2003:1346 - Killegland, Ashbourne, Meath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Meath Site name: Killegland, Ashbourne

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 45:5 Licence number: 02E1728; 02E0708 ext.

Author: William O. Frazer, Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 2 Killiney View, Albert Road Lower, Glenageary, Co. Dublin.

Site type: Medieval millrace and rural landscape

ITM: E 705670m, N 752040m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.507723, -6.406963

Excavation took place in late November and December 2002 (02E1728), as part of a landscape-based site strategy of mitigation. The small-scale excavation in Phase 2, Area B, a part of the site of lesser archaeological interest where no possible mill site existed, was undertaken, with the primary goal of eliciting detailed engineering data about a millrace earthwork identified during assessment of the whole of Phase 2 (O'Donovan and Frazer, Excavations 2002, No. 1416, 02E0708) and general information about the immediate area's landscape history (from palaeoenvironmental data). Ultimately, this information will complement other data in the main area of archaeological interest within the development site: Phase 2, Area C (see below). This work follows on from earlier assessment and monitoring on Phase 1.

The work was conducted against a backdrop of history and previous archaeological work and also involved topographical survey, landscape archaeological survey and geophysical survey of Phase 2, Areas B, C and D. Area A was assessed as an area of low archaeological potential, located north-west of the Phase 1 development site and in the north-north-west corner of Phase 2. Immediately north-east lies a derelict granary on the south border of the N2. Area B is the eastern portion of Phase 2, immediately south of Phase 1. It was predominantly of non-existent to low archaeological potential, as it has been heavily disturbed in the modern era and covered with an overburden of landfill material up to 6m deep. Area C occupies the western portion of the Phase 2 site, north of the Broadmeadow River. Testing has identified Area C as having the greatest archaeological potential. Area D consists of the southern portion of the Phase 2 site, south of the Broadmeadow River, and contains Killegland Castle, a 15th-century tower-house. Area D is designated as parkland and will not be built upon.

Historical context
Ashbourne gets its name from the Bourne family, local landowners in the town in c. 1820. The town's Irish name, Cill Dhéagláin, suggests that it may have been the site of an Early Christian settlement. No mention is made of a church dedicated to St Declan in Bishop Dopping's Visitation book 1682-1685 (Ellison 1971). However, it is likely that Cill Dhéagláin and the church and graveyard at Killegland are one and the same place. If this is the case, the original settlement focus was probably centred on the early church/graveyard site (SMR 45:4) and the later Killegland Castle, reputedly built by Walter Wafre after 1400. The church/graveyard is located c. 1.5 km to the south-west of the development site.

The Register of the Abbey of St Thomas records a grant of land from Hugh de Lacy to the abbey that includes the church of 'Killegan', donated sometime in the later 12th century (Gilbert 1889, 8). A similar grant of various churches in Meath from Hugh's son Walter de Lacy, after his father's death in 1186, also includes the church of Killegan with all its appurtenances, again between 1194 and 1224 (Gilbert 1889, 11). A third grant, from Robert Power, confirms the grant of the church (of 'Kildeglan', this time), at some time between 1192 and 1213, probably earlier in this time-span (Gilbert 1889, 26). From these donations, it seems that the abbey was establishing a holding in the area of the church, probably in the two decades surrounding the start of the 13th century. It is not clear precisely what lands in the townland are included with which donation, however.

Another charter, of one William Clut (dating to after 1186, but still probably during the 1180-90s), gives a better indication of the appurtenances and the lands associated with the church at around the same time: 'the church of Killeglan and its appurtenances and on the west (of the church), close by, two acres of land, and on the east beside the cemetery one messuage (for the maintenance/hospitality) of the priest and (corresponding stinting rights in) the common pasture of the manor' (Gilbert 1889, 45-6). This charter also mentions a mill, as it is concerned with the granting of 'all the tithes of my mill at Killeglan, and the fish (piscatura) that pertain to that mill'. The implication is that the mill's waterworks (ponds, etc.) are also being used to farm fish, or that the two are in close proximity (and perhaps share the same millrace/feeder leats) or both. Also, it is clear that a typical (Anglo-Norman) manorial system, in which rights to the use of common pasture are provided to tenants according to the size and status of their holding, is in operation at this time in Killegland.

