1991:010 - TOOME CASTLE, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: TOOME CASTLE

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR Ant 42:12 Licence number:

Author: Ruairí O Baoill, c/o Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, DOE(NI)

Site type: Castle- unclassified

Period/Dating: Late Medieval (AD 1100-AD 1599)

ITM: E 698930m, N 890092m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.749103, -6.463304

The Toome Castle rescue excavation occurred because the remains of a substantial mortared stone wall were uncovered by a JCB working close to the (River) Bann Canal at Toome. This wall turned out to be that of the late-l6th-century plantation fort of Toome Castle.

Our brief was to determine how much of the castle survived, survey and record it and to do a limited amount of excavation around the castle.

The castle remains constituted an 8m stretch of the east curtain wall with remains of a flanker bonded on to it at its north-east corner. The eastern curtain was 2m thick and survives to a height of 1.5m (as does the flanker). The wall was constructed of roughly-faced basalt stones with a dry stone rubble core. The stones were not individually bonded but, rather, mortar was poured in amongst them. The external face of the castle wall was battered, the internal (i.e. western) face was vertical and sat on an offset plinth above subsoil (gravel deposits). The wall was robbed out to subsoil level to the south.

The well constructed flanker was originally five sided (the western side now destroyed), rising from a rectangular base 4m (north-south) x 2m (east-west) and with an offset plinth set on subsoil along its northern face. This gave it a stepped appearance and may indicate phases of rebuilding in the 17th century.

The only internal castle stratigraphy surviving was a mound of earth abutting the south-western end of the surviving castle wall. Much of this mound turned out to be badly disturbed, the result of a substantial robber trench dug from the west which removed much of the castle down to subsoil level. However, a 2m wide, 5m long, stretch survived. Preliminary excavation revealed the foundations of an internal wall abutting the east curtain at a right angle and sitting on a surface of cobbling.

The only external feature relating to the castle that was discovered was an area of unmortared uneven (sloping or slumping to the north) flagging. This was a mixture of large and small stones and covered an area 6m (east-west) x 2m (north-south), immediately east of the middle of the external face of the curtain wall. It appears to be a causeway or path leading up to the castle and it continues on eastwards beyond the limit of excavation.

Finds associated with the castle were not abundant. There were moderate amounts of post-medieval pottery and clay pipes, and large quantities of Everted Rim Ware. Special finds include an iron knife, a perforated bone needle—for repairing fishing nets—and a quern stone.

Despite limited excavation, considerable evidence for medieval occupation on the site prior to the building of Toome Castle was also recovered. This earlier occupation took the form of two hearths and a mortar floor. Both of the hearths were oval in shape and built of stone. One was located just north of the offset plinth of the flanker, above subsoil. The other hearth, south-west of the first, was cut into subsoil below the bank of the internal castle stratigraphy. Several burnt sherds of Saintonge pottery were found in the hearth.

In a small cutting excavated 6m east of the curtain wall of the castle, a mortar floor was discovered. This was 0.5m above subsoil and 0.7m below the level of the stone causeway. The floor itself was 0.02m-0.10m thick. Medieval pottery was found in layers immediately above and below this floor. Apart from pottery, no other medieval artifacts were recovered.

Although much, if not most, of the internal stratigraphy and structural remains of the castle were robbed out in the years after it was demolished in 1783, it should be noted that considerable damage was done by the JCB to what was left.