1974:0009 - INIS CEALTRA (Holy Island), Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: INIS CEALTRA (Holy Island)

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

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

Site type: Ecclesiastical enclosure

Period/Dating: Medieval (AD 400-AD 1600)

ITM: E 569617m, N 685014m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.915109, -8.451745

In the 1974 season work at Inis Cealtra proceeded with the greatest difficulty, because of appalling weather.

Site 5: Investigation continued of the area around the “Confessional” ,where cuttings were extended. The “Confessional” itself, after a stone-by-stone survey, was taken apart and the stones numbered for reconstruction. In the demolition it became clearer that the inner sub-megalithic structure antedated the outer, mortared, building. Under the cist-like base of this inner structure was found a small deposit of bones, some human but mainly animal. The whole building had been constructed on a podium of flagstones, and remains of two earlier such platforms were found underneath this. A wooden structure of still earlier date, traces of which were observed in 1973 just to the west of the stone building, has been interpreted as a first version of the “Confessional” which, as O’Donovan suggested, was probably a tomb-reliquary.

Occupation deposits had been observed in the area immediately to the north of the “Confessional”, in two phases (probably eleventh century and twelfth-thirteenth century). As the cuttings were extended northwards, the occupation material faded out giving way to evidence for (later medieval?) cultivation. The traces of a small circular hut, with central hearth, of very flimsy construction (probably resembling an upturned basket) appeared to be associated with waste from eleventh-century bronze-working. Burials, which antedated the activity described above, were located on Site 5, but because of the adverse weather conditions, examination of them was deferred.

Site 6: Excavation was concluded on a broad Sondage designed to examine the slope between Site 5 and Site 4 (“St Michael’s”), crossing boundaries of some of the small enclosures. No evidence of permanent occupation was found, but much of occasional activity, with numerous pits and work-areas. The small enclosures, prominent on the surface in this area, were of late date.

Site 7: A new area of investigation was opened around St. Caimin’s Church and the Round Tower. This had been a burial area and many of the burials antedated the two stone buildings. There was also much evidence for nearby occupation and intensive casual activity, or at least frequentation of the site. The evidence included some sherds of E2 ware. Work here was much impeded by the weather and is still at an early stage.

The doorway of St. Caimin’s Church, rebuilt by the Board of Works in 1879-80, was taken down for re-examination. In that reconstruction, three voussoirs with human masks had been set as keystones for the three orders of the arch. Seven such voussoirs have now been assembled. They appear to be part of an arch-ring like that of Dysert O’Dea, or Inchagoill (with which O’Donovan, examining the collapsed remains of the doorway in 1838-39, compared St. Caimin’s). The area immediately around the doorway is being examined, partly with the hope of finding more voussoirs. Detailed stone-by stone survey was completed before demolition, both by measurement and by photography.