Ballyhanna church & graveyard - a forgotten site
Site of Ballyhanna church and graveyard (photo: Grainne Leamy)
Archaeological work carried on by Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd on the N15 Bundoran-Ballyshannon Bypass, on the outskirts of Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, led to the discovery of a substantial medieval graveyard and the foundations of a stone building, thought to be the remains of Ballyhanna Church. The last recorded mention of church lands at Ballyhanna was in the 17th century but since that date its location has been lost from local memory. Over 1000 skeletons were carefully excavated during the archaeological works and removed, and are now being analysed as part of the Ballyhanna Research Project in collaboration with Queens University, Belfast and Institute of Technology, Sligo, funded by the NRA through Donegal County Council. The location of the church at a proposed junction off the N15 allowed, rather uniquely, a re-design of the junction layout to avoid impacting directly on the church. The foundations of the site have been conserved and a garden created on the site of the graveyard. The garden was officially opened on 15 July 2007 as part of the 'Flight of the Earls' commemorations in Donegal.
Did you find any Treasure?
Pre-conservation image of one of the silver pennies (photo: Ian Doyle, Studiolab)
Archaeologists are often asked this question and, generally the answer is no. But very occasionally the answer is yes. One of these occasions was during excavations for the N8 Cashel Bypass and N74 Link Road in Co. Tipperary. In Cooper’s-Lot townland archaeologists from Judith Caroll Network Archaeology Ltd digging beside an old in-filled pond made a startling discovery. As the soil was trowelled back silver coins appeared. A cache of 18 silver pennies had been found! They dated to the reign of King Edward II of England, 1307-1327 and may have been buried beside the pond for safe-keeping. However the owner of the coins never returned and they remained hidden until rediscovered by the archaeologists.
A new fort overlooking the River Shannon
Gortybrigane fort with geophysical survey outside the road corridor (photo: Markus Casey; geophysical greyscale plot: Target Archaeological Geophysics)
The N7 Nenagh to Limerick HQDC Road Project allowed a wealth of archaeological discoveries to be made in advance of construction. One of the more spectacular sites was a hitherto unrecorded fort in Gortybrigane townland that overlooks the River Shannon south of Birdhill. The fort was excavated by Headland Archaeology who found a circular ditch with a very elaborate entrance feature formed by two parallel flanking ditches. A number of features identified within the enclosure represented structural remains and evidence of grain processing and metalworking. The co-operation of the local landowner made a geophysical survey possible, allowing the full picture of the fort to be uniquely revealed.
Monks and milling at Kilbegly on the N6 Ballinasloe to Athlone scheme
The well-preserved timbers of the mill undercroft at Kilbegly in Roscommon attest the technological sophistication of craftsmen working for the early Church in Ireland (Valerie J Keeley Ltd for Galway County Council)
Christianity was one of the most influential imports to Ireland from the late Roman world. The early Church was also a vector for technical innovation. The early medieval mill remains discovered by Valerie J Keeley Ltd at Kilbegly, near Ballinasloe, are an excellent example of this. The timbers of a mill undercroft, mill pond and sluices were found preserved in a peat bog overlooked by old Kilbegly churchyard. Documentary sources suggest that a church at Kilbegly was founded on lands granted to the great monastery of Clonmacnoise, on the far side of the Shannon in County Offaly, by the local pre-Norman kingdom of Hy Many, so this would have been a monastic mill. When the mill timbers have been fully stabilised they will be reassembled for public exhibition.
Elusive hunter-gatherers on the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe scheme
Flint and chert flakes from Barnacragh and Urraghry include a Bronze Age scraper (top left) and one possibly natural spall (right), but the others – including waste pieces and a very fine blade (centre) – were shaped by the first Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to penetrate into east Galway (photo: John Sunderland and Eachtra Archaeological Projects for Galway County Council)
The earliest people in Ireland were the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period. It is believed that they first colonised the coastline and then made their way inland along major waterways, but good evidence for their movements is scarce. In Connacht, some Mesolithic artefacts were previously known from the Atlantic coast and around Lough Corrib and now some flint and chert flakes from Barnacragh and Urraghry (discovered by Eachtra Archaeological Projects Ltd) are the first signs of their presence in east Galway. The two townlands are less than 1 km apart and lie between the Suck and Melehan rivers (between the town of Ballinasloe and the village of Aughrim), which in turn form part of the Shannon system. The Shannon itself would have been much wider at that time – more like a continuous large lake than a river – and was probably the watery highway that brought these first people into the smaller river valleys of east Galway.
A failed Victorian mining venture in Connemara on the N59 Derrylea realignment
Members of the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland inspect remains of a crushing plant at Derrylea lead mine, in Connemara, County Galway (Galway County Council)
Connemara is a rugged, thinly-populated place where one might be surprised to discover evidence of venture capitalism in the time of the Industrial Revolution. But the region’s complex geology includes deposits of ‘Lake Marble Formation’ that are veined with lead-rich Galena, and there are several associated lead-mining sites of 19th-century date. One of these is now a ‘show mine’ at Glenagowla, near Oughterard, but another example, at Derrylea, was entirely forgotten until recently rediscovered by Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland on the route of a proposed realignment of part of the N59 between Galway and Clifden. At the mine itself there are exploratory cuttings in a rock face, and a wagonway leads from these, across Derrylea bog, to a custom-built processing plant where there are extensive building remains. (The wagonway and building remains will be avoided by the realigned road.) Despite all this, it appears that the mine never produced any commercial quantities of lead and hence its disappearance from the historical record.
