1991:095 - Upper Magdalene St., Drogheda, Louth

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Louth Site name: Upper Magdalene St., Drogheda

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

Author: Andrew Halpin, Archaeological Development Services Ltd., The Power House, Pigeon House Harbour, Dublin 4.

Site type: Dominican Priory

ITM: E 708817m, N 775435m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.717234, -6.351381

In May-June 1991 Archaeological Development Services Ltd. carried out an archaeological excavation on behalf of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God on the site of the medieval Dominican Priory of St Mary Magdalen. The site of the excavation was the former St Brigid's C.B.S. located c. 20in east of the 15th-century 'Magdalen Tower' (the crossing rower of the church and the only standing remains of the priory). Extensions were to be added to the school on the north, east and west to accommodate a new Education Centre. Work on the foundation trenches for these, however, uncovered a number of human skeletons and accordingly Archaeological Development Services Ltd were called in to excavate the area of the foundations.

The excavation uncovered at least 69 burials, all apparently of l3th/l4th-century date. It also yielded important information on the layout of this part of the priory. It is clear that the burials represent part of the priory cemetery. A right-angled return of masonry was also exposed on the western edge of the excavation area and can fairly confidently be identified as part of the fabric of the priory. It may be part of an outlying building off the eastern range of claustral buildings or perhaps of a sacristy on the north side of the church. On the basis of the present excavation, and earlier work by Kieran Campbell and others, it is now possible tentatively to outline the location and extent of the priory buildings, which seem to have covered the area north of the Magdalen Tower, from c. 1Om to 20m west of Moore's Lane to the western end of the old school building. The cemetery surrounding the buildings on the south and east, at least, originally extending along the north side of Upper Magdalene St from the Magdalen Tower to Sunday Gate, a distance of at least 80m, as well as covering the area of the old St Brigid's CBS building and lower schoolyard.

It is clear that the cemetery was not exclusively reserved for the Dominicans but was used by a relatively wide community, both lay and religious, although little can be said at present about the nature of this community. The apparent re-use of several of the graves raises the possibility that they were reserved and periodically reopened for members of particular families. An apparent pattern of burying infants immediately outside the wall which was probably part of the medieval priory was also noted. Burials were normally laid in a simple pit, apparently without a coffin and possibly wrapped in a shroud. Three burials were somewhat more elaborate and presumably are the burials of relatively wealthy or prestigious persons, lay or clerical; two were in stone-lined graves and one was in a probable mortar-lined grave.