1972:0006 - 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. L. de Paor, Dept of Modern History, University College

Site type: Monastic Site

ITM: E 569757m, N 685038m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.915324, -8.449666

Work on Inishcaltra was begun in 1970, and continued in 1971 and 1972. In the first two seasons the main centre of activity had been the site of the Baptism Church (Site 1). Work was concluded here in 1972, and site conservation was carried out. This included restoration of the stone wall which formed the latest phase of enclosure of the church site. The 13th century mortared wall which formed the boundary to the S. was flaunched and pointed, and where necessary brought up in new masonry to a height sufficient to provide protection against cattle. The dry-built wall which had bounded the site to the W., N. and E. in the last, Late Medieval, phase of construction, was wholly rebuilt and restored, with a mortar—filled core, and was brought up to a height sufficient to keep cattle out. Mortar was used because the original work was of such poor quality that a faithful restoration would have been neither durable nor effective. The barb—wire fence has now been removed from around this monument.

Site 4: “St Michael’s Church”: Work was commenced in 1972 on the site variously described as “St Michael’s” or “Garraidh Mhichil”. Here there is a D—shaped enclosure around the summit of the island, forming a focus for the Inishcaltra system of earthworks. Near the centre of the D was a smaller enclosure (just under 15m in maximum dimension or plan) marked before excavation by a low stony bank. It proved to be roughly square and to have two phases of construction. In the first it was defined by an earthen bank with an external ditch. An unmortared stone wall had been added, on the crest or inner slope of the bank. Some remains of stone paving were found running along the inside of the wall.

The enclosure had been used as a burial ground, exclusively for children apparently ranging in age from a year or two up to adolescence (expert opinion is not yet available). A very small (2.5m externally) mortared stone structure with a W. doorway had been constructed in the centre of the enclosure at some stage after burial had commenced. Finds of coins and other objects suggested that the main period of activity here was in the chronological range c.A.D. 1500 – 1800. Work continues at Site 4, and it is hoped in 1973 to expand to investigate the larger, D—shaped, enclosure. The stone wall, paving and small building are tentatively interpreted as remains of the development of sites on the island as cult— centres for the great annual pilgrimage known to have been a feature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Site 5: “Anchorite’s Cell”: Work was also commenced in 1972 around the small structure of unknown purpose which has been speculatively described as a “confessional” or “anchorite’s cell”. This too stood in a small enclosure defined by a drystone wall, with traces of paving along its inner base. Excavation is at an early stage in this area (“Site 5”), but at least three phases of activity can be discerned. The first may be pre-Viking, and probably included burial and the erection of a stone cross. The second has yielded material, including strips of bronze with graved ornament in Kingerike style, apparently of eleventh century date. The third, which probably included both the enclosing wall and the “anchorite’s cell” in its present form, is being interpreted tentatively as further evidence of the development of cult—sites on the island in connection with pilgrimage, at a date which may be as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century.

It is hoped to continue work at Site 5 in 1973.