1993:136 - Gorteens, Kilkenny

County: Kilkenny Site name: Gorteens

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 047:01 & 02 Licence number: 93E0013

Author: Heather A. King, Skidoo, Ballyboughal, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Castle and post-medieval settlement

ITM: E 665136m, N 613553m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.269805, -7.045641

Trial trenching followed by a six-week excavation was undertaken beside Gorteens Castle, Co. Kilkenny, on the new Bellview Port Road which is being constructed by Kilkenny County Council to link the Slieveroe by-pass with the new ‘Waterford’ port on the River Suir. The work was funded by Kilkenny County Council.

Gorteens was described in the Down Survey as having two castles and four dwellings although the only remains on the ground today are of a fragmentary gatehouse. The early medieval history of the site is unclear but in the 16th and first half of the 17th century the FitzGeralds held the ‘manor, town and lands of Gurtins’ (Carrigan 1905, 203-4). John FitzGerald forfeited the lands of ‘Gurteens’ under the Cromwellian regime and it would appear that the land was then divided up between various New English settlers. Little is known of the new owners of Gorteens in the late 17th century. In the early 18th century Gorteens became the site of one of the earliest glass-making factories in Ireland and may have provided the origins for the Waterford Glass factory.

The Castle:
The remains on the ground today are a fragmentary gatehouse of three/four floors with a possible section of bawn wall extending from the north-east angle. There is an entrance gate on the west where the arched gateway complete with barholes, spud and eye stones for securing a gate are present. A blocked ‘murder hole’ can be seen in the barrel vault immediately inside the entrance and traces of wicker centering survive in the vault over the ground floor and also in the small remaining section of a second barrel vault over the first floor. The stairs ran through the thickness of the north wall but these are broken away from the ground to first floor levels and the upper floors are now very overgrown with ivy.

The Excavation:
The Bellview Port Road will run east-west to the north of the castle at a minimum distance of 27m from the north-east corner of the castle. There were no visible features within the fenced area of the new road prior to excavation. Twelve trenches were opened in January 1993 over a distance of 140m to the north-east of the castle and subsequently two large cuttings were opened centering on the trial trenches that had proved most productive. A third cutting was opened to the west of the castle on the site of the new link road.

Cutting 1
The main findings in this cutting were the foundations of two houses together with a contemporary field system. House 1 was represented by the foundations of two walls at right angles to one another which survived to a maximum height of 0.65m. The east wall was 5.4m in length and 0.8m in width while only 0.9m of the north wall survived extending from the north end of the east wall. These foundations consisted of undressed limestone, red sandstone and blocks of conglomerate ranging in size between 0.15m to 0.54m. They were well faced on either side with a rubble in-fill. There was no surviving evidence for any internal features. The east wall appears to have been built up against a bank of clay with a drain running along the outside of the wall. House 2 lay to the east of House 1 and may also have been set into a bank of clay on the east. The north wall was represented by a foundation trench while the stone foundations of the east and an internal wall survived. It had a clay floor into which a hearth had been set and there appeared to have been base plates and postholes representing internal divisions. Surviving measurements are approximately 6m x 7m.

Cultivation furrows contained within a ditched enclosure to the north appear to be contemporary while a number of pits to the south of the two houses appear to have been dug to dispose of building stone when the site was levelled.

Cutting 2
Cutting 2 was opened to the north of the castle with the expectation that part of the bawn wall might be located in it. A large spread of stones, in which the handle of a drinking jug of Cologne or Frechen origin, dating to the 16th century, was found, may be the partial remains of the destroyed bawn wall. A curving arc of stones, two courses in height, was located to the east, set into a very shallow trench. The function of this feature is uncertain.

Cutting 3
Cutting 3 was a long curving trench to the west of the castle in the section of the field which will be taken over to provide a widening of the present road for the new link road. A number of trenches and drains, two small spreads of charcoal, a cobbled surface and a number of postholes were located, together with a large deposit of slag, burnt stones, burnt clay and charcoal enriched brown earth which would appear to suggest debris from iron working. Seventeen kg of slag were recovered.

The diagnostic material recovered from the site included North Devon wares, German stone wares, Ligurian faience, late Saintonge, Iberian earthenware, late 17th/early 18th-century clay pipes and early 18th-century glass bottles.

The historical and archaeological evidence points to Gorteens being occupied from the second half of the 16th century into the first half of the 18th century. The site was subsequently levelled and some of the building stone deliberately buried in pits.

Carrigan, Rev. William. 1905, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory. Vol. IV. (Dublin).