1987:58 - BALLYLA AND CLONMANNON, Wicklow

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Wicklow Site name: BALLYLA AND CLONMANNON

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

Author: Margaret Gowen

Site type: Shipwreck

Period/Dating:

ITM: E 731022m, N 699134m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.026825, -6.046771

The site of the supposed wreck of the ‘Aid’, a brig which went down in 1804 carrying a cargo containing Greek and Roman art treasures, was investigated in a 10-day sub-aqua ‘expedition’ by the University of Dublin, Trinity College, Sub-Aqua Club under licence to the writer. The investigation and preliminary survey were carried out in July 1987. The wreck site lies off a storm beach in the townlands of Ballyla and Clonmannon, near Killoughter, Co. Wicklow.

The expedition was directed by Prof. John Dillon, Regius Professor of Greek at the School of Classical Studies, Trinity College, Dublin, and the writer was requested by the O.P.W. and T.C.D. to become involved as there were no archaeologists among the team members.

The project was largely funded by Sotheby’s and by The Sunday Press. Sponsorship was successfully sought in a number of areas and some of the equipment was donated.

During swim-line searches of the site in 1985, two large anchors and two capstans were located, along with the remains of possible structural timbers. The preliminary task of the 1987 expedition was to relocate these remains. Once the anchors and capstans were located, a search area 200 sq.m was marked out, using a sextant. The timbers found in 1985 were not relocated in spite of detailed swim-searches of the area in which they had been noted. After several days it became apparent that exposed remains of the wreck existed only within c. 40m of the shore, but that these were scattered over a distance of at least 100m.

The site is a storm beach of shingle and fine sand with a depth of just 10-12m max. in the area investigated. Most of the features recorded occur at a depth of c. 8m where a fine layer of shingle overlies the sand beneath. The max. depth of sand was not ascertained, but in places where the dredge was used it had a min. depth of at least 1m. Because the substrate is sand, it shifts readily in strong winds especially when coupled with the 3.5-3.7 knot currents which occur in this area during ‘spring tides’. Thus the lighter elements of the wreckage have been scattered over time and the heavier fragments of the wreck have been periodically covered and uncovered as the sands shift.

When the wreck incident occurred the boat appears to have been beached by a succession of several storms during which she gradually broke up, but not before much of her cargo had been retrieved.

The principal remains comprise two large anchors (2.65m in length), one with a considerable length of chain attached, and at a distance of c. 13m from them, two capstans (1.5m in height) which lie roughly 2m apart. Between and around these features are other small items of debris. To the south of this group of features are several lengths of corroded chain along with fairleads/brackets, bars, rings, bracing plates and much other corroded and unidentifiable debris. No structural wood/planks were located nor were any substantial fragments of wood discovered, though two dead-eyes were recovered. To the north of the capstans and anchors, at a distance of roughly 50m, is a large possible windlass, 4.4m long. Further relatively large items, as yet unidentified, were recorded to the extreme south of the area investigated. One is a triangular cast-iron housing which may have served as a mast-foot or a cap for a thick beam. Also found in the area surveyed were a number of iron and brass nails and other small items including fragments of broken chain, a possible stancheon and a fragment of spliced metal rope with an eye. Many of these smaller items were discovered and brought ashore by divers using metal detectors.

In all, 23 small items were brought ashore on the final day. Most of the pieces were of iron and thus corroded. All were ‘cleaned’ and the corrosion was not severe. After the removal of the corrosion they were placed in fresh-water tanks. All items were subsequently numbered and catalogued and appropriate measures have been taken to keep the material in a stable condition. All have been drawn to scale in advance of any attempts at conservation (Ms Christina Haywood has been consulted in this regard) and these drawings should help with the identification of individual items.

The expedition succeeded in locating and surveying some of the much scattered wreckage of the supposed brig and also succeeded in describing in detail many of the features located. It has not yet been ascertained if the remains are indeed those of the ‘Aid’ but it is hoped that some detailed work on the ship’s furnishings which were recorded during the project may at least confirm that the wreck is that of a brig.

5 St Catherine’s Rd, Glenageary, Co. Dublin