1989:015 - BELLAGHY BAWN, Bellaghy, Derry

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Derry Site name: BELLAGHY BAWN, Bellaghy

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

Author: N.F. Brannon, Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, DOE (NI).

Site type: House - fortified house and Bawn

Period/Dating: Post Medieval (AD 1600-AD 1750)

ITM: E 695329m, N 896705m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.809190, -6.517050

Bellaghy Bawn was the stronghold of the Plantation lands granted to the Vintners Company of London in the early 17th century. Well described in surveys of 1619 and 1622 (the latter also containing a colour-coded picture-map), the bawn was surrendered and slighted in the 1641 rebellion. Reoccupation from the later 17th century, new buildings and garden landscaping of the 18th and 19th centuries, and continuous occupation to 1987 had obliterated or concealed above-ground evidence of major original features. Excavations were mounted to locate, if possible, the lesser of two houses within the bawn courtyard, an adjoining round tower, or flanker, and a stone-faced rampart, or gun platform.

Investigation of the house, recorded in 1622 as singlestorey, 54 ft long and 26 ft broad, and brick-built, was initially hampered by a thicket of trees and shrubs which covered the western half of the bawn interior. With this mechanically cleared, manual excavation revealed the stone footings of a two-roomed structure, the rooms separated by a large H-plan fireplace. The southern room had a cobbled stone floor, and was possibly a kitchen/scullery. No trace of flooring survived in the northern room, but it may have been of timber, and the room is likely to have been a parlour. Basal courses of the brick superstructure survived, built to an original thickness of 2.5 ft. Domestic artefacts were few, and it appears that the house was deliberately razed to ground level in the 17th century, while 18th/19th-century gardening on the site contributed to further damage.

At the northern end of the house, traces of the stone footings and angled doorway of the round tower, or flanker, were located. The ruined tower had been used as a rubbish dump in the early 18th century, after which the area was heavily landscaped, all but the lower courses of the brickwork framing the doorway being removed.

The early 17th-century rampart, or gun platform, proved to have survived almost to full height, sealed within a larger, mid 18th-century version, which was probably ornamental rather than military in intent. Faced with a bonded stone revetment wall (erected at the same time as the earthen rampart fill), the rampart was of one build with the first phase of a sallyport through the western bawn wall.

The removal of mounds of brick rubble and up to 1m of garden soil on the site revealed most of the long-hidden inner face of the western bawn wall. This survived in almost perfect condition (in contrast to the exposed outer face), displaying high quality English bond brickwork. The wall, surviving in places to a height of over 3m, had developed an alarming outward lean and had parted from its stone foundations. Excavation revealed that this had been caused by the founding of the wall over the relatively loose fill of an Early Christian period ringfort ditch.

While several of his contemporaries had pragmatically remodelled such 'Danish forts' as 17th-century strongholds, it appears unlikely that Sir Baptist Jones, Vintners Company tenant and builder of Bellaghy Bawn, had been aware of the centuries-old settlement which had previously occupied the site.