2003:1963 - CASTLETOWN, Westmeath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: CASTLETOWN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 02E1739

Author: Caitríona Moore, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Burnt spread

Period/Dating: Prehistoric (12700 BC-AD 400)

ITM: E 611321m, N 735948m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.373601, -7.829865

Testing was carried out here in December 2002 by John Channing (Excavations 2002, No. 1844) in advance of the construction of a road in the vicinity of a ringfort, SMR 35:5. In June 2003 the licence was transferred to the writer to carry out monitoring of the construction works, which are part of an Iarnród Éireann scheme to provide alternative access to lands, farms and areas where unmanned level crossings are to be eliminated. The works were carried out just south of the Dublin-Galway railway line as it runs between Portarlington and Athlone, halfway between Moate and Athlone. To facilitate the road building, topsoil was stripped from a 6m-wide band, 4m of which was covered by road with a 1m shoulder on each side. Topsoil containing finds of modern pottery and glass was removed to an average depth of 0.3m revealing yellow/grey mottled boulder clay. At the western extent of the works, three small spreads of burnt clay, Features 1–3, were revealed. Further investigation of these features was carried out under the extension to the licence.

The three features lay 11–30m apart and all consisted of small to medium-sized deposits of burnt clay. The largest, F1, lay partially within the line of the development and continued outside it to the north. It was approximately square and measured a maximum of 3.12m east-west by a minimum of 3.6m. The northern extent of the feature was not exposed, as it lay outside the area of development and excavations were confined to the southern side. Excavation revealed three distinct deposits of clay, two of which appeared to be redeposited boulder clay; all contained flecks of charcoal, burnt bone and decayed stone. Beneath these, at the base of the feature, was a thin deposit of charcoal. Excavation of this feature