1993:030 - St. Mary's of the Isle, Gillabbey, Cork, Cork

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Cork Site name: St. Mary's of the Isle, Gillabbey, Cork

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 93E0103

Author: Maurice F. Hurley, Cork Corporation, City Hall, Cork.

Site type: Dominican priory

ITM: E 567057m, N 571562m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 51.895243, -8.478643

The site of a Dominican Priory was excavated between August and December 1993. The excavation was necessitated by the redevelopment of the area known as Crosses Green. The redevelopment involved the demolition of two 18th- and 19th-century mills to make way for the construction of a new housing and office complex. The excavation was financed by the developer, O’Flynn Construction Co. Ltd.

The Dominican priory was founded in 1229 by Philip de Barry. It is depicted on several maps of 16th- and 17th-century date located on a small island to the west of the medieval walled city – hence the name St. Mary’s of the Isle. The site of the Priory church is marked on the OS maps and from its location it was apparent that the domestic buildings were to the north of Convent Lane, which bisected the site.

Excavation of the domestic range was undertaken first. The priory walls stood to a maximum height of c. 2m and survived to within 0.5m of the modern surface. The main excavated features were the north range and the eastern half of the cloister.

Two structural phases were identified. The first phase may have been a single storey structure. These buildings were modified during Phase Two to accommodate a second storey. In Phase Two the domestic range was expanded northward.

Phase I: 13th century
The north range was built as a single unit and divided internally into two rooms. A large room was identified as the refectory. It was provided with stone wall benches and a mural staircase leading to a projection from the north wall. This projection may have contained a “reader’s window”. The refectory had been floored at least twice.

A small room lay to the east of the refectory. Access to this was gained from the ambulatory. There was a corresponding doorway in the north wall.

The east and north sides of the cloister were excavated. The earliest ambulatory was defined by a low wall. This may have formed the base of a wooden cloister arcade, although there is no actual evidence for this. The ambulatory was over 2m wide and surfaced with shattered stone.

Phase II: 14th/15th century
The north range was modified by the thickening of the walls, probably to facilitate the addition of a second storey. The refectory was expanded eastward and the small room was reduced to a narrow corridor.

The ambulatory was narrowed by the construction of a new cloister arcade. Only fragmentary remains survived.

More than 50 burials were interred within the cloister. Architectural stone recovered from the demolition layers largely belongs to the second phase.

A small assemblage of 13th- and 14th-century pottery was recovered.

To the south of Convent Lane, the ground had been extensively disturbed by a 19th-century mill. Burials had frequently been discovered in this area during the construction and modifications to this building.

The surviving church walls were very fragmentary and the greater part of the structure lay beneath the laneway. At least two phases of construction were represented in the south wall of the church.

One hundred and fifty burials were excavated. These were predominantly in slab-lined graves (lintel graves). There were two charred wooden coffins and one stone sarcophagus. Parts of two tomb effigies are of possible 13th-century date. Both were in secondary locations.

The priory complex was surrounded by a stone wall. Only a small length of this lay within the area of excavation, but it was evidently of two-phase construction.

Post-excavation work is being funded by the developer.