Archaeologist, author and former lecturer Rose Cleary has dedicated 40 years of her life to unearthing, preserving and promoting the rich history and archaeology of County Limerick through her work at Lough Gur. Although many historians have published and written about Limerick, Rose Cleary has excavated and unearthed the county’s prehistoric past on a global scale to reveal sites of international significance in the Lough Gur area. Situated in the Golden Vale, the lake and its hinterland have been the focus of archaeological research for over 150 years. Known as “the jewel of an antique land”, Lough Gur boasts more than 1,000 archaeological sites ranging in date from the Neolithic to the late medieval period. Thanks to Rose Cleary’s long-term research on the prehistoric archaeology of north Munster, with particular reference to the Lough Gur landscape, the wide breadth of archaeological finds from the area are now interpreted to over 110,000 visitors a year to Lough Gur.
Hailing from Burncourt in County Tipperary, Rose Cleary graduated from University College Cork with a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology in 1977 and a Master of Arts in Archaeology in 1980. Her research interests lie in prehistoric pottery, in particular ceramic technology, petrology studies and the characterisation of clay sources. Rose joined UCC’s Archaeology Department shortly after achieving her master’s degree and went on to become a senior archaeologist in the department.
Rose Cleary’s association with Lough Gur dates back to her undergraduate days at UCC, when she participated in archaeological digs as part of a team. Supervised by a senior archaeologist, the team of students worked side by side at the sites with people from the locality. Since then, Rose has undertaken excavations at numerous internationally significance prehistoric sites in the region and has found over 1,000 visible monuments across the Lough Gur landscape. Today, those same men and women with whom Rose worked as a student – now landowners, farmers and engineers – are accustomed to seeing Rose during her frequent visits to the area and always have a great welcome for her. In this close-knit community that takes such pride in and care of the region’s rich archaeological heritage, Rose’s work is fully appreciated by the people of Lough Gur. The feeling is mutual – Rose truly believes that landscape is preserved by the people who live in it, and this antique land, which has been inhabited continuously for 8,000 years, has been well cared for by its primary guardians, the community.
Through Rose’s work, Lough Gur is recognised as the only site in Ireland where every age of humankind can be found. Rose has uncovered the full spectrum of Ireland’s history in Limerick – from Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Early Christian settlements to castles and tower houses. The wide breadth of archaeological finds has led to a clearer understanding of the habits of the first settlers to Ireland and Limerick. Through her extensive research and excavation of the prehistoric sites in Lough Gur, Rose carefully put together millions of pieces of information and archaeological finds to reveal how families lived, worked and evolved.
Following in the footsteps of Robert Harkness, Bertram Windle, Seán P. Ó Ríordáin and Michael J. O'Kelly, Rose Cleary is a welcome female addition to an important lineage of UCC archaeologists who have carried out pioneering work at Lough Gur since 1869. At the time Rose became a senior archaeologist at the college, it was uncommon for women to hold such senior positions. In addition to her outstanding achievements as an archaeologist, researcher and academic, she has been and continues to be a wonderful role model for women seeking gender equality in the discipline of archaeology.
Rose Cleary’s exceptional achievements extend to compiling over 150 years of research in a book entitled The Archaeology of Lough Gur, published in 2018. Much of the proceeds of the book go directly to the not-for-profit community organisation Lough Gur Development (LGD), now part of Discover Limerick, DAC, which works exclusively to interpret the history, archaeology and environment of Lough Gur for the benefit of the Limerick region. Due in no small measure to Rose’s work, Lough Gur has become one of the main visitor attractions in Limerick; visitor numbers grew from 2,000 in 1985 to 110,000 in 2022 as people come to find out what makes the area so unique.
Although now retired from UCC after 40 years of fieldwork and teaching, Rose is a long way from hanging up her archaeology boots. She teaches on heritage studies and genealogical courses as part of her work in adult and further education. She voluntarily mentors and supports staff at the Lough Gur centre, does consulting work for other companies and continues to write. In particular, her contribution in an advisory capacity at Lough Gur continues to be of immense value to the community – nobody lifts a stone without first consulting Rose.
Rose Cleary’s exceptional work provides us with an excellent example of how research can be brought to life for the purposes of public enjoyment, appreciation and education. For this and for her outstanding contribution to placing Limerick on the map as a county of exceptional archaeological, historical and cultural importance, University of Limerick is delighted to welcome Rose and her family here today and to add her to its list of honorary doctors.
Chancellor, I present to you Rose M. Cleary and ask that you confer upon her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.