2009:180 - DEER PARK, Derry

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Derry Site name: DEER PARK

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: AE/09/135

Author: Audrey Horning, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, England.

Site type: Post-medieval

ITM: E 645457m, N 916318m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.992392, -7.289668

Limited test excavations of a small area of land surrounding the site of a late medieval tower-house and subsequent Plantation bawn were carried out between 1 and 11 September 2009 with funding from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. The excavation was geared towards the investigation of material evidence relating to cultural relations early in the Ulster Plantation. Specifically, the project aimed to address the character of the transition from the O’Cahan occupation of the Roe Valley to the establishment of the site as the base for English servitor and planter Sir Thomas Phillips. Documentary sources including a 1622 survey map by the cartographer Thomas Raven suggested a range of features were once present in this locale, including the medieval castle (re-edified by Phillips) and a range of constructions attributable to Phillips including a bawn, manor house, brewhouse (or kiln), orchard and gardens, and houses possibly built and occupied by O’Cahan tenants/Phillips’ Irish workforce.

Geophysical anomalies revealed by survey carried out by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork of Queen’s University Belfast in April 2009 suggested the survival of portions of Thomas Phillips’ masonry bawn and fishponds, and possibly buildings associated with his developments or those of the O’Cahans. The excavation combined targeted examinations of these geophysical anomalies, a stratified sampling exercise carried out across an area of high archaeological potential involving the excavation of 1m2 units and the excavation of a 1m by 2m trench on the castle mound.

Limited excavation on the known site of the demolished O’Cahan/Phillips castle concentrated on the re-excavation of a depression on the castle mound and the sampling of intact castle demolition, occupation and construction deposits. The origins of the depression are attributed via oral history to the activities of US servicemen stationed nearby during World War Two. A total of nine contexts were recorded in this small trench, including the robbed-out northwestern wall of the castle, which had been built upon bedrock. While the Ordnance Survey memoirs suggest a late 18th-century date for the demolition of the castle, pipe stems found in the robber trench all dated to the mid-to late 17th century. Pre-dating the robber trench was a layer of occupation debris containing a wrought nail, window glass, faunal remains (predominately butchered pig) and shell. No ceramics were recovered from this deposit. Locating the robbed-out wall of the castle allowed for the extrapolation of the angle and location of not only the remainder of this wall, but also its north-western corner. The excavation also revealed the way in which the original builders of the castle shored up the edge of the bedrock platform to provide a support for the wall. The recovery of considerable shell mortar remains and a fragment of window glass provides useful insight into the nature and appearance of the building. That the castle also employed window glass gives insight into the attention paid to appearance and comfort, given the relative expense of window glass in both the 16th and 17th centuries. Further investigation should be able to associate the use of glass windowpanes either with the O’Cahan period or with the Phillips’ re-edification. The artefacts and faunal remains recovered from the excavation also provide a hint of the preservation of materials across the castle site itself and a window into the O’Cahan-period diet and subsistence.

Beyond the castle site, a total of eleven trenches were excavated across a 50m area of the site. Seven of these trenches, each 1m2, encountered extensive evidence for 20th-century landscaping including the demolition of a 19th-century house and the filling of the fishpond with related debris. The 20th-century fill was in places at least 1.5m thick, suggesting extensive damage to earlier archaeological remains. While the extent of disturbance to the site caused by demolition, landscaping and filling activities is regrettable, it is by no means certain that the extent of Final plan of excavation trench layout at Deer Park (No. 180).

disturbance revealed in Trenches 2, 4, 5, 10 and 14 necessarily extends all the way across the former location of the pond and its near vicinity. By contrast, one 1m2 trench (Trench 1) encountered bedrock at a depth of 0.1m.

Intact archaeological deposits of likely 17thcentury date were encountered in three other trenches (Trenches 7, 9 and 11). The 1m2 Trench 11 was excavated to bedrock and revealed intact 17thcentury deposits below 0.2m of 20th-century rubble. Datable artefacts associated with the intact layers included a sherd of North Devon gravel-tempered pottery, two white ball clay tobacco pipe stem fragments and a sherd of Ulster coarse pottery. In Trench 7 (a 3m by 1m unit sited over an apparent geophysical anomaly) a 0.3m-thick layer of organic silty loam, encountered below topsoil and two thin layers corresponding to sheet midden, contained two white ball clay tobacco pipe stem fragments, a basal sherd of Ulster coarse pottery/everted rimware, and a very small sherd of Metropolitan slipware, all suggestive of a 17th-century date. Below this layer, and at the interface with subsoil, several lithics were recovered including a flint scraper, debitage (secondary flakes and flake shatter) and a flint blade. No archaeological explanation for the geophysical anomaly was identified.

Trench 9, a 1m2 trench, also encountered intact deposits of probable 17th-century date and therefore was extended to 3m by 1m. High concentrations of charcoal and burned turf were encountered in this trench in association with Ulster coarse pottery, with possible structural evidence in the form of a loosely coursed deposit of stones which was not fully exposed. In both Trenches 7 and 9, plastic sheeting was placed over exposed deposits prior to backfilling. It is possible that these three trenches are located either in the vicinity of Phillips’ formal garden, or perhaps more likely situated near the three vernacular buildings shown on Raven’s 1622 map.

A village is documented as having been present during the O’Cahan occupation of the site which more than likely continued in use during the Phillips period. The presence of ^medieval’ Ulster coarse pottery alongside 17th-century North Devon pottery and clay tobacco pipe stems is suggestive of continuity as well as change in the material repertoire of the inhabitants of Limavady. The recovery of these materials from the small test units is encouraging in terms of the survival of related materials in this area of the park. The evidence from Trench 9, with its range of distinct, if shallow, layers and high percentage of charcoal and burned turf fragments, is suggestive of domestic activity. Future investigation will concentrate on expanding the excavation area around this trench to more fully expose the extent of the deposits that were encountered and reburied. The potential of the archaeology here for shedding light upon the lifestyle of both the O’Cahan and Phillips retainers is high, to judge from this season’s finds. Additionally, the flint assemblage recovered from Trench 7 is also significant in underscoring the considerable human history of this location above the River Roe.

Overall, the limited investigation was successful in elucidating the preservation of medieval and post-medieval deposits at the castle site, and elucidating elements of its construction. Sampling elsewhere on the site unearthed evidence for considerable modern landscaping and demolition activity that severely compromised archaeological remains in the posited location of Phillips’ manor house, fishpond and the possible brew house. However, investigation to the east pinpointed intact deposits of 17th-century date. These deposits are likely to correspond to a garden and residential area associated with Irish tenants of both the O’Cahans and Sir Thomas Phillips.