1991:121 - Dromore Old Church, Dromore, Tyrone

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Tyrone Site name: Dromore Old Church, Dromore

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR Tyr 50:21 Licence number:

Author: Eoin Halpin, Archaeological Development Services Ltd., Unit 5, Westlink Enterprise Centre, Distillery Street, Belfast BTJ2 5B.

Site type: Church

ITM: E 634844m, N 862699m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.511509, -7.461928

A local community group, Dromore 2000, wished to restore the environs of the old church in Dromore, which entailed the re-pointing and in some cases the re-building of walls as well as the clearing our of the interior of the church of all the accumulated debris. The group contacted Archaeological Development Services Ltd and with funding from Omagh District Council and assistance from a local ACE scheme a short excavation took place within the church to assess the nature and depth of the over burden of the debris. The archaeological involvement on site lasted just over one week.

The removal of the debris from the interior was excavated by digging a series of cuttings,, located so as to leave two sections, one through the long axis of the nave and the other running north-south across the mid point of the transept. Although numerous pieces of human bone were recovered in this process there was no evidence that any came from in situ skeletons. As well as the human bone some butchered animal bone, glass, crockery, iron objects and various metal containers were recovered during the removal of the debris which itself consisted of a mixture of soil, large angular blocks, slates and a high proportion of mortar. The depth of debris varied from 1.5m in each of the corners to 0.5m in the centre of the nave. Along the foot of the north wall and the foot of the west wall of the transept a plinth was uncovered. It consisted of a step which projected some 0.lm out from the main line of the wall. Excavation of the area of the door revealed that this plinth occurred on the inside face only. There was a corresponding soil change below this depth where all of the obviously ‘modern’ finds petered out along with much of the mortar and blocky stones. The excavation did not proceed below this level.

A number of archaeological features were discovered lying on or just below this ‘surface’. The most obvious was a large, 2m long by in wide grave slab, which was apparently undisturbed. Also uncovered were six skeletons, three each in the nave and transept. The three in the nave were located, one along the south wall to the west of the transept, one in the north-west corner found in association with the remains of a wooden coffin and the final skeleton was located mid way along the north wall. Two of the skeletons in the transept were located in a central position and the third was found against the west wall. All of the skeletons were orientated with the head facing east. Only the simple location and the position of each skeleton was recorded whereupon the depth of the excavation was raised slightly to avoid further disturbance. The final archaeological feature uncovered was in the area of the junction between the nave and the transept. Here there was evidence that an earlier phase of the church had consisted of a simple rectangular nave with an internal division, dividing the nave roughly in half. The east and west ends of the earlier foundations have been truncated as a result of the later insertion of the south transept. The internal division is also truncated but the reason for this remains unclear. The remains of the church, as they stand, have been much modified but it is clear that the foundation date for the present church is post-Plantation as it is shown on the Down survey map of c. 1655–60. The discovery of earlier foundations within the nave should not be seen as evidence for an earlier building on the site but rather that the transept was a later addition to the post-Plantation church.

The discovery of skeletons is not surprising but the excavation was fortunate in that the insertion of the graves was consistently below the level of the original floor represented by the floor plinth uncovered along the north wall of the nave and west wall of the transept.

The grave slab uncovered dates to the 1670s and would appear to connect the old church in Dromore with the Mervyn family who lived in Trillick Castle situated some 6km to the south. This Plantation castle was constructed in c. 1630 by Lord Castlehaven. A detailed investigation of the relationship between Castlemervyn and Dromore old church might prove fruitful.