2000:1010 - ATHLONE TOWN CENTRE, Westmeath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: ATHLONE TOWN CENTRE

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 00E0275

Author: Martin E. Byrne, 31 Millford, Athgarvan, Co. Kildare.

Site type: Urban medieval

ITM: E 604040m, N 741413m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.422818, -7.939217

The site lies on the north side of Church Street/Dublin Gate Street. It is bounded on its southern side by St Mary’s Church. A church is known to have been located at this spot from c. 1450. It was either replaced or enlarged in 1622. This was subsequently demolished in 1826, except for the tower, which is still extant, after which the present structure was built. The associated graveyard dates to at least 1678 and was closed in 1871.

In addition, the site is bounded by two extant stretches of the town wall. One is located in the north-western area of the site and runs in a general south-easterly direction from an extant semi-bastion that lies a little beyond the site boundaries. The other extant section of the wall lies along the eastern boundary, on its southernmost end. Part of a small bastion feature can be traced, and a c. 0.5m return from the main extant wall is thought to be further evidence of this feature. It is suggested that these two sections of extant wall were originally linked by a section of wall that ran across the existing carpark and through the present UDC offices. It is probable that this wall section was demolished in the late 18th/early 19th century when St Mary’s Deanery or Glebe House was constructed. This structure was partially demolished in the late 1970s, and some internal walls and a section of an external façade are still extant.

It is intended to develop the site as a public plaza and an associated underground carpark, with new civic offices, apartments and commercial premises. A feasibility study of the project recommended that a formal archaeological assessment of the proposed development areas be undertaken. The first phase of this assessment dealt with those lands currently owned or under the control of Athlone UDC. Part of the assessment included a programme of testing, which was undertaken in May 2000.

A total of nineteen trenches were opened by a combination of both machine- and hand-excavation. Such investigations uncovered a number of possible pit features within the original walled area. However, owing to previous ground reductions at the site, only the basal remains of such features remain in an undisturbed subsurface context. Similarly, only tentative evidence of the postulated line of the town wall was uncovered.

Testing in the area of the small bastion, however, did uncover additional walls associated with this feature, confirming its location and outline detail. In addition, a number of features were uncovered associated with the former Glebe House.

A mitigation strategy, including changes to the proposed site layout, additional testing, excavation, conservation and monitoring, has been recommended by Dúchas The Heritage Service.