1988:10 - 'Old Meetinghouse', Ramelton, Donegal

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Donegal Site name: 'Old Meetinghouse', Ramelton

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

Author: Judith Carroll, Inishquin, Glencullen, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Presbyterian meetinghouse

ITM: E 623447m, N 920787m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.034057, -7.633232

The excavation of the meetinghouse took place between August and October, 1988. The now disused building is to be restored by the Ramelton Heritage and Development Association. It is of historical importance, being one of the earliest Presbyterian meetinghouses in the country, while the town of Ramelton was the birthplace and home of Francis Makemie, a founding father of the Presbyterian Church in America. The purpose of the excavation was to establish the original shape of the building and the date of its construction.

The meetinghouse is twin-roofed, the central junction of the roofs being supported by a small portion of wall at either end (each of these contained about one-third part of an arch which was cut short, then blocked-in) and in the centre by two heavy wooden pillars, once the masts of the 1811 shipwreck ‘The Saldanha’. These had been inserted during the early 19th-century renovations to the meetinghouse.

The removal of plaster from the walls revealed features predating the renovations of c.181 1. These consisted of blocked-in windows at each gable end of the north bay, but not the south, and the arches. Because there were no gable windows in the south bay, it was first thought that the structure was either a single roofed building or a classic 17th- or 18th-century ‘T’-shaped meetinghouse, the arches being the windows or doors on either side and the south bay being an early 19th-century extension.

The meetinghouse had been built on a slope and the excavation revealed that the ground level had been artificially raised at the east end by almost one metre, that both bays had been built at the same time and that the junction of the roofs had been originally supported by a row of arches running across the centre of the building. Pier bases were found. Two coins, probably deliberately deposited, were found together under a stone in the centre of the artificially deposited soil. These were dated 1681 and 1693. The other finds from the construction phase consisted of pottery of late 17th- to mid 18th-century date, thin greenish glass and pipe stems.

The reason for the blocked-in windows, which are of an early 18th-century ‘Venetian’ style, is that these windows were placed over doors and were therefore higher than the windows in the southern gable ends (which are still extant). When the galleries were built, c. 1811, these Venetian windows were blocked-in for the insertion of new, higher ones, whereas all the low windows were left in place.

There are no historical records of the building before the early 19th century, but a similar twin-roofed Presbyterian meetinghouse, demolished in 1905, is known from the nearby town of Convoy. This had been built in 1725. A similar construction date is suggested by the architectural style of the Ramelton building. This is supported by the finds, though the coins would have been some years old when deposited.