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New film following SLU professor explores intricacies of Irish lordship during medieval times

On the set of a documentary shot in Ireland in 2016, featuring SLU professor Thomas Finnan.
On the set of a documentary shot in Ireland in 2016, featuring SLU professor Thomas Finnan.

Time has a way of erasing what came before, often pushing lived history underground. A new documentary from HEC-TV that will premiere this fall follows the effort of one Saint Louis University professor and archaeologist as he and his team aim to uncover a specific piece of Irish history: the remnants of Gaelic lordship from the Middle Ages.

Gaelic Ireland refers to the era from around 1200 to 1700, or the late medieval period.

Thomas Finan, the director of SLU’s Center for Digital Humanities, has been digging in Ireland for the past five years looking to understand more about this little-known era of the country. During his last visit, he brought along producer Kathy Bratkowski, who turned her 6 terrabytes of footage from the dig into a 45-minute documentary called “True Gaelic: Unearthing Medieval Ireland.”

The film will have its premiere on Sept. 28 at the Center for Global Citizenship at Saint Louis University. More details on that here.

“One of the challenging things is that this particular era, after the Anglo-Normans arrive in Ireland around 1200, we have very little archaeological evidence for native Gaelic people,” Finan said of his project’s purpose. “What we’ve been trying to do, myself and colleagues, we’re trying to fill in the blanks on this. The challenging thing is that the English would say ‘these people are living in huts, they don’t dress as we do, they don’t have luxuries.’ What often happens is we’re trying to find something different from an English lordship. That’s the problem right now.”

That means Finan’s team was almost literally looking for sewing needles in haystacks and other pieces of evidence of Gaelic life. His process is indefinitely aided by the use of technology, which plays a large part in the film.

“I think I’ve learned that archaeologists are eternally optimists,” said Bratkowski. “It’s ‘okay, we didn’t find that but we found this.’ That was a lot of the story. Some of the things they thought they would find based on geophysics, were not what they thought they’d find, like the kiln. But others, you have to rewrite the narrative as you go. Like a mystery. They’re solving a mystery as they go.”

Listen to the full discussion on what the archaeological dig uncovered and how it is portrayed in the documentary here:

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