NMI Burial Excavation Records


Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: E004248

Author: Nial O’Neill

Site type: Medieval village and burial ground

ITM: E 537240m, N 733278m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.346001, -8.942534

Testing and resolution works were undertaken on behalf of the OPW and Galway County Council in advance of flood relief works on the River Clare in Claregalway, Co. Galway.. To facilitate the construction of a ‘flood eye’ while limiting the potential impact on the known archaeology, three areas were investigated at the northern end of Claregalway village and immediately beside the River Clare. Area 1 was located in Claregalway townland and the barony of Clare, while Areas 2 and 3 were located in the townland of Cahergowan or Summerfield and the barony of Dunkellin.
These works were carried out on foot of a geophysical and topographical survey of the scheme area and environs (Detection Licence 10R0141) by Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd, the results of which informed a subsequent programme of test excavation. All three areas were tested in advance of flood relief works and significant archaeological material was identified at each location.
Area 1 was located immediately to the north of the Clare River and immediately west of the N17 Galway–Tuam national road, Area 2 was located immediately south of the Clare River and also to the west of the N17, while Area 3 was located immediately south of the Clare River and to the east of the N17.
Archaeological works, conducted from 18 November 2010 to 25 February 2011, took place within the medieval borough of Claregalway (GA070-109) and also within the constraint areas of Claregalway Friary (GA070-035001-36) and Claregalway Tower-House (GA070-036/036001-2). None of the upstanding remains were disturbed by the development. However, Claregalway Abbey and associated graveyard (GA070-012001-2) lies only 5m to the west of the construction site and a small proportion of the graveyard was affected by the proposed works.
Test excavation indicated the presence of archaeological material at all three locations. In consultation with the National Monuments Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Project Archaeologist and the consultant engineers, it was agreed that Areas 1 and 2 would be fully excavated. Deposits in the third area were protected and preserved in situ by the placement of an exclusion zone around the archaeological remains.

Area 1
Area 1 was located on the north bank of the river and comprised a subtriangular area generally bounded by the river on the south and by the N17 on the east. Excavation was undertaken across an area measuring 1,300m². Area 1 was further subdivided into northern and southern portions for ease of description.
The northern portion contained eighteen pits, four linear features, three spreads/deposits, one possible metalled surface and one possible fire-spot. No evidence for structures was uncovered here. Fills of cut features and spreads/deposits across the site were found to contain large amounts of animal bone, oyster shell and metal-working slag. The pits varied in size from small to large and were found to contain a rich array of objects, including pottery and tile fragments, a long-cross penny, an iron arrowhead, human cranium fragments, a hammer/whetstone fragment, iron key fragments, iron nails and numerous unidentified iron objects. The linear features were mainly aligned east–west and appeared to have served as gullies or drainage ditches. A small portion of heavily truncated possible metalled surface was also uncovered, as well as a small portion of fire-reddened clay representing a possible fire-spot. The entire northern portion was covered with a spread up to 0.4m deep of silty clay with small stone and gravel, slag, mortar, animal bone and oyster shell fragments. Recovered from this spread was a vast array of finds, including ceramic floor and roof tiles, two perforated roof slates and a roof slate fragment, a red brick fragment, numerous unidentified iron objects as well as a crossbow bolt head, two knife blades, a buckle, a staple, a hook, two blade straps and nails, two unidentified lead objects, a copper-alloy plate fragment, an unidentified copper-alloy object, pottery sherds, ceramic fragments, green glass fragments, worked stone and a perforated bone pin.
The southern portion contained twelve pits of varying sizes and six linear features. The fills of features here were also found to contain large amounts of animal bone, oyster shell and metal-working slag. The pits contained numerous artefacts of a similar array to those recovered from the northern portion. A human cranium was also recovered from a pit here. While the majority of the linear features ran east–west and appeared to represent drainage features, one ran north–south and was conjoined to a large post-pit. This feature may have served as a foundation for an entrance. Overlying the southern portion of the site was a layer of grey silty alluvial clay, interpreted as representing either a deposit formed during flooding from the nearby river or a deposit introduced to the area during dredging works along the river in the 19th century. A Victorian coin with an 1862 inscription was recovered from this deposit.
Much of the activity uncovered within Area 1 clearly relates to food-processing and light industry serving a vibrant community from the early Anglo-Norman period to perhaps as late as the 17th century.

