1990:097 - Clonmacnoise New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise, Offaly

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Offaly Site name: Clonmacnoise New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise

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

Author: Heather A. King, Skidoo, Ballyboughal, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Early Christian settlement and monastic site

ITM: E 601051m, N 730828m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.327700, -7.984228

Following the discovery of the first recorded ogham stone from Co. Offaly while digging a grave in the new graveyard at Clonmacnoise, funds were made available by the Office of Public Works for a limited excavation. The area has long been known to be rich in archaeological remains and the excavation which was undertaken in the area from mid-July to early October 1990 revealed that archaeological deposits survived undisturbed to an average depth of 0.3m and in places to 2.7m.

Two cuttings were opened in the north-west of the new graveyard which is located to the east of the monastic enclosure on the Eiscer Riada. Cutting 1 (8m by 6m) lies immediately inside the western perimeter wall. Cutting 2 (3m by 2.5m) is on the east side of Cutting 1 and on the south side of the grave plot in which the ogham stone was discovered.

The earliest evidence of occupation on the site was a curved double row of post-holes in the south-east corner of Cutting 1 in the natural sandy soil of the esker ridge. They were curtailed by the baulk on the south and by a layer of boulders which are part of the esker to the north. Above this primary level of occupation there is continuous evidence for the presence of man in layers of ash, redeposited sand and thick layers of charcoal together with a considerable number of finds. At an early level there is a demi-circle of post-holes in the north end of Cutting 1 possibly indicating one half of a circular structure – the remaining half remains undug to the north. Above this, although separated from it by a layer of charcoal enriched earth, is a rectangular floor consisting of a gravel matrix. It is also curtailed by the north baulk. Possibly associated with this floor are two corn drying kilns (F 21 & 62) located in the south-west end of Cutting I.

Both kilns are almost circular in shape and are set side by side above a deep layer of stones. Only the oven end of both kilns survives as a later pit (F 51) was cut through them and removed all evidence of the furnace end. The ovens were oriented to the west with the furnace to the east. Kiln 62, which retains part of its flue, would appear to be the earliest. It was built by giving the underlying stones a saucer or pudding-bowl shape and setting one large flat stone as the base for the oven and two uprights to form the passage of the flue. This was then plastered with a thick layer of yellow daub which subsequently became reddened where it was in direct contact with heat. Kiln 21 to the south is not as well built as Kiln 62. Only a thin layer of daub was placed over the underlying stones and ash and this was completely reddened from heat. The floor of this kiln had twelve stake-holes running in a circle below the rim and these are probably evidence for the supports of a suspended mat or tray for holding corn. Both kilns had a deposit of ash within the ovens and they appear to have been subsequently covered with daub which may represent collapsed lids or covers.

Associated with the kilns is a large post-pit (F 18) c. 0.55m deep and 0.3m wide with packing stones at the upper level. Over sixty other features were recorded together with a late pit (F41), which damaged the furnace end of Kilns 21 & 62. The function of this pit is unknown at present but it is a carefully designed structure. Initially a pit 3.3m wide at the mouth and 2.6in deep was dug and then a stone-lined rectangular shaft or pit l.34m in width was constructed within the larger pit, and the area between the edge of the larger pit and the smaller one was backfilled. The base of the internal shaft/pit was edged with ‘planks’ of timber or peat. A number of iron objects was discovered in the base of the pit.

Over two hundred and fifty objects were recovered. The majority of these are of iron but worked bone and antler, bone and blue glass beads, crucibles, bronze wire and a bronze loop-headed pin were also found. A large number of small bone points (20mm in average length), hones and quantities of slag were also collected. Among the iron objects were four knives – one with traces of a bone handle – a disc-headed pin, rings, a tool, a hook and a spiral-ringed loop-headed pin. No pottery, apart from two very abraded 13th/l4th-century sherds which turned up in the sod, was noted. Animal bones, fish bones and shells were also collected.

The iron loop-headed pin with spiral ring found in the lowest layers suggests a pre 9th-century date for the earliest occupation on the site but this suggestion will need to be clarified or refined when radiocarbon dates become available. The ogham stone was found at a depth of 1m which may indicate that it was re-used as a sharpening stone in a post 9th-century context. A large spread of charcoal c. 0.2m deep occurred in Cutting 1 and this may be the result of the many burnings inflicted on Clonmacnoise between the 9th and 12th centuries. The lack of medieval pottery on the site in an area so close to the Anglo-Norman castle would seem to suggest that the site was abandoned before the arrival of the Normans and that it remained unused since then.