1971:047 - INISHCALTRA (Holy Island)*, Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: INISHCALTRA (Holy Island)*

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

Author: Mr. Liam de Paor, Department of Modern History, University College Dublin

Site type: Ecclesiastical enclosure

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 569757m, N 685038m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.915327, -8.449669

Work on Inishcaltra, in an eleven-week season in 1971, was concentrated on the site of the Baptism Church, which had also been the main centre of excavation in 1970.

Excavation of the area within the church enclosure was completed, and confirmed that the enclosure was free of burials. Excavation of the church itself was completed, and it was found that a number of persons (about twenty) had been interred within the building. Two of the burials were of women in childbirth. Others however were of adult males or immature persons. The burials were examined in situ by Dr. Eamon de Valera and Dr. Maire de Valera. Finds with the burials included iron nails and coffin handles, part of a bone pin (for a shroud?) and a bronze mounting, which appears to have been attached to an arinlet of organic material on the upper arm of one of the burials. This had ornament of late-twelfth or early thirteenth-century character. This date is consistent with the character of the other objects. There is a probability that the burials date from around 1200.

It is suggested that the little Baptism Church, erected c. 1150 (stylistic dating) was abandoned perhaps as soon as half-a-century afterwards, or even less, and replaced by the larger St. Mary’s Church. This abandonment probably marks the end of the monastery of Inis Cealtra, although the island clearly continued to be an ecclesiastical site.

Four stages were distinguished in the construction of the enclosure, the latest, represented by a drystone wall, being late medieval or early modern in date. A system of paved paths, associated with this wall, was connected with St. Mary’s Church, and appears to date from the period of patterns and pilgrimages in the 17th or 18th century.

More evidence was found of the industrial activity, observed in 1970. As well as stone-working, bronze-working and iron-working, it was found that bone combs were being manufactured in the vicinity. This activity appears to have taken place in the late twelfth and in the thirteenth century. A very large cesspit was excavated to the north of the enclosure. There were no habitations in the area excavated.

Excavation at this site is now all but complete. It is hoped to complete it early in the 1972 season and proceed with conservation at the Baptism Church and with excavation of banks and enclosures to the north of it.