2002:1546 - Westenra Arms Hotel, The Diamond, Monaghan, Monaghan

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Monaghan Site name: Westenra Arms Hotel, The Diamond, Monaghan

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 9:40 Licence number: 02E1447

Author: David J. O’Connor, Cultural Resource Development Services Ltd, Unit 4, Dundrum Business Park, Dundrum, Dublin 14.

Site type: Urban post-medieval

ITM: E 667165m, N 833844m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.249028, -6.969397

A pre-development assessment was undertaken before the construction of an extension to the Westenra Arms Hotel, Monaghan. The site is to the rear of the hotel, which is on the northern side of The Diamond, at its western corner. The proposed site had been cleared of outbuildings to surface level in the past. The development is near the area thought to contain the remains of Monaghan Castle and lies within the zone of archaeological potential around Monaghan town (SMR 9:60). The proposed development consists of the construction of a three-storey-over-basement extension to the hotel. It will involve substantial ground disturbance in the excavation of a basement level, as well as the digging of foundations and the provision of services.

Six trenches were excavated by a mechanical digger fitted with a 2m toothless ditching bucket on 30 September and 1 October 2002. Excavation was undertaken to the depth of archaeological deposits and natural, undisturbed subsoil. Trenches 1–3 revealed the surviving walls of a late 18th-/early 19th-century rectangular structure built of stone, with strong, mortared walls sitting on a poured mortared footing, oriented north–south. This is almost certainly the building depicted on the OS maps of 1835, 1858 and 1860. As a differently oriented building is shown on the 18th-century estate map, we can confidently date the construction of this building to between 1790 and 1835. It was probably constructed in association with the other buildings fronting onto The Diamond. It is known that in around 1880 these buildings were remodelled and their front alignments were changed somewhat. The OS map of 1907 shows the building still standing and incorporated in the Westenra Arms Hotel. Perhaps its function was as a wing of the original hotel. Indeed the hotel is listed in Pigot’s directory of 1824, and so a late 18th-century date seems reasonable.

Sitting directly underneath the late 18th-century building were two clay-bonded walls that appeared to be at right angles to each other. They represented the lower course or foundation of a rectangular building much earlier than the structure above. The building was also oriented differently from the structure above, another indication of its age. Cartographic evidence suggests that the western boundary of the site of the Westenra Arms Hotel has not changed through the years. Interestingly, this building is aligned parallel to this boundary. It can therefore be speculated that the building may date to as far back as the initial organisation and layout of The Diamond in around 1611–13. The 18th-century estate map appears to show a building with a similar orientation. However, when scaled off and overlaid on later (more accurate) maps, this building does not appear to stretch back to where the walls have been discovered, suggesting that it had been removed previously. The only cartographic evidence that might place buildings in this area before the Westenra Arms Hotel is Blaney’s map of 1611–13. On this map The Diamond is shown with a house-lined street running north from its north-western corner toward the lake. This has long been interpreted as Glaslough Street. It is quite possible that Glaslough Street was laid out sometime later, replacing this street as the town suburbs began to grow. Certainly the street appears in the 18th century, but the lack of development of the corner area between the old courthouse and the Westenra Arms Hotel seems to indicate an old thoroughfare. If this is shown to be the case, the structure would be of great importance in understanding the growth and development of Monaghan. Unfortunately the test excavations failed to produce any dating evidence for this structure.

Two slab-lintelled drains (one collapsed) appeared to have a similar orientation to this earlier structure. The area around the collapsed drain produced some 17th-century pottery, although most came from secondary contexts.

Trenches 4–6 may have uncovered evidence of the northern defensive ditch of the town, as displayed on Blaney’s map of 1611–13. It appears that the eastern and southern sides of the town defences depicted on Blaney’s map can be accurately traced on the 18th-century estate map, leading us to believe that the map is an accurate representation of the town. If the map is taken as accurate, it can be postulated that the northern ditch ran through the back yard of the Westenra Arms Hotel. Although further work is required to establish this firmly, it appears that evidence of a substantial ditch running across the site in an east–west direction was revealed in the test excavations. Organic marshy material over 3.5m deep was uncovered in Trenches 4 and 5, and Trench 6, despite being closer to the lake, contained natural subsoil quite close to the surface. The historical sources indicate that the town defences consisted of an external revetment of wood and earth and a large, wide wet moat (flooded presumably by the lake) with a substantial internal earthen rampart. The moat would over time become a marsh, as did a substantial part of the lake, and this is the material that has been uncovered in Trenches 4 and 5.