1993:178 - 'The Deserted Village', Slievemore (Toir), Achill Island, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: 'The Deserted Village', Slievemore (Toir), Achill Island

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 42:1403 Licence number: 91E0047

Author: Theresa McDonald, Achill Archaeological Summer School,St. O'Hara's Hill, Tullamore, Co. Offaly andEoin Halpin, A.D.S., Power House, Pigeon House Harbo

Site type: Multi-phase landscape

ITM: E 462981m, N 807512m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.998649, -10.089930

The excavation at the Deserted Village, Slievemore, which commenced in 1991, was continued over a five-week period in July and August 1993 and was funded by the Achill Archaeological Summer School and Mayo Co. Council.

The Deserted Village lies on the south-west facing slopes of Slievemore Mountain (2204 ft) and stretches for about 1.5 km hugging the 200 ft contour. The site consists of 74 upstanding buildings constructed in two distinct groups, Toir, or the west village, and Toir Reabhach, the east village. While the village dates to the immediate pre-Famine era, other sites in the vicinity indicate almost continuous settlement in Slievemore from the Neolithic period onwards.

The 1993 season concentrated on the excavation of the area immediately adjacent to House No. 36 in Toir in conjunction with the on-going survey of Toir village. Several of the houses, notably Nos. 11, 12, 13, 16 and 17 were recorded in detail and provide particular insight into the complexity of the building techniques employed in Slievemore.

The 1993 excavation concentrated on two cuttings opened in 1991 and 1992 respectively, one located immediately adjacent to the west wall of House 36 (Cutting 1) and the other in the garden/haggard to the east (Cutting 2).

Cutting 1
The removal of c. 0.05m of fibrous rotting vegetation revealed part of the actual house foundation along the west wall. A raised pathway south-west of the house, which emanates from the west and continues in a south-easterly direction, is c.1.5m wide and consists of layers of stone, bonded together with sand and gravel and demarcated by large upright stones on the south. It likely to be part of the old roadway of folk memory which linked Toir with Toir Reabhach. Several drainage gullies adjacent to the house and the pathway, when unblocked, allowed the release of accumulated water which appeared to find an exit via former drainage channels located strategically around the house and only slightly apparent previously. A paved area, semi-circular in shape and set some 0.5m below the southern edge of the pathway and the northern terrace of House No. 37, appears to continue underneath the pathway and may be part of an earlier structure.

Cutting 2
This cutting was extended north and east to the edge of the stone wall enclosing the garden/haggard. Numerous finds of 19th-century delphware and glass were recovered while substantial spreads of ash layers had abundant charcoal flecking. A grouping of stones with associated ash spread along the northern edge of the cutting may possibly represent the remains of an outside fire and belong to the phase after formal desertion when the village was re-used as a booley for summer pasturing of livestock.

Some documentary research was carried out principally relating to original ownership of the houses and lands in Toir and Toir Reabhach and the impact of the Achill Mission Society on settlement in Slievemore prior to and during the Great Famine. This research is ongoing and will continue hand-in-hand with the excavation and survey.

The project is due to continue in 1994.