Monday, July 14, 2008

The day the sun god shone

The gods worshipped by those who originally came to Dun Ailinne must have heeded Kieran Forde's prayers.

Beautiful weather for the dedication of the Dun Ailinne Interpretive Park crowned a wonderful day of ancient story and new music.


"I was up at the sculpture at 7.30 this morning, asking them to make it work" the chairman of KCA quipped as sunshine lit up the afternoon.

And what an afternoon. There's a tradition of Kilcullen being able to push out the boat even when the tide is against it, but the Dun Ailinne dedication weekend will go down as one of the better ones in whatever annals are read about the town in the future.

A day full of highlights was underpinned by the talk and forum the previous evening in the Town Hall Theatre, when Professor Bernard Wailes outlined the work he had directed back in the late 1960s and first half of the 70s.


The Sunday afternoon return visit to the site itself by Professor Wailes and several of his colleagues from the excavation days was a physical highlight in its own right. Unfamiliar sunshine dappled by small clouds, a soothing breeze which masked potential sunburn, and a discussion on just what had been done where on the summit of a hill that is arguably as important as Tara, Eamhain Macha, and Crochaun. It doesn't come much better, either for the archaeologists themselves or those fortunate enough to be there with them.

But then there was the dedication of the Interpretive Park back in the town, and its associated sculpture adorned with a yellow ribbon for the occasion.

Kilcullen people and representatives of local and national organisations of various kinds had gathered to bear witness to the event. Again, the sun god -- which had already performed morning and evening miracles with the edifice at the spring equinox, just as designed by artist Noel Scullion -- smiled even on those who had doubted enough not to bring sunhats.

Opening the proceedings, KCA Chairman Kieran Forde recalled that the 'mission statement' of the project was to increase awareness of in interest in Dun Ailinne for 'present and future generations'. He said the javelin sculpture, inspired by an artefact found in the excavations, was a testament to the artist's skills.

Noel Scullion's dedication was both personal and all-encompassing. He presented his work to all the community of the area, from our Neolithic ancestors to those family and friends today who had themselves become part of the landscape. He also said the sculpture would always remind him of his sister Anita and wife Brenda, both of whom had passed on during its creation.


The scouts, who had provided honour guards both for an earlier parade and the ceremonies at the park itself, did their ribbon-pulling perfectly. The project, begun in a 'I have a dream' conversation between Noel Clare and Kieran Forde some four years ago, was completed.

dunaillineded2---83But there was more in store. Back at the Heritage Centre that is a jewel in the memory of the late Pat Dunlea, Chairman of the Heritage Council Conor Newman performed the Irish launch of 'Dun Ailinne, excavations of a Royal Site, 1968-1975'. The book is the final report on the seminal investigations on Knockaulin, and represents some of the 'very few surviving footprints of previous generations'.

"If you trace those footprints forward in time, they actually converge with our own," he added. "It is that seamlessness which creates interest in the past and makes it relevant. Looking around here today, the fact is that we have a really vibrant community here, which is actively engaged with its past."

A variation on Bernard Wailes's presentation of the night before offered further insights into both the archaeology and the people involved. It wasn't even felt to be repetitive by those of us who had been there on the Saturday evening.


Could it get better? Oh yes, it could. And it did. The performance by Liam O'Flynn of 'Dun Ailinne and the Clann March', a piece commissioned from him by the organisers and sponsored by Sir Anthony and Lady O'Reilly of Castlemartin, proved to be evocative, haunting, sublime and stirring, and lifted the audience to standing ovations.


Follow that, Susan Johnston, co-author of the Dun Ailinne book, who has been conducting her own investigations on the hill over the past two summers.


She did, you know. Against any odds you might wager, she presented the results to date of her own work with humourous asides that engaged and entertained in equal measure. In so doing, she ensured that the interest of her listeners in the history of Dun Ailinne will continue into the future.

The event concluded with the usual round of thanks to people and organisations too numerous to mention here. But one which should be singled out is the appreciation for the Thompson family, who have given unstinting cooperation to the archaeologists and the Interpretive Park project in relation to access to the site.


A specially-compiled booklet of visual memories from the original and current works, and the new Interpretive Park, was presented to Professor Wailes, to Noel Scullion, and to Conor Newman.

All in all, another wonderful chapter has been completed in the ongoing story of life that is Kilcullen. In the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words, here are some images of the day.

(Unfortunately, a batch of pictures centered around the dedication itself were corrupt. I tried to retrieve them but it wasn't possible. Apologies.)

Brian Byrne.