NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Laois Site name: BALLYSHANEDUFF OR THE DERRIES (Site G)

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E0662

Author: Thaddeus C. Breen, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Fulacht fia

Period/Dating: Undetermined

ITM: E 657342m, N 706210m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.103385, -7.143683

Centre-line topsoil-stripping in advance of the M7 Heath–Mayfield Motorway Scheme uncovered a spread of charcoal-rich soil with burnt stones. The site was excavated between April and June 2004.

The burnt layer was slightly higher in the centre, forming a low mound. When it was removed, the presence of a rectangular trough and a number of other pits showed that the site was a fulacht fiadh. Removal of a further deposit of burnt material immediately to the east revealed a second fulacht fiadh of similar construction. They are referred to as A and B respectively. The burnt mounds did not overlap, so it was not possible to determine which was the earlier or, indeed, whether they were contemporary.

Fulacht A consisted of an irregular-shaped spread of charcoal-rich soil and heat-shattered stone, 18m by 15m. The main features were a rectangular trough with stake-holes in the corners, a large irregular-shaped pit or well beside this, 0.9m deep, and a similar large pit at the north end of the mound, in which slag and cattle bones were found. There were also some smaller pits and post-holes.

The trough was rectangular, 1.54m by 1.17m, with a flat base and stake-holes in the corners. It was 0.34m deep. The timber structure itself did not survive. It was cut into the natural clay, and contained three distinct fills. The main fill was charcoal-rich soil with a large quantity of round stones, burnt but mostly intact, more than half of them at least 0.3m in diameter. There were two stake-holes in each corner, a large and a small one.

The ‘well’, which may have supplied water for the trough, was approximately oval in plan, with a maximum diameter of 5.5m. As the southern half was deeper than the northern, it appeared to have been recut to extend and deepen it. Its maximum depth was 0.9m. The base was below the water table. There were four fills. One of the lowermost was charcoal-rich silty clay with occasional burnt stones. A narrow channel, 0.33m wide, sloped down into the ‘well’, but this may have been a naturally formed gully.

At the northern end of the mound was another deep, irregular pit. It was subcircular, but there was a shelf halfway down on the northern side, which may have resulted from recutting an existing pit. The maximum diameter was 4.5m, and it was up to 1m deep. There were seven fills, mostly silty clay, but with occasional fragments of charcoal and burnt stone. Animal bones and slag were found in some of these layers.
The trough and ‘well’ were not in the centre of the burnt mound but in the southern half. At the centre was a shallow pit. This was a shallow dish-shaped depression, ovoid in plan, with a maximum diameter of 1.83m. It was 0.27m deep and contained four fills, most including some burnt stones. There was a stake-hole on either side and a line of three small stake-holes to the south of it.

Near the eastern edge of the burnt mound was an almost circular pit, 1–1.2m in diameter and 0.28m deep. It had a flat base, in which a number of parallel dark lines could be seen, probably representing the remains of a wicker lining. The main fill was loose grey sandy silt with some charcoal. To the south-west, this feature was cut through by a small circular pit, 0.55m in diameter and 0.43m deep

Further features in this fulacht were three small shallow pits, a linear depression 4.1m long with four possible stake-holes along the base, and a cluster of stake-holes, some of which formed a possible circle, 1.3m in diameter.

Fulacht B consisted of an approximately circular spread of charcoal-rich soil and heat-shattered stone, 13m by 1m. Like Fulacht A, there was a rectangular trough with stake-holes in the corners and a large irregular-shaped pit beside this. In this case a row of stake-holes separated the two. There was also a smaller pit nearby, and two further groups of stake-holes. When the burnt mound was removed, a large number of possible stake-holes were found, but many of these are doubtful.

The trough was slightly bigger than that in Fulacht A, with an area of 2.19m by 1.37m. However, at 0.23m, it was shallower. Again, no wooden structure survived but corner stake-holes were present. There were two fills, both consisting of loose grey soft sandy silt with small pieces of heat-shattered stone. There was a large and a small stake-hole at each corner, except the north-east, where only one was found. Outside the trough at the latter corner was a group of six smaller stake-holes.

Beside the trough was a well, sub-oval in shape, measuring 4.1m long and 1m deep. The sides sloped gently inwards in the upper half, becoming steeper towards the centre. The base was below the water table. The centre was filled with a series of layers of grey gritty sand alternating with dark-brown peaty silt. A hole 0.2m in diameter had later been cut through these.

A number of stake-holes occurred at the northern end of the well and between this and the trough. They may have supported a low platform, or they could be the remains of a pulley for lifting water. There were two groups just inside the well – three at the north-west corner, two at the north-east. At the north-east corner there was a third stake-hole just outside the well. In the area between the well and the trough were a double stake-hole, a single stake-hole and a possible additional single stake-hole. A number of these stake-holes sloped, in different directions, and one ran horizontally into the side of the well.

One metre to the west of the trough was an approximately rectangular pit, 1.2m by 0.92m and 0.63m deep. Nearby were other smaller pits or depressions. At the south-eastern part of the mound, in an area forming a gap in the circular burnt spread, ten stake-holes occurred in a rather irregular curved line. Although some were regular in shape, there was also evidence of root disturbance, so not all of them may have been genuine.

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