The Medieval Bray Project was established by David McIlreavy in 2015.
The initiative has a long gestation. In 2005 David qualified from The Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) with an MA (Dist.) in Archaeology, before joining the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (QUB) as an archaeological field director. As part of this role he supervised a number of archaeological assessments and excavations on sites in Northern Ireland regarded as fringe manorial holdings of the Anglo-Norman Earldom of Ulster. For those involved in the investigation of medieval manorial organisation and development in Ireland, this was something of a watershed period.
In 2005, the Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement (GSIHS) published ‘The Manor in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland’, edited by James Lyttleton and Tadhg O’Keeffe., one of the first publications to employ a multi-disciplinary approach to the subject. The foreword of the volume, compiled by Brian Graham, applauded the growing permeability of disciplinary boundaries and the interdisciplinary pulse of current archaeological enquiry. Crucially he noted that ‘manorialism is a far more complex concept than was hitherto thought’.
In particular Linda Shine’s study ‘The Manor of Earlstown, Co. Kilkenny: an interdisciplinary approach’ was particularly instructive. This piece of research employed a combination of documentary and non-invasive archaeological investigation to study the development of the medieval settlement of Earlstown. Whilst there had been a lack of targeted archaeological investigation to ground truth many of Shine’s developmental conclusions, the potential of such an approach was clear.
In 2006, the GSIHS published another equally ground breaking volume, ‘The Parish in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland’ (2006) edited by Elizabeth FitzPatrick and Raymond Gillespie. This volume not only helped to demonstrate that the parish may be considered the more stable medieval territorial unit than the manor, but also reiterated the need for researchers to recognise the governance frameworks represented by the ‘manor’ and ‘parish’, and the physical capital that allowed their implementation.
After positions with the Archaeological Services Unit, University College Cork, and involvement with the University College Dublin ‘Neolithic and Bronze Age Landscapes of North Mayo’ research project, David moved to Bray in 2010 to take up a position in commercial sector archaeology.
Over the following years as he began to research the historical development and archaeology of the medieval manor of Bray, he was struck by the real need for a dedicated research project to not only record the history and archaeology of medieval Bray, but to actively promote it.
The recognition of the need to promote this invaluable heritage resource was tempered by the the experience of working with Paul Duffy, who since 2013 has been at the forefront of developing community led archaeological research in Ireland. He established Grassroots Archaeology in 2013 and the Resurrecting Monuments Group in 2014, and the incredible success of such groups has demonstrated just what can be achieved through partnership of heritage sector professionals, students and the local community.
On the 17th September 2015 David presented a preliminary talk on The Medieval Bray Project to the Bray Cualann Historical Society, detailing the evidence for a Hiberno Norse origin the medieval settlement. The first meeting was held on 17th Octobr 2015 and the initiative has continued to grow since then. Please feel free to contact us through the 'Contact Us' section of the website for further information.