame that they’ve removed many of the things inside since Phil was a boy, and even since my first visit there in 2004. Perhaps they’ll make a return again soon.
The dig was just to see what they could see under the castle grounds. They started with a small trench and continued on from there. The archeaologists were finding lots of discoveries. So many, in fact, that the dig deadline had been extended more than once!
We arrived and took our time exploring the grounds and the interior of the castle. There were about 3 school groups there, but their tours didn’t last long and we rarely crossed paths. I loved that we were able to just take our time as we wandered around. In total, we spent over 5 hours there!
Inside there were educational videos, the banqueting hall had beautiful wooden tables and benches. The fireplaces were enormous, as were the games!
Of course, the kids thought it was funny to see King John sitting on the…throne?!
During the excavation, they had a passageway open that we hadn’t seen on previous trips, this made the visit even more exciting. We were up and down walls, into tunnels, and I don’t think there was an area open that we didn’t see.
The children both love to take photos, and on this day they recorded what they saw as well.
It’s always interesting to see what they’ve found to be important enough to photograph!
The archaeologists were very family-friendly and we really appreciated all the time they took out of their digs to stop and talk to the children and explain to them what was going on.
Here Stuart let Tristan hold a piece of 400-year-old tile that was just unearthed a few minutes earlier. He also showed the children a tray of other finds from his trench.
As you can see, a lot of soil was moved during the process!
Tristan and Kallista did a little school work after lunch. What better location than out in the fresh air surrounded by 100s of years of history?
After lunch another archeaologist brought some artifacts over for us and another family to see. Clay roof tiles, pipes, coins, and pieces of jugs brought over from France were amazing to see! Learning a bit about each of these pieces, where they were found, how they may have arrived here, and even learning about how they’re categorized was very interesting.
The children had so much to tell Phil that evening over supper! Phil was intrigued as well as his grandfather gave him a coin that is just like the one Tristan is looking at!
The final week of the excavation, the castle was open to the public for free so that as many people as possible could have the chance to see it for themselves. So even though the weather had turned and it was miserable, we took Phil so he could see for himself.
In the time between our visits, a lot more had been unearthed, including rails that moved munitions from one location to another. This was the newest discovery, but the dig was officially over so this is all that would be seen. They had also opened up a tunnel that led from the courtyard out of the side of the castle.
Inside one of the lower halls, tables were set up with many of the finds. Now labelled with more information, and someone on-hand to give more details and information about the pieces. The children were able to show Phil what they had previously seen and held!
The Carrickfergus Castle excavation really was something special to watch and be a part of! It’ll be a day the children and I will remember for a long time to come. Bringing history to life up close and personal while making memories together is exactly what I want for our homeschool experience.
And if you want to go on a virtual tour of Carrickfergus Castle, you can see several views here.