Area 2
Area 2 was located on the south bank of the river and comprised a subtriangular area bounded by the river to the north and by the N17 to the east. Excavation was undertaken across an area measuring 590m².
Excavation within Area 2 identified 23 burials, ten linear features, five pits and four post-holes. Two large linear features appeared to represent graveyard boundaries. The one closest to the western limit of excavation appears to be earlier in date, as it was truncated, and presumably replaced, by another such feature to the east. Eight burials were found to be truncated by the earlier linear feature and, based on stratigraphic evidence, might represent the earliest activity associated with the graveyard in this portion of Area 2. These eight burials were all aligned east–west.
The earlier linear feature or boundary ran north-west/south-east and appeared to curve to the west, extending beyond the limit of excavation to the south and west. A small circular pit cut into its eastern side may have been a contemporary feature. This earlier linear feature was truncated by the later boundary ditch to the south. It was also partially truncated by an east–west linear feature towards its northern end. A spread of redeposited natural was identified along its eastern side, probably the result of upcast from digging the ditch. Two post-holes cut into the base may have served as gateposts.
Six burials were found to truncate the upper fills of this boundary ditch. All were again aligned east–west. A stone dump/deposit overlying this backfilled linear feature was truncated by one grave-cut, aligned east–west. This grave-cut was in turn truncated by an east/west-running linear feature. Two burials, one aligned north-west/south-east and the other east/west, were found to have been truncated by the later boundary ditch and may be contemporary with this phase of activity. A deposit of orange-grey clay with infrequent inclusions of charcoal, animal bone and shell was identified in portions of the site, with the second or later boundary ditch being cut through it. This deposit appeared to be redeposited natural and produced seven artefacts, including a sherd of green-glazed pottery, five fragments of floor tile and an iron object. A pit was also truncated by the later boundary ditch.
A second large linear feature was exposed to the east of the possibly earlier large linear feature/boundary ditch. This was found to truncate the earlier ditch and may represent an eastward extension of the boundary of the graveyard. It extended north–south across the site and appeared to delimit the eastern edge of the graveyard; no burials were identified to the east of this feature. A sherd of green-glazed pottery was found within its fills. The fills were also truncated by two burials, both aligned north–south. Two east/west-running linear features were found to have truncated the later probable graveyard boundary. A linear feature running north–south was discovered near the north-eastern end of the probable graveyard boundary ditch.
Two burials were found to have no physical relation with other cut features on site. Both were aligned east–west.
A deposit composed of dark brown/grey gritty silty clay with frequent inclusions of animal and human bone and infrequent charcoal was found to cover the entire portion of Area 2 corresponding to the graveyard area.
Beyond the graveyard area to the north three linear features, two post-holes and a pit were uncovered. This area had been heavily disturbed by the construction of a handball alley in the recent past. Features here were found to contain iron nails and hooks, floor tile fragments and clay pipe fragments.
To the east of the graveyard area two linear features and three pits were uncovered. One of these linear features contained an interesting assemblage of artefacts, including sherds of green-glazed medieval pottery, worked animal bone objects, a dress-pin clasp/fastener, four worked stones and three iron objects.

Area 3
Two trenches were excavated, revealing a charcoal-rich spread containing very occasional heat-affected stones and also some modern material in the upper levels. A third trench was subsequently excavated to determine the western limit of the charcoal-rich spread. No other archaeological features were identified; it was determined that it would be possible to preserve these remains in situ and they, as well as a buffer zone, were fenced off to avoid the possibility of accidental damage.

Headland Archaeology (Ireland) Ltd, Unit 25, Liosbaun Industrial Estate, Tuam Road, Galway