- Mason Island, Co. Galway, Galway

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Galway Site name: Mason Island, Co. Galway

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


Site type: Early medieval graves

ITM: E 475682m, N 729145m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.298000, -9.865000

In October 1934 the discovery of human remains on Mason Island (Oileán Maisín), Co. Galway,21 was reported to the National Museum by a member of the translation department in Dáil Éireann. The discovery was thereafter communicated to the Gardaí at Carna. As the site was not visited by NMI personnel, this report is based solely on a report submitted by Chief Superintendent Seán Ó Maicín (Pl. 105). The site was visited on 2 December 1934 by Sergeant Eoin Breathnach of Carna Garda Station. The burial was situated on the west side of the island. According to reports, it was not normally visible, but the sand that covered it had been removed by a high tide. It is probable that it had been covered again since October, as the Sergeant had to dig to a depth of almost 1m before observing the long slabs forming a grave. The stones were removed from the grave and small pieces of human bone were found. The grave was estimated to measure approximately 2.5m long by 1.2m wide (8ft by 4ft). No large bones were visible in the grave. There was no local knowledge about graves in the area, but according to locals a ship had been wrecked nearby some 200 years previously, and some of the ship’s crew had been buried in the area. Some 60 years earlier, a high tide had also swept the sand from the area and a skull had been retrieved. It was in the possession of Pádraig Ó Conghaile, but it had since disintegrated and only the jaw and some teeth remained. According to reports, another skull found in the grave some eight years previously had been sent to the National Museum. There is no record of this skull in the NMI records, however. On this occasion the remains were sent to Professor S. Shea of University College, Galway.

The archaeological inventory of Galway (Gosling 1993, 835) lists a ‘miscellaneous burial’ that was located in the sand-dunes above Trá na Éadain at the north-eastern end of the island. It also mentions local reports of bones being exposed when high tides washed away the sand. An early medieval oratory is recorded from Mason Island. It is situated in the centre of the island and is poorly preserved. Remains of a trabeate doorway are recorded in the north wall, with the original entrance being in the west. The interior also contains a rectangular leacht (ibid., 103–4). Although it is not possible to be certain, it is considered likely that this site was a long cist of early medieval date, and the presence of an early medieval oratory on the island would support this suggestion.

21. Mason Island, parish of Moyrus, barony of Ballinahinch. OS 6in. sheet 76. The exact location of the burial is not known.