2003:996 - GORTEEN, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: GORTEEN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 02E1813 EXT.

Author: Elizabeth Connolly, for Irish Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, 8 Dungar Terrace, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Post-medieval quarry

ITM: E 642558m, N 653324m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.629469, -7.371359

Monitoring of topsoil removal for a proposed shale and fireclay quarry at Gorteen, Castlecomer, was carried out from 7 to 15 April 2003. Topsoil was stripped using a bulldozer. In all places, topsoil overlay yellow marl subsoil.

Evidence was found of mining works associated with the Castlecomer coalfields from the late 16th to the mid-19th century. The seam, which yielded non-bituminous anthracite of a high burning quality, was known as ‘the old three foot seam’. This coal seam was fairly uniform in height, beneath a layer of shale and overlying a layer of fireclay. The method of mining out the three-foot seam was with the use of bell pits. A bell pit was a shaft excavated by hand through the shale until the seam of coal was reached. Two or more of these shafts were used in conjunction with one another to facilitate the free flow of air through the underground tunnels, or adits, from which the coal was extracted. The pits were excavated quite close to each other, sometimes only about 50 yards apart.

A number of bell pits cut into the yellow subsoil were recorded during topsoil-stripping. They were circular in plan and measured approximately 2–4m in diameter. The fill of the pits consisted of dark-grey to black clayey silt with frequent fragments of shale and moderate lumps of anthracite. The consistency of the fill was quite loose. Nine pits were recorded. As this number is considered low for the acreage stripped by the bulldozer (approximately five acres), it is possible that the conditions of the shale ‘roof’ over the adits in this part of the coalfield might not have been stable enough for more extensive mining.

Nothing else of interest was found during monitoring, and there were no artefacts associated with the bell pits. Some finds of modern delft and glass came from the topsoil. The bell pits found were fairly evenly distributed on the ground. It is probable that more related bell pits lie outside of the area stripped for this phase of the quarry development.