2003:1021 - BANKS OF THE RIVER NORE, KILKENNY, Kilkenny

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Kilkenny Site name: BANKS OF THE RIVER NORE, KILKENNY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 01E0821

Author: Ian W. Doyle, for Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 2 Killiney View, Albert Road Lower, Glenageary, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Urban post-and-wattle fences, weir, tower, VARIOUS

ITM: E 655548m, N 658234m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.672422, -7.178664

During 2003 the River Nore (Kilkenny City) Drainage Scheme commenced widening the existing banks of the Nore as it passed through Kilkenny city. During the monitoring of river widening, archaeological material was uncovered at four locations along the left, or eastern, bank of the river. The remains included post-and-wattle fences adjacent to the swimming pool and Peace Park on John’s Quay/Mayor’s Walk, the remains of a circular stone tower downstream of John’s Bridge in College Park, and the northern landfall of Ormonde Weir, also in College Park.

John’s Quay

A deposit of rough cobbles and pebbles, possibly representing the remains of a pathway to the water’s edge, was uncovered at Site A (50677 56299). The limited remains were revealed at the southern end of the area examined and measured 2.5m east–west by 1.7m as exposed. A post-and-wattle fence was constructed across the area examined. This fence was exposed for a length of 10m north–south, with a height of 0.5–0.9m. This fence post was constructed against the eastern side of the stone bank to the southern end of the site and appeared to terminate at this point. This suggests that they may be contemporary. A horizontal timber beam, which measured 4.3m north–south by 0.25m thick, was exposed against the western side of the wattle. This may have been placed there to give additional strength.

Following the partial collapse outwards of the post-and-wattle fence, the area surrounding it silted over. This silting was represented by a deposit of dark-grey, fine clayey silt alluvium, with occasional peaty inclusions and almost no stones. The deposit was recorded over an area measuring 20m north–south by 2m, as exposed. Artefacts recovered from this material included 18th–20th-century pottery and glass. Subsequent to this, three rows of stakes were made to the west of the wattle fence. It was not possible to establish with certainty which stake row was earlier or later than another. These stakes were sealed by modern overburden.

Monitoring of the removal of riverbank along Mayor’s Walk, on the eastern bank of the river, exposed additional stretches of post-and-wattle fences (50683 56335). The area examined was located downstream of Green’s Bridge and was 60m to the north of the area described above. The earliest activity recorded was a collapsed post-and-wattle fence, which measured 6.05m north–south by 0.68m. Some 0.2m to the west of the collapsed fence, a timber beam, which measured 5.61m north–south by 0.26m, was revealed. Seven stakes were found to pin this beam into place.

A second post-and-wattle fence was located some 0.95m to the south-west. This fence measured 7.04m north–south, with a maximum depth of 0.64m. An additional fence was also uncovered, which measured 10.6m north–south and ran across the eastern edge of the site.

The fences uncovered at John’s Quay remain undated at the time of writing, but it is hoped that post-excavation analysis will assist in this. Nevertheless, the fences represent attempts at reclaiming ground from the River Nore.

College Park

Investigations commenced in August 2003 when a masonry structure was uncovered during the monitoring of river-widening works. The site was located within the County Council grounds in College Park townland, between the adjacent hotel and the eastern arm of Ormonde Weir. The structure was found on the riverbank directly opposite Kilkenny Castle. The remains consisted of a circular masonry tower founded on wooden posts driven into the riverine silts (50917 55777).

The earliest deposit exposed on the site was a light to mid-grey compact riverine silt. A single sherd of Kilkenny-type pottery recovered from this layer can be dated to the 13th to 14th centuries. This silt was sealed by a thick deposit of light to mid-orangey-brown, gravelly, silty sand. Two sherds of Kilkenny-type pottery were recovered from this layer, suggesting a medieval date (or later) for its deposition.

In order to construct the masonry tower, a cut was excavated into this riverbank material. This vertical-sided cut was only visible against the inner face of the tower wall for a maximum depth of 0.18m. Within the construction cut, a 2.5m-wide deposit of unbonded rubble stone was placed. This was interpreted as a foundation layer, to form the base for the masonry structure. No trace of a construction cut was detected on the exterior face of the structure and it is likely that the continual scouring out and redeposition of riverbank material by the river caused the removal of this. Some 140 wooden posts were revealed at the southern part of the site, adjacent to the river. These posts were visible, as a part of the masonry fabric had been removed during antiquity and immediately prior to discovery when the riverbank was mechanically graded. The stakes formed an arc, which measured 2.5m in width, and these posts indicated the complete circumference of the tower structure. The stakes were between 0.42 and 0.82m long and were driven into riverine deposits. The tops of the stakes corresponded to the base of the unmortared rubble foundation deposit. The stakes were intended to consolidate the riverbank and acted like a mini-pile support structure under the masonry wall. The presence of these posts under the surviving masonry could not be determined, as it was preserved in situ.

