NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Fermanagh Site name: PORTORA CASTLE, ENNISKILLEN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 11:19 Licence number:

Author: Nick Brannon, EHS, DoE(NI), 5-33 Hill Street, Belfast, and Cormac Mc Sparron, 31 Madison Avenue, Belfast BT 15 5BX.

Site type: Fortified house and bawn

ITM: E 621498m, N 845278m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.355721, -7.669277

Portora Castle, on the south bank of the River Erne, comprises the remains of a fortified courtyard, its west end spanned by a two-storey house. Three of the four circular flankers survive (the north-east flanker lost to river works), and the front wall of the house is long fallen. The castle was built by Sir William Coles around 1614 and leased to Bishop Spottiswood of Clogher until 1628. It was a military outpost of Enniskillen during the 1641 and 1689 conflicts, suffered schoolboy explosive experiments in 1859, and was further damaged in a 'big wind' of 1894. In 1622 a surveyor reported two timber-framed ('cagework') houses standing within the courtyard ('bawn'), of which no above-ground traces survive.

Rubble clearance and excavations within the large house uncovered the base of its front wall, clarifying the dimensions of a large, ground-floor window at the south end and a door at the north end, and revealing a central, low-level pistol-loop. A wall stump within the house proved to be the remains of a second, large fireplace, suggesting internal timber partitioning of the house into two or three rooms at ground-floor level, the room at the south end probably being the kitchen. No original floor levels survived, and the interior of the house was pock-marked with pits containing mortared stone debris (including large lumps of bonded masonry, presumably from the collapse of the front wall).

There was scant evidence of 17th-century occupation, although numerous finds of thin, unglazed earthenware tile fragments suggest that the house had a tiled, not slated, roof. Excavations in the courtyard were also disappointing. No evidence (sills, post-holes, structural or occupation debris) survived to identify the timber-framed houses. It would appear that the site had undergone considerable (19th- or early 20th-century?) clearances and tidying.