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The Archaeology of Colonialism in Medieval Ireland: Shifting Patterns of Domination and Acculturation

Russell Ó Ríagáin

Master of Philosophy, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, 31 August (2010)

This project examines Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman colonialism in two Irish case-study regions, the south-east and the mid-west, by placing them on a continuum of social development. It analyses their spatial organisation and their impact on the landscape in terms of a model of colonialism based on three sub-phases: expansion, consolidation and domination. Campaign fortresses and other bridgeheads in the landscape such as the longphort and the ringwork largely belong to this phase. Mottes and Scandinavian urban settlement belong largely to the consolidation phase. The Anglo-Norman domination phase was characterised by a hierarchical configuration of monuments, including those forms already mentioned, along with masonry castles, nucleated and dispersed rural settlement and continental religious houses. They differed in a number of respects. Scandinavian colonialism was much more geographically limited, largely confined to a series of estuarine settlements which became towns over time, with possible accompanying hinterland settlement. It cannot be said to have had a domination sub-phase, rather it experienced a phase of incorporation, where the settlements came under the control of elements of the Gaelic elite. It has therefore been categorised here as non-imperial opportunistic colonialism.

In contrast to the elite replacement colonialism found in Anglo-Norman Ulster and Norman England, Anglo-Norman colonialism in the case-studies was totalising, characterised by plantation colonialism, which involved the inward movement of several orders of society, and the incorporation or displacement of native groups. It involved the total reorganisation of the landscape, with the introduction of several new monument forms in a hierarchical spatial organisation. However, this was largely unsuccessful in the mid-west, and can only be said to have been successful in the south-east, and even then only until the fourteenth century, at which time the colony receded substantially. Both groups continued to be regarded as foreign elements long after the apogee of each of colonial period. While colonial acculturation was limited, over time their culture came to differ both that of their home regions and Gaelic society, which saw them become a “third nation” living in a “third space” (cf. Bhabha 1994). This was due to a combination of creolisation and hybridisation. There seems to have been extensive Gaelic acculturation in the areas of greatest contact, such as the towns in each period.

Click here to read this article from the University of Cambridge

(via Medievalists)