Gaelic Learned Families

The Environment of the Hereditary Arts and their Keepers in the Gaelic World 1200-1650

Funded by: IRCHSS Fellowship & Thematic Grant 2006-7; RIA Excavation Grant 2007 & 2008.


Dr. Elizabeth FitzPatrickSenior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology


Dr Elizabeth FitzPatrick, Senior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, in collaboration with Rachel Barrowman FSA Scot, Director, Dùn Èistean Archaeological Project, University of Glasgow

Estates of Gaelic Learned Families investigates the lands, settlements and material culture of the hereditary professional class who practised law, poetry and medicine, compiled and transmitted texts, and kept schools in the classical Gaelic tradition in the period c.1300-1650. The key objectives are to determine how such minor elites organised their estate lands, what forms of settlement and material culture they used and how that altered over time. While the orthodox perception of this class is as atavistic gate-keepers of Gaelic literary culture bound to the past, the archaeological evidence for their residences and schools, particularly in the sixteenth century, suggests that their capacity for innovation and their modernising instincts were as potent as their interest in tradition.

Currently the research programme involves three initiatives:

An archaeological exploration of the law school and estate landscape of the Uí Dhábhoireann (O'Davoren) legal family at Cathair Mhic Nechtain in the Ó Lochlainn lordship of Boireann (Burren) Co. Clare

A critique of the archaeological and documentary evidence for invention and re-invention among Gaelic learned families

Collaboration with the Dùn Èistean Project and Ness Archaeological Survey, Isle of Lewis in regard to the lands and settlements of the Uí Mhuirgeasain (Morrison) lawyers to the MacLeods of Lewis and Harris