There is an epic line in The Young Ones when a woman pushing a corpse through a graveyard stops with Neil the hippie.
“Do you dig graves?” she asks, to which the hairy young one answers, ‘yeah, yeah, they’re alright, yeah.”
Well if you ‘dig’ them, you were given a right royal treat this week and, like Neil, from two sources you wouldn’t normally associate with the roustabout world of archaeology.
Hugh Dennis was back on More4 for the final instalment of the current series of the Great British Dig while fellow comedian Ardal O’Hanlon was on BBC NI with Tomb Raider.
The latter, of course, is no stranger to poking around ancient artefacts and places of interest from his time as Dougal in Father Ted.
Sadly we were not given access to the Holy Stone of Clonrichert or to St Kevin’s Stump, but we were just about everywhere else across the island of Ireland in a ‘quest about what it means to be Irish’.
Look Dougal/Ardal, we have enough problems at the minute with bickering politicians, pointless elections and protocols, so there’s no need for you to stir the pot even more.
The focus of the documentary was on the rise of archaeology after Partition, with the focus on two men, one in Dublin and one in Belfast, who were the best in their field or fields in this case.
In Dublin, the mission was to prove that the Irish were a proud Celtic race, while across the border there was the insistence that the ancestry reached across the water to Scotland and even as far as Russia. We have moved on since then…
And then we threw an Austrian man called Adolf into the mix. I’m no expert, but I have a feeling this isn’t going to end well.
“Now the awkward thing about Adolf Mahr is that he’d become a Nazi,” O’Hanlon told us. Told you.
We were then told in ‘it’s Ireland’s biggest lingerie department-style’ that he was ‘the most prominent Nazi in Ireland’.
In Belfast, there were no such problems, just a Welshman called Emyr Estyn Evans taking his new wife on a trip to the Mournes then handing her a shovel and telling her to get busy.
His story had a happier ending, he became an eminent historian and lived out his days in Belfast.
Adolf’s wasn’t quite so happy as despite a few nice trips to digs with the Dublin branch of the Hitler Youth, he decided to head to Germany in 1939 and, despite impassioned pleas to Eamon De Valera, never made it back after the war.
Probably trying to hammer home that the Celts may have been an early master race didn’t help and I had this picture in my head of a big flashing sign saying ‘not a racist’ going off and on.
“I have to admit that I’m slightly disappointed that there’s no definitive evidence of an ancient and pure Celtic culture from which I may be descended,” a dejected O’Hanlon said in summation of an hour’s of looking at rocks.
“But I am not going to be swayed by mere science, like most people north and south, I prefer stories.” It has ever been thus. There were stories too over with Hugh and his hairy cohorts as they raided (by invitation) people’s backyards in Coventry, in the search for Biggin’s Hill Grange, no relation apparently to Christopher.
This is basically a lower budget version of Time Team, which ran for two decades and had a comedy actor (Tony Robinson) generally getting in the way of his hairy cohorts as they dug up anything they could get their hands on.
There wasn’t a lot to get excited about in Coventry, even news that the Grange may have been in the hands of Lady Godiva’s husband promised more than it delivered.
The medieval expert (I mean he knew a lot about the period, he wasn’t 764), cut off any comedic opportunity for Dennis when he spoke of the myth of Lady Godiva, so no nude equestrian activity was on the cards.
What we did find though had the archaeologists in a tizzy — a bit of stone, not as holy as Clonrichert’s, but holy nonetheless and it never fails to amaze how excited they get by finding everyday things that medieval folks leave behind — like Wombles, only hairier.
And like Time Team there was always time for a pint, Hugh and the team retiring to the pavilion of the neighbouring cricket ground for a libation and a summing up.
“Give me a £1,000 and I’ll streak across the cricket pitch,” he told them but, like Lady Godiva, it didn’t happen.
Probably a good job, you don’t want to be galloping past silly mid-off in the buff and fall down a trench.