1976:035 - CARRICKFERGUS, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: CARRICKFERGUS

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

Author: T.G. Delany, Department of Antiquities, Ulster Museum

Site type: Historic town

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 741221m, N 887393m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.714766, -5.808165

Excavations in the town recommenced in May and continued until November. Work was carried out at five sites, and destruction observed at several other points in the town.

The site was largely destroyed in 1974 except for a 2m strip on the W. margin. In 1976 this remnant faced destruction, and excavation began to investigate the stone walls previously located.

Three walls were involved here. The most northerly wall was 0.65m thick, and had been strengthened with a clay-bonded stone buttress. Outside this was a 16th-century pit with wood and window glass and a brick culvert. The middle wall, 3.05m to the S, was 1.3m thick and immediately S of it a wall one course thick created a niche– possibly a tomb. The S wall, 6.75m from this, was 1.5m thick. In the intervening spaces and to the S, 68 burials were found. One group which included several children pre-dated the walls but cut through a cobbled surface. These had been disturbed by the insertion of two large pits, one containing building rubble, much window glass and a plain column capital. Above these was a layer rich in mortar, and another group of burials had been inserted into this layer. Activity in this part of the site would seem to have occurred as follows:

(A) creation of cobbled surfaces associated with 13th-century friary buildings;
(B) intensive use of area for secular burial, 13th-14th century;
(C) extension of friary to E in 15th century;
(D) take-over of friary and strengthening, late 16th century;
(E) destruction of friary and building of Joymount, early 17th century;
(F) insertion of late burials (possibly 1689);
(G) destruction of Joymount and erection of courthouse and gaol.

2. 33-37 HIGH STREET (CF IV)
Work continued on the medieval deposits begun in 1974. To the rear of No.33 a roughly cobbled surface was found. Beneath this further layers of organic material alternated with layers of sand; these deposits were below the water table and ran on beneath the town wall towards the sea. In the lower layers short lengths of palisade slots seemed to represent the remains of fences or breakwaters rather than houses. A stone footing was found, following precisely the modern 33/35 boundary, and beneath it a wooden boundary of heavy posts was revealed. These boundaries and the associated structure were in places heavily disturbed by post-medieval pits one of these yielded another portion of the wineglass found in 1975. Towards the front of No. 37 a “firepit” and a clay-filled pit were found to add to those found in 1975 and a heavily damaged clay wall-footing, defined by stakeholes, was found. The finds included much medieval pottery- mostly local- and animal and fish bone in abundance. Iron objects were poorly preserved, bronze found only in traces, and no coins survived. However, from one of the lowest layers came a fine gold ring, set with an amethyst.

This site, threatened by road works, occupies the area of the late 17th-century suburb, Irish Quarter. It was hoped to retrieve the plan of that settlement and to check on any earlier occupation. A cutting c.300 sq.m was examined. Stripping the foundations of the houses destroyed in 1976 showed no relation to any earlier features. The walls rested on a layer of red clay below which was a layer of soil up to 1.75m thick containing much animal bone, and pottery and coins of the first half of the 17th century. This layer sealed a very extensive sheet of pebble paving, interrupted only by a shallow gulley and two late foundations. Below this was a medieval cultivation soil up to 85cm thick, with three pits. The only other feature was a rectangular clay floor 3m x 3.4m defined by stones. A curious feature of the site is that the underlying raised beach gains in height as it approaches the sea, and the overlying deposits get thinner. Thus in the N of the area investigated the stratification was 2.25m thick; in the S the same layers were reduced to 0.45m.

The post-medieval layers produced the best series of the late 16th-/early 17th-century pottery yet found in the town, with imports from all parts of Western Europe and England, and further evidence for local manufacture of decorated wares. Other finds included iron objects, a decorated bone terminal, leather scraps, coins and tokens. The medieval layer contained large quantities of medieval potsherds, mostly local and small of size, iron objects, some bronze scraps, and a long-cross silver penny.

Immediately across the road E of CF V an area was excavated with the main intention of locating the town wall built by Chichester in 1607 and which had been destroyed here in the late 18th century. This wall was found close to the surface, standing over 1m high and a trench 7.5m wide and 18m long was opened. The sequence of deposits was similar to CF V- a late 19th-century layer sealed a black organic soil with late 16th-/17th-century pottery and coins, which in turn sealed a level pavement of small stones. This predated the town wall and sealed medieval deposits of which only a small portion was excavated. Finds were similar to those encountered in CF V, with a wide range of pottery and over 500 fragments of leather and scraps.

Just W of the castle a ramp was being inserted at a sharp change in level between the green and the harbour level. When a wall was found, excavation proceeded to check whether this was the return of the town wall along the seafront. Deposits over 2m deep involving 23 layers were found but English sgraffito pottery was found underneath the wall footing. Its identification with the town wall can thus be dismissed.