Making it Work: Archaeological consultancy digs deep to find success

AMS Consulting has grown from a staff of three to 115 thanks to its extending its service offerings into excavation and other specialist works

28th November, 2021
Making it Work: Archaeological consultancy digs deep to find success
Fintan Walsh and Ed Danaher of AMS Consulting at a ringfort in Co Clare: AMS Consulting’s goal is to make archaeology a viable career path. Picture: Eamon Ward

In 2016, AMS Consulting, a Co Clare-based archaeological consultancy, employed just three staff to run the management service it offered to clients.

Last year, that figure had risen to 115, after years of rapid growth driven largely by the firm’s decision to directly take on the running of excavations for customers rather than just overseeing the process.

“Initially we extended our service offerings to satisfy our clients, and then it really started to grow,” Ed Danagher, founder and principal archaeologist at AMS (Archaeological Management Solutions), said of the company’s development.

After one of its “busiest years ever” in 2020, the business reported a turnover of €6 million and has maintained its momentum this year.

“We still focus and specialise in project management,” Danagher said, pointing to a contract AMS recently won with the Office of Public Works to manage the cultural heritage aspect of all flood relief schemes in Ireland.

“But we’ve really extended our service offerings into excavation and other specialist works, which has been transformative for us.”

If the last few years have been significant for AMS, it’s worth noting that the roots of the business stretch back to 2011. Danagher, a trained archaeologist, identified a gap in the market for archaeological expertise when it came to government and private infrastructure projects such as roads.

“There was no commercial company offering to manage the archaeological side of these types of developments,” he said.

The recession, however, proved difficult for archaeology, and prompted Danagher to move abroad and work for multinational companies in Britain. During that period about 80 per cent of commercially employed archaeologists lost their jobs.

Five years ago, Danagher revived AMS, which had never officially shut, and since then the Enterprise Ireland-backed company has enjoyed almost uninterrupted growth. In recent years it has excavated hundreds of sites as part of road-building projects in Ireland, as well as conducting work on wind-farm developments and other infrastructure projects.

“In the last three years, we’ve probably averaged about 40 or 50 excavations a year,” Danagher said. Some of these can take months and involve up to 80 trained archaeologists.

With offices in Clare, Kilkenny and York in England, Danagher’s business is now widely used across Ireland and Britain and has designs on new markets, according to Labhaoise McKenna, its manager of strategy, policy and governance.

The company will add several new staff in January 2022, including senior specialists who join from companies based in Britain. “It is great for us to be able to continue to grow the team in west Clare and support the local economy,” McKenna said.

One of the main goals for AMS is to make archaeology a viable career path for younger people in the field, and to ensure that the business can withstand economic turbulence by building a client base globally.

“When the last recession hit, a lot of companies in Ireland focused on Irish work really struggled,” Danagher said.

“We wanted to diversify, to make sure that we have a certain number of jobs that we can hang onto even if that happens again. So we’re looking at other markets, and we want to add more services to what we do, such as specialist work.”

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