1991:065 - Ballyegan, Kerry

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kerry Site name: Ballyegan

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 39:23/2301 Licence number:

Author: Martin E. Byrne, Dept. of Archaeology, University College, Cork.

Site type: Cashel with souterrain

ITM: E 496573m, N 611054m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.241488, -9.514454

Excavations at Ballyegan were conducted between July and November as a response to an approach from John A. Wood Ltd., to investigate a possible ringfort site on their land near Castleisland, where they sought planning permission to extend quarrying activities.

The site had been partially levelled in the last century and was not noted on any editions of the 6″ O.S. maps of the area. Its presence, however, was noted by a Capt. A. Gorham who surveyed the site early this century and published his findings in The Kerry Archaeological Magazine of 1914, titled ‘An Interesting Fort’. Between Gorham’s survey and the mid 1980s the site was levelled and the souterrain entrance closed.

A topographical survey showed this site to be sub-circular in plan with internal dimensions of 35in north-south and 30m east-west. Two linear banks ran to the south and east of the enclosure, the former being 35m long and the latter being 43m. These have been interpreted as being the remains of former field boundaries. Two other small linear banks, each measuring 5m in length, were noted to the south-east of the site. Subsequent excavations in this area revealed the remains of a sub-rectangular enclosure of stone walling, encompassing an area of c. 36m2 possibly the remains of an animal pen.

Removal of the sod and topsoil across areas of the enclosing element of the enclosure revealed the remains of stone wall (on average 2m wide) running in an arc. It consisted of inner and outer courses of limestone with a rubble core. Two trenches to the west and south-west of this wall did not reveal any evidence for a fosse and therefore the site was classified as a cashel.

A rock-cut, stone-lined souterrain was uncovered in the interior. It consisted of two levels of passages, the upper level being almost L-shaped in plan. Most of this passage had been destroyed and backfilled in antiquity. Entrance to the lower level was gained through a square drop-hole into a short passage-way. Two creepways led from this passage, one to the south into a natural cave, the other to the north. The northern creepway led into a beehive-shaped chamber of corbelled construction. Another creepway led from the north of Chamber 1 into a rectangular chamber which incorporated a rock-cut bench and a wall cupboard. This chamber was partially collapsed but the remains of a stone-lined ventilation shaft were found intact. The remains of a fully articulated horse skeleton, which appear to have been buried in antiquity, were discovered in this chamber.

The remains of a stone wall with an associated habitation surface were found in the interior of the cashel. Evidence for two other possible structures was also found, one of which appears to post-date the construction of the souterrain. The remains of a gravel surface were also uncovered.

A corn drying kiln was uncovered c. 4m to the north-west of the cashel. This was of the key-hole shaped variety and was fully lined with stone slabs.

Finds include four fragmented bone combs, two of which are decorated, metal blades, a perforated stone disc and eight whet stones. One unfinished quern stone and a fragment of another were also uncovered. An iron plough share, tentatively dated to the 10th century, was recovered from the backfill of the upper passage of the souterrain.

Because the underlying bedrock was limestone, preservation of organic remains was quite good. A relatively large quantity of animal bone was recovered and a good quantity of charred seed remains has been noted from soil samples during the initial process of sieving.