1989:020 - 'Raholp Old Church', Raholp, Down

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Down Site name: 'Raholp Old Church', Raholp

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

Author: K.A. Neill, Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, DOE (NI).

Site type: Church

ITM: E 715337m, N 847902m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.366701, -6.225128

Raholp church lies on an artificially raised, stone-revetted platform 6km north-east of Downpatrick, close to the southern shore of Strangford Lough. The church is traditionally associated with St Tassach, who is said to have given the last rites to St Patrick, but the fabric has been largely neglected since it was heavily restored by F.J. Bigger in 1915. Excavation was undertaken in conjunction with the clearance of debris from the interior, a survey of upstanding masonry, and repointing. Work was carried out in order to present the monument to the public after it was placed in the care of the Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch DOE (NI).Two 3m x lm trenches were excavated inside the church against the south wall to investigate the cause of localised wall instability, the extent of original stonework and the degree of disturbance by burials. Both trenches revealed that the interior had been used extensively for burial, with up to 1m of disturbed and redeposited soil above the natural orange clay. Graves were aligned east-west with heads to west, though it was difficult to distinguish individual grave outlines and only a relative succession of burials could be established.The earliest graves were quite distinctive, however, consisting of stone-built long cists cut into the underlying orange clay. Several of the cists had been disturbed by later graves and their covering slabs displaced, but in one case these were preserved in situ. This cist also provided evidence for burial pre-dating the present building as it was partly overlain by the foundation of the south wall. No evidence for an earlier church was discovered, but this could have been destroyed by grave-cutting. Similarly, no evidence for a foundation trench survived, but the foundation consisted of roughly-coursed boulders and slabs some 0.9m deep, generally resting directly on the orange clay except where it lay above the cist.A foundation plinth, 0.95m wide and constructed using faced slabs, was exposed in both trenches although it had been disturbed at south-west. The localised subsidence and instability at the south-east were found to result from foundation spread and collapse. Contrary to expectations, no burial lay below the foundation in this area, although grave-digging against the foundation may have added to the instability, as did Bigger’s rebuilding of all but the lowest courses on top of the inadequate foundation.Finds were limited to a few coarse sherds of redeposited souterrain ware and a single late medieval silver groat. The excavation report will form part of a paper including also a record of the standing fabric and an account of the conservation work