A final charter in the name of Walter Wafre (ancestor of the builder of Killegland Castle), dating from between 1194 and 1224, grants 'all my water (works) at Kilegelan, with the site of the mill, and a messuage at which Hugo the miller is tenant, with appurtenances and (rights of) common pasture (and/for) six cows (vacarum) in the aforesaid village of Kilegelan' to the Abbey of St Thomas of Dublin and 'its canons in service to God' (Gilbert 1889, 50). A note in the margin of this document, in another hand, identifies the charter as pertaining to 'the mill and mill water(work)s of Killegland donated by Walter de W'. Again the reference to the mill and what is likely to be its (engineered) waterworks separately would seem to imply that the latter were extensive and/or elaborate. The listing of the miller's residence separately implies a separate household structure/plot, that may nevertheless have stood near to the mill site.

Topographical, landscape and geophysical surveys
A topographical survey of Phase 2, Areas C, D and the part of Area B not covered by modern overburden, was undertaken by Kieron Goucher and Liam Murphy as part of Phase 2 mitigation. In addition, a walkover interpretive landscape survey of these areas was undertaken by the writer in autumn/winter 2002, when vegetation was low. The topographical survey in Area D was more fine-grained, due to the drier hard ground surface. This work confirmed the results of earlier testing as to the location and extent of potential archaeology in Area C at up to three sites. Area C contains a length of probable medieval mill channel (a race and adjacent earthen bank) and a medieval platform earthwork that may be a mill site, a levelled area yielding evidence of pits and possible post-holes, and a concentration of earthworks that may represent medieval fishponds or a possible mill site. Geophysics, undertaken by Jo Leigh and John Nicholls (03R022), was difficult in Area C due to very wet ground conditions, and only specific locations were targeted.

The combined results of the three surveys in Area D have confirmed the presence of subsurface castle remains that, prior to testing, were believed to have been destroyed during the 19th century. Killegland Castle is rectangular in plan, oriented approximately along the major compass points. It is bounded by a curvilinear bank enclosure on the west, a steep slope along the Broadmeadow River on the north and it has a hollow access way leading along its eastern curvilinear boundary and down to the riverside (in total, the bawn is c. 50m across). The main castle entry appears to have been from the south, off Castle Street, and the castle seems to have had a south-western tower, a north-eastern tower or extension and, perhaps, a south-eastern tower. Castle Street itself, an old right-of-way and perhaps a main axis for Killegland prior to the 19th century, curves near the castle site, as if respecting/skirting the latter's enclosure. The present Castle Street Bridge over the Broadmeadow River is outside the development site. The bridge is a probable 19th-century structure consisting of two segmented or three-centred arches with no visible joints in the intrados. The ring stones of the bridge are not true voussoirs but some (including the keystones) are wedge-shaped, and the arch joints are radial. The bridge has no downstream cutwater. There is a possibility of an older (medieval) bridge or ford beneath it. A weir survives just downstream from the bridge.

Excavation (02E1728)
The small excavation in Area B consisted of three linear trenches (A-C) and yielded no datable medieval finds (medieval pottery was recovered from the millrace ditch during earlier testing). Trench A (15.6m by 3.15m) was excavated by hand as a transect across the millrace in the western field of Area B, which was not covered by modern landfill and retained a bank and ditch earthwork. Trench A yielded the most useful data, exhibiting an earthen bank c. 4.05m wide made of upcast from the straight-sided millrace ditch (3-3.4m wide by 1.5m deep from the bank top) upslope and behind it. A shallow U-shaped ditch (1.7m wide by 0.28m deep) was also present on the bank's downslope side. Environmental data was best from the basal ditch fills, but, as the earthwork was reused as a field boundary into the modern era, the basal fills are not clearly medieval.

Trench B was another transect at the western edge of the landfill, where the possible survival of underlying archaeology was deemed to be greatest. It measured 22.1m by 7m at the top, but, after the stepping of the trench baulks, an area of 11m by 1.8m was excavated by hand. The millrace had been heavily truncated in Trench B, with a late post-medieval stone field drain inserted into its base, such that none of its fills could be convincingly argued to be medieval. What remained of the bank was similar to that in Trench A.

Trench C (15.3m by 1.8m) was located south of Trench B and nearer the river, and was placed to test for archaeology beneath the modern landfill. It was excavated by mechanical excavator down to sterile subsoil, with no archaeology found. This, combined with the altering of the development across most of the landfill part of Area B to a design with pile foundations, meant no further trenches were opened.

The construction of the millrace bank and ditch in Area B, as well as the adjacent drainage ditch to the south, indicate that the millrace earthworks were probably not very different from the way they were until quite recently, up until the time of development; there was no stratigraphic evidence for structures within the ditch or even a hedge or coppice along the top of the excavated portion of the bank in Trench A (or Trench B). The lack of any revetments along the millrace ditch, as might be expected along a headrace or tailrace adjacent to a mill sluice, suggests that no mill was nearby. The excavation was 55-85m downstream from the closest earthworks in Area C that are a candidate for a mill site, however, and it may be that revetments were not extended for this distance. There is no excavation evidence to indicate that the millrace here was used to farm fish.

Environmental evidence from basal millrace ditch deposits in Trench A, analysed by Penny Johnston, suggests that the landscape nearby was meadow or grassland at that time, and indicates the presence of a large amount of plant species that suggest the disturbance of such ground, perhaps by grazing cattle. A few charred grains (wheat and unidentified grain) provide some tantalising possibilities of cereal production in the vicinity. The view of the landscape near the millrace earthworks, of meadow or grassland, accords well both with the name of the Broadmeadow River and the value placed on lowlands bordering waterways, which thawed quickly with spring flooding and provided rich early grazing, even before the Cistercian use of constructed water meadows. It is tempting to see the environmental evidence for disturbed ground in this light. In springtime even now, the meadow along the north side of the river, downslope from the millrace earthworks, can be quite wet and very quickly trampled into mud by livestock. However, other excavated evidence does not demonstrate convincingly that even basal millrace ditch fills in Trench A can be identified as medieval, and it may be better understood as evidence of the post-medieval landscape and agricultural practices.

The Trench A, late post-medieval, environmental evidence presents a picture of more diverse species nearby to the excavation site, many of which could be expected to colonise low-lying meadows, and the verge of the earthworks serving, by this time, as a field boundary. Many, and probably all, of the species identified were still present nearby at the time of excavation.

Basal deposits in the millrace were the result of either slippage from the north side of the millrace ditch and the millrace bank, silting up of the ditch, or both. Many had peat growing within them. This suggests that they represent a period after which the flow of water within the base of the ditch had slowed or stopped altogether, probably after milling along the race ditch had ceased. So none of the fills, even those basal Phase II fills that partly resulted from slumping/slippage from the bank edges, are likely to be contemporary with any milling, and again perhaps none are therefore medieval.

There is no obvious explanation for this apparent lack of medieval fills in the millrace ditch, although it is useful to consider one, or a combination, of the following possibilities: first, that no significant sediment deposits had a chance to build up in the ditch during its use, as the water in it was relatively swift-flowing; second, that the millrace was well maintained and regularly cleaned out during the course of its working lifetime (probably true near the mill, but there was no direct evidence of this in either Trench A or B); third, that the reuse of the millrace as a post-medieval and modern field boundary resulted in the removal of earlier fills by improving farmers; or fourth, that the Killegland mill(s) identified in textual records lie(s) some distance away (and the nearby earthworks in Area C are something else), such that the race was not well maintained at this point and the basal fills are, in fact, medieval in date but simply lack resilient dating evidence.

Monitoring (02E0708 ext.)
Monitoring of soil-stripping in Phase 2, Area A (low archaeological potential), was undertaken in January 2003. No archaeology was found.

Monitoring of soil-stripping, and the insertion of wire-mesh gabions along the south side of the Broadmeadow River, in Phase 2, Area B, was undertaken after excavation there between June and September 2003. No further archaeology was found.

Ellison, C.C. 1971 Bishop Dopping's visitation book 1682-1685. Ríocht na Míde 5, 28-39.
Gilbert, J.T. 1889 Register of the Abbey of St Thomas. Dublin.