The archaeology of the landscape, organisation and economies of medieval Cistercian Ulster

  • Cormac Duffy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Cistercian Order came to Ireland in 1142 with the foundation at Mellifont. Throughout the 12th and early 13th century, the Order spread across much of Ireland, including Ulster. This study assesses the impact of monasteries on the Ulster landscape focusing on land-use, settlement, resource management, trade and place within contemporary socio-political jurisdictions. Using a varied research methodology employing non-intrusive survey techniques such as UAV, LiDAR and GPR in combination with secondary historical and topographical sources an evaluation of the landscape was carried out. Reconstruction of Cistercian estates and properties defined the archaeological landscape evaluation and improved the accuracy of previous attempts to establish their geographies. The archaeological traces of agricultural buildings, fish traps and field systems were detected providing a better understanding of the basis of the Cistercian economy in the province. A re-evaluation of infrastructure revealed aspects of site management and the relationship of the monastery to the broader world of commerce and trade. The examination of space and changing patterns of management also revealed the Order’s need to adapt to events and developments beyond the cloister, in particular geopolitical, demographic and social challenges
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for Employment and Learning
SupervisorColin Breen (Supervisor) & Wes Forsythe (Supervisor)


  • Monastic
  • Ireland
  • Historic geography

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