Remains of 146 people found in Carrickfergus at site set for retail development

The remains of more than 100 men, women and children have been uncovered at a Co Antrim site earmarked to be developed into a retail unit.

The discovery was made close to the Old Belfast Road in Carrickfergus in 2023, but has been kept hidden to enable archaeologists to carry out excavation work.

It's believed to finally answer the long unsolved question about the location of the Abbey of Holy Cross, also known as Woodburn.

"All of the historical records pointed to possibly something here, but then there was a giant factory on top of the site at one time and then we thought, 'maybe not'," explained Chris Long of Gahan & Long archaeology.

"But the find actually shows how resilient archaeological deposits actually are," he added.

"In total we have 146 skeletons, 120 are complete and the rest are partial skeletons.

"Most of them are men, which is what we would expect as it is an Abbey graveyard, but there are some women and children as well.

"They were people at the end of the day, so we have to give them the utmost respect.

"As an archaeologist, this is the best. It's a medieval site, it's old and it's really exciting - so all the days standing out in the wind and rain make it worth it for something like this."

The discovery adds to the historical tapestry of Carrickfergus.

"During the 14th and 15th century this would have been one of the most important ecclesiastical site in the medieval earldom of Ulster," outlined the Department for Communities Senior Inspector of Historic Moments, Andrew Gault.

"Never before have any of the physical remains of the Abbey, or the Abbey complex been discovered," he added.

"Going forward we'll hopefully work with the developer to see if the location of the Abbey can be marked in some way to commemorate the Abbey and the people who were buried there."

Once the remains have been examined and a full report has been compiled, they will be interred at a location which is yet to be announced.

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