Early medieval crop-processing at Curtaun on the N18 Gort to Crusheen scheme
Excavation of a complex cereal-drying kiln by an early medieval ringfort at Curtaun on the N18 Gort to Crusheen scheme (Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd for Galway County Council)
The surviving manuscript literature of early medieval Ireland depicts a society obsessed with livestock and heavily dependent on cattle, in particular, both for status and subsistence. Archaeological evidence suggests a somewhat more mixed economy and crop-processing kilns are being found in ever increasing numbers on excavated farmsteads of the period. This stone-lined example at Curtaun, in south Galway, was discovered close to a large ringfort by Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd. It was a complex kiln with multiple flues and was rebuilt on at least one occasion as the farmer experimented to achieve control over the heat being inducted from small fires set at the flue-mouths. Oats, wheat, rye and barley were dried in this way because it made them easier to grind or mill and, being dry, made them less prone to fungal infection in storage.
Mind bogling discoveries on the N4 Dromod Rooskey
Trackway found at Ederloon (Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd; photo: Hard Hat Photography Ltd)
Extensive excavations at Ederloon Co. Longford revealed a fascinating network of wooden trackways and platforms, which were constructed from the Neolithic (c. 4000-c. 2200BC) to the early medieval period (c. AD 400-790). Over 26 trackways and 6 platforms were excavated by Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd within an area of raised bog, measuring 170 x 30m. The sheer density of this complex is unequalled elsewhere in the country. Exceptional quantities of wooden artefacts were retrieved from the basal layers of the structures, which included numerous wooden vessels such as bowls, tubs and a trough. A number of highly significant artefacts recovered included wooden spears, wheel rim fragments, a block wheel fragment and several enigmatic objects of unknown function. The scale of the structures and the high quantity and quality of the artefacts are extraordinary. Following further research and scientific analysis, Edercloon will contribute greatly to the knowledge and understanding of raised bogs in Ireland and beyond.
Dryland wetland connection on the N9/N10 Kilcullen to Waterford scheme
Excavating Pit-Circle at Prumplestown Lower (Headland Archaeology Ltd; photo: AirShots Ltd)
Important Early Bronze Age cemetery sites were discovered by Headland Archaeology Ltd either side of the River Lerr close to Castledermot, Co. Kildare. In Prumplestown Lower to the south of the river, the concentration of features incorporated a prehistoric pit-circle of ten large pits and a ring-ditch, along with associated inhumations and cremations. A later medieval ditch produced a pristine “Viking Dublin-type” bronze ringed pin. On the opposite side of the river in Woodlands West, three further ring-ditches and a horseshoe-shaped ditch were revealed. These were associated with numerous cremations, one of which yielded two small bronze rings - possible earrings that adorned a body when committed to a funerary pyre. Animal bone from the ditch fills included much deer antler and mandibles of young cattle. The intervening low-lying, boggy river basin demonstrated evidence that may link the two cemetery areas and give us an exceptional insight into an overall prehistoric landscape focused on the river. Crude structures and pathways would have allowed the wetlands to be accessed, utilized and traversed. Very significant wooden artefacts were discovered therein, including the haft for a Late Bronze Age socketed axe, an oar, a finely made spear and an intricate composite animal trap.
Megalithic art discovered at Lismullin Souterrain
Capstone from Lismullin Souterrain with Megalithic Art (photo: Mary Deevy)
In November 2007, while lifting the capstone off the main chamber of a medieval souterrain at Lismullin (M3 Clonee to North of Kells Motorway), archaeologists working for Archaeology Consultancy Services Ltd discovered decoration carved into the side of the stone. The art consists mainly of a double row of zigzags or chevrons, half a series of concentric circles and what appears to be a nest of arcs. Preliminary interpretation suggests that originally the stone was used as a kerbstone in a Neolithic passage tomb. It was split before incorporation into the souterrain and the decoration would not have been visible inside the chamber.
Underground architecture in Kilcloghans on the N17 Tuam Bypass
Stone-lined souterrain in a former ringfort near Tuam, in north Galway (Headland Archaeology Ltd for Galway County Council)
The homesteads of farming families in the pre-Norman period were circular enclosures known as ringforts or cashels. The dwelling houses in these enclosures were typically simple one-roomed structures. Underground, however, these early medieval farmers often built additional structures for storage and refuge and these could sometimes be quite elaborate. These stone-lined tunnels are known as souterrains. This example is from Kilcloghans near Tuam, in north Galway. The ringfort enclosing it was a 'lost' site that had been entirely levelled over the years by ploughing but the souterrain survived intact beneath the ploughsoil. It was rediscovered by Headland Archaeology Ltd in the course of investigations along the route of the proposed N17 Tuam Bypass. It contained only a few ferrous and copper-alloy artefacts but many possibly butchered animal bones of cattle, sheep, pig and horse as well as occasional red deer and fish bones.