2000:0841 - BALLYKILCLINE, Roscommon

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Roscommon Site name: BALLYKILCLINE

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 98E0297 ext.

Author: Charles E. Orser, Jr, Illinois State University and National University of Ireland, Galway.

Site type: Early 19th-century tenant village

ITM: E 598951m, N 786016m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.823653, -8.015926

Field excavations continued for the third season at the early 19th-century townland of Ballykilcline in Kilglass parish, Co. Roscommon, between 25 June and 6 August 2000. As with the 1998 and 1999 seasons, excavations focused on a part of the townland traditionally known as Kiltullyvary or Bungariff (Excavations 1998, 177–8; Excavations 1999, 266–7). This year’s excavations concentrated on the northern part of the 19th-century Nary farm, where excavations began in 1998. The overall focus of this research effort is to provide an anthropological, contextual understanding of early 19th-century tenant farmer life, using excavation, historical research, and landscape analysis.

The excavation team consisted of 28 undergraduate archaeology and anthropology students enrolled in Illinois State University’s regular summer field school in historical archaeology. The portion of the old townland being excavated is owned by J.J. and Dolores Neary, who live in nearby Glebe House, an early 19th-century structure currently under renovation.

During its final years, the townland of Ballykilcline was a Crown estate directly under the control of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. From the 1790s to 1834 the Mahon family, owners of Strokestown Park House about seven miles away, leased the townland from the Crown. After the Mahons failed to obtain a lease extension in 1834, the townland reverted to the Crown. The tenants refused to pay their rents and were involved in a protracted and sometimes violent rent strike that terminated with their full eviction in 1847 and 1848. The townland has been greatly depopulated ever since.

Prior to and during the 2000 excavation, Kevin Barton, of the Applied Geophysics Unit of the National University of Ireland, Galway, completed a detailed subsurface survey of the site using ground-probing radar. The survey of this area began in 1998, and efforts this year were directed towards completing a more intensive survey based both upon earlier results and upon the excavation findings from previous years. The placements of the 2000 excavation units were based on the results of these tests as well as on the results of the 1998 excavations and on the house locations depicted on the Ordnance Survey map (1837) and on an 1836 estate map.

The students excavated 36 1m x 2m excavation units and collected 3757 artefacts. They sifted all excavated earth through screens to facilitate the collection of small artefacts, including beads, buttons and coins. All of the artefacts collected this season date to the 1800–48 period. The artefact distribution breaks down into the following gross categories: ceramics (fine earthenware, coarse earthenware, stoneware and porcelain) = 2527 sherds (67.3% of the total sample); glass (curved and flat) = 656 sherds (17.5%); metal (iron, brass, lead and copper) = 456 pieces (12.1%) and ‘other’ (bone, charcoal samples, slate, animal teeth and bone, whitewash samples) = 118 (3.1%).

As expected, the soil sequence encountered in 2000 was identical to that found in 1998 because the 2000 excavations were placed immediately adjacent and to the south of the 1998 cuttings. Because the site has been largely undisturbed since the evictions, only five distinct soil layers occur: the sod, the topsoil, the eviction/destruction zone (Context 5), the living surface (Context 6) and the culturally sterile clay (Context 12). The excavators found most of the artefacts in Context 5; they investigated two contexts first encountered in 1998 and found seven new contexts (Contexts 54–60), most of which were small pit features.

During the project, it became clear that the 2000 excavations were located directly over the remains of one of the 19th-century houses shown on both the Ordnance Survey map and the 1836 estate plan. This determination was based on the density of artefacts (more than triple the 1998 amount) and the larger size of the artefacts when compared to those recovered in 1998. The 1998 excavations were undoubtedly located in the yard area behind the house, with the house located to the south, close to the road. This spatial arrangement is consistent with the changes in the settlement pattern of County Roscommon during the social changes of the early 19th century.

The archaeology at this locale is providing rich information about the material possessions of the Nary family in the 1800–48 period, as well as permitting a revealing look at the effects of conscious site destruction. The excavations suggest that, when the Nary cabin was razed after the evictions, it was pushed towards the east, along with the materials inside it. Then, many of the largest stones from the wall footings and the yard areas were salvaged for use in post-eviction buildings and walls. If this conclusion is true, then evidence for the evictions must lie all around the Kilglass area, much of it within view.

Another significant result of the research, which is still under investigation, involves the presence of a wide range of ceramics in the house before the eviction. It appears that the Nary family had access to English-made wares, as well as to more traditional Irish vessels. At this stage of the research, however, we do not know whether the Narys obtained these objects as gifts, through purchase or as charitable donations. The question of material culture access is, of course, an important topic within today’s historical archaeology, and our research on this important element of daily life is continuing. Similarly, our research is providing useful information that will permit an in-depth consideration of rural Irish identity during the Union period.

The 2000 excavations were conducted as part of the larger archaeological and anthropological effort to examine the material basis of rural life before the great diaspora of the 1840s. Ballykilcline is an important site of this research because of its undisturbed nature and because it was the scene of significant social unrest. The rent strike provides an intriguing counterpoint to the large numbers of English ceramics found during the excavations. The precise meaning of these ceramics and the manner in which they were contextualised within rural life are currently under evaluation.