2003:1012 - KILKENNY: 63 High Street (Rear of), Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: KILKENNY: 63 High Street (Rear of)

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 02E1715

Author: Cóilín Ó Drisceoil

Site type: Historic town

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 650439m, N 656543m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.657729, -7.254450

An assessment report was completed in December 2002 (Excavations 2002, No. 1013) as a planning condition prior to the refurbishment of the retail unit at No. 63 High Street, known as the OK House (listed as a protected structure in List 1 of the Kilkenny Corporation Development Plan 1994), and the construction of a new retail unit to St Kieran’s Street with two maisonettes at upper levels and all associated site works. Following the discovery of disturbed medieval deposits in the test-trenches, monitoring of construction works was recommended.

The long, narrow strips of land shown on the first-edition map (1841) of St Kieran’s Street (King Street) are the property boundaries (burgage plots) that were first granted in the 13th century during the formation of this part of the town. These are clearly seen on the east side of the street, though the west side is occupied almost exclusively by buildings, suggesting that it had specialist functions rather than a primarily domestic utility. The earliest documentary reference to St Kieran’s Street occurs in 1312, when it is referred to as ‘Benethstrete’ (Bradley 2000, 12). The first reference to the street name ‘St Kieran’s Street’ occurs on the 1946 OS map.

Previous excavations on the street in 1997 by Ruairí Ó Baoill and in 1998 by Hilary Opie uncovered medieval walls, midden material, a well and pits at Nos 10–13 St Kieran’s Street (Excavations 1997, No. 309, 97E0334; Excavations 1998, No. 352, 98E0167). At Kytler’s Inn, Margaret Gowen found extensive medieval midden dumps overlain by clays which contained 14th–15th-century pottery (Excavations 1995, No. 170, 95E0062). It has also been noted locally that extensive archaeological remains were destroyed during the construction (without archaeological intervention) of the Dunne’s Stores shopping centre and carpark on the east side of the street. Recent testing by Richard Clutterbuck (No. 1023, Excavations 2003, 03E1204) uncovered medieval midden materials and walls at Nos 44–48 St Kieran’s Street.

It is probable that there was a medieval house/structure on the proposed development site from an early date, though the first evidence of this occurs in the Civil Survey (1654) when a premises on High Street, a yard and an outbuilding fronting onto St Kieran’s Street are noted in the development area. Rocque’s map (1763) shows a solid block of buildings on both High Street and St Kieran’s Street, though this is probably somewhat schematic. The first-edition OS map (1841) shows buildings fronting onto High Street and St Kieran’s Street, with a small open yard between the two buildings. This open area is also marked on a map of Kilkenny dated c. 1842 (Bradley 2000). The 1900 OS map shows a similar arrangement of buildings around a courtyard on the site.

According to local information, the building shown fronting onto St Kieran’s Street was demolished c. 1950 to make way for a small petrol station, and a petrol tank was inserted into a large pit dug in the centre of the site. The courtyard shown on the 1841 and 1900 OS maps was filled in the early 20th century with the building lately demolished. The adjoining wall to No. 62 is part of a building that also filled the courtyard marked on the 1900 OS map.

Monitoring of the groundworks for the development commenced in September 2003. In October 2003 it was decided by the client, for structural reasons, to extend the development area to a part of the site that had not been subjected to testing. It was agreed that the development in this new area could proceed with additional monitoring. Monitoring ceased in December 2003.

On 5 November 2003, deposits of medieval date were encountered in the south-west of the development area (outside the area where previous testing had occurred). Following consultations, it was agreed to remove a section 2.2m by 1.65m by 2.5m by hand. Recording of adjacent archaeological materials that were exposed (a section 7.5m long by 1.5m deep) occurred where these were not impacted upon by the development.

Given the restricted area available for investigation, there is a limit to what can be interpreted from the available data. Much of the urban area of medieval Kilkenny was built on the flood-plain of the rivers Nore and Bregagh. The 48m contour line represents the limit of the flood-plain, and thus the site, within which archaeological layers commenced at 47m OD and lay on the margins of the flood-plain. The presence of Phragmites (reeds) in an organic layer overlying the substratum clearly attests to this.

The archaeology within the site comprised a succession of attempts to consolidate soft ground by throwing down imported gravels. Between the layers of gravel were soft organic deposits which contained derived occupation materials in the form of broken pottery and leather scraps. Undoubtedly there was originally also a considerable amount of discarded organic waste within the deposits that has since decayed. Such deposits have been termed ‘occupation layers’, or ‘midden deposits’, though their formation is likely to have been a more complex process than these terms imply. Overlying the latter was a substantial deposit of ‘garden soil’, which formed the final medieval layer. Essentially the ‘garden soil’ was similar to the preceding deposits; it also contained quite a substantial amount of detritus such as broken pottery, slates, brick and tile. Its greater depth is likely to represent the successful reclamation of the site, which allowed for sustained development of the soil horizon.

There was also evidence for industrial activity, in the form of a smelting pit containing metal slag and, adjacent to it, a dense layer of charcoal and ash, which probably also derived from the processing of metal on-site.

Post-medieval activity was similar to that found on many sites in Kilkenny where layers of demolition rubble were dumped above the medieval archaeology and subsequently built upon. Of note was the reuse in the 19th-century building of a limestone Tudor jamb.

Bradley, J. 2000 Irish historic towns atlas No. 10: Kilkenny. Dublin.

Tulla, Threecastles, Co. Kilkenny