The main body of masonry wall was most complete at the northern part of the structure. At this point the wall survived to a maximum height of 1m on top of the foundation layer. The exterior face of this wall was stepped, with a maximum of three steps recorded over the foundation. The lowest course was made up of roughly faced, uncoursed, random rubble limestone blocks between 0.1 and 0.3m in size. This step protruded 0.4m from the base of the next step. Above this a second step, 0.3m high and protruding 0.4m, was composed of a mixture of large, roughly squared, and small flat, roughly faced, limestone blocks. The larger stones (0.3–0.6m) formed the main part of the step, with the flat stones creating a level top. The uppermost visible step was very worn and probably incomplete, being a maximum of 0.25m in height by a maximum of 1m in width, and comprised large roughly squared and faced limestone blocks. The internal face of the masonry wall did not demonstrate the same stepping or variation in coursing. The foundation layer was visible internally as a rough, unfaced, heavily mortared course 0.4m high, corresponding with the bottom step on the outside. This appears to have been built up against the edge of the construction cut. The wall fabric was bonded with a compact light-grey to white lime-based mortar with occasional burned-shell fragments. Analysis of the mortar revealed it was feebly to moderately hydraulic. The structure had an internal diameter of approximately 5m.

A thin lens of mortar was noted abutting the inside wall of the structure. This lens appeared to indicate the point where the internal masonry of the wall changed from the rough and heavily mortared portion built up against the construction cut to the faced masonry visible above ground. Accordingly the mortar layer appeared to indicate the construction period ground surface and the mortar may be contemporary with this activity. The mortar lens was 0.1m thick and extended from the wall into the interior of the structure by over 1.1m. A single sherd of what appears to be 15th/16th-century German stoneware (C. McCutcheon, pers. comm.) was recovered from this deposit.

Later activity on this site included the infilling of the area immediately to the west of the structure. This appears to have happened in the post-medieval period. No evidence for demolition rubble was encountered, although robbing and episodic flooding by the river may have removed some of the debris from such demolition. The structure does not appear on any historic mapping or illustration of this area. A preliminary assessment of the date of the structure suggests an early post-medieval date, perhaps during the 15th–16th centuries. This is suggested on the basis of the pottery evidence. A radiocarbon determination from a timber post is expected. The role or function of the structure is open to interpretation. No indication of an adjoining wall, such as would be expected with a mural tower, was uncovered. Indeed, the very location of the tower at the margins of the river, in an area of what was essentially flood-plain, is somewhat enigmatic. The tower may have had a defensive function, given its location directly opposite Kilkenny Castle, or alternatively a more mundane role as a dovecote may be suggested. Indeed, placename evidence may suggest the latter (J. Bradley, pers. comm.). Following excavation and recording, the structure was covered with a protective membrane and backfilled. It now survives in situ beneath the redesigned rock armour.

Ormonde Weir

As part of the river-widening works carried out on the eastern bank of the River Nore, a considerable amount of riverbank material was removed at College Park. This work revealed part of the weir that crossed the river from Ormonde mills (51021 55800). Ormonde Weir forms part of the Ormonde mills complex (Excavations 2001, Nos 710 and 711, 01E1107 and 00E0388 ext.). Previous excavation by Paul Stevens of the weir on the opposite, western, bank determined the construction techniques used but failed to recover any material to date its construction.

As part of the investigations in 2003, a 1.5m-wide section was dug through the weir. The exposed structure was found to run parallel to the river, with its eastern end disturbed but visibly terminating. Excavation revealed a single-phase construction. The upper surface was comprised of large, often sub-trapezoidal-shaped, blocks of limestone. The structure had a curved profile, vertical on its northernmost side, before becoming concave on the southern side and sloping down to the river. A deposit of dark-brown, sandy, silty clay was removed to reveal the weir fabric. Beneath the upper stones of the weir, a deposit of tightly packed, small, black and grey, rounded and angular gravels was recorded. This sealed a bank of large, medium and small rounded and sub-rounded stones of mixed geology. This deposit was quite similar to gravels which form the riverbed. Finds from this deposit include two sherds of brown-glazed red earthenware and accordingly suggest an 18th–19th-century date for this context.