2000:0362 - ANNAGHDOWN CASTLE, Galway

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Galway Site name: ANNAGHDOWN CASTLE

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 69:2 Licence number: 00E0648

Author: Dominic Delany, 31 Ashbrook, Oranmore, Co. Galway.

Site type: Tower-house

ITM: E 528760m, N 737728m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.384908, -9.070863

Test excavation was carried out at Annaghdown Castle, Ballylee, on 19 August 2000. The work was undertaken in advance of the proposed restoration of the castle, which was to be converted for use as a private dwelling. The castle was probably built by the last bishop of Annaghdown, who was appointed to the bishopric in 1421, but the earliest documentary reference occurs in 1574 when it was in the possession of Nicholas Lynch. It is situated on the south shore of a small bay on the east side of Lough Corrib. The monastic complex at Annaghdown lies on the opposite shore, about 250m north of the castle. The extant remains of the castle comprise a well-preserved tower-house (11.1m north-east/south-west x 10.2m), which stands at the north end of a large irregular bawn (c. 40m north–south x c. 30m). The east bawn wall, 0.8m thick, is built of coursed limestone blocks and originally stood about 4m high. The much-collapsed south and west bawn walls are of drystone construction. These walls bear much evidence of rebuilding, but the boulder construction method and the wall thickness clearly indicate a late medieval date. The waters of Lough Corrib originally extended further inland, and it is possible that the south and west sides of the bawn were secure from landward attack.

The tower is five storeys high, and ogee-headed windows (now blocked) on the third floor suggest a construction date in the first half of the 15th century. Only the corbel stones of the four angle machicolations survive, but the fabric of the 15th-century tower is almost completely intact below this level. Inserted fireplaces and twin-light windows indicate that the tower was altered in the 17th century. Many of the original single-light opes are deliberately broken at the base, undoubtedly to facilitate the use of musketry. The top of the tower was completely rebuilt at this time, when the roof space was converted for domestic use. The 17th-century rebuild is of rubble construction, and much of this walling has collapsed.

Prior to testing, the rubble lying on the ground around the base of the tower was inspected and sorted in order to clear the area for scaffolding. Approximately fifty architectural fragments were recorded and stored pending possible reuse during restoration work on the tower. All other surface rubble was thrown into mounds away from the base of the tower. An existing rubble mound, maximum height 0.9m, abutting the south corner of the tower was also cleared. A section through the mound suggests that it was formed by the deliberate dumping of rubble, most of which had probably collapsed from the rebuilt upper floor of the tower. Several architectural fragments, many of which were very broken, were found among the rubble. The rubble covered a wall footing, which abuts the south corner of the tower. The wall, 0.8m thick, is built of coursed limestone blocks (average dimensions 0.5m x 0.25m) and may form part of a fore-building protecting the entrance to the tower.

Archaeological testing comprised the manual excavation of two trenches on the ground floor of the tower. Trench 1 (6.5m long) was centrally located in the main chamber. The upper layer comprised a light to dark brown, peaty deposit, 0.25m deep, with occasional inclusions of twigs, straw, insect casings, lime mortar flecks, and fragments of bird and rodent bone. The peat appears to represent a deposit of animal faeces, indicating that the tower was used as an animal shelter in modern times. It overlay a layer of voided rubble and silt, 0.20m deep, containing frequent medium-sized angular stones and occasional large boulders. Finds from the peat and rubble contexts comprised modern delftwares, glass fragments and clay pipe fragments. Three green glass bottle fragments represented the only post-medieval finds. The presence of occasional architectural fragments in the rubble layer suggests that the ground floor was cleaned out either during the course of 17th-century alterations to the tower or, most likely, sometime after its abandonment. At the base of the trench there was a compacted, light yellowish-brown clay containing numerous small and medium stones and occasional boulders. The foundations of the tower were built directly on this layer, which appears to be the construction platform for the building.

Trench 2, 3.5m long, comprised the excavation of the north-east end of the guardroom. A peaty deposit, 0.3m thick, similar to the one found in the main chamber, overlay the original stone floor of the guardroom. The floor is composed of medium-sized stones (average dimensions 0.12m x 0.08m) and occasional boulders (average dimensions 0.24m x 0.12m), with smaller stones filling the gaps. Modern glass fragments were the only finds from this trench.

The excavation of the main chamber and guardroom on the ground floor of the tower was completed several weeks after the initial test excavation. The stratigraphy was consistent with that recorded during testing, but fragmentary traces of stone flooring were uncovered around the perimeter of the main chamber in the tower. Outcrops of bedrock were incorporated into the floor along the north-west side of the chamber, but, in general, the composition of the floor was similar to that of the guardroom. As was the case in the initial testing, almost all of the finds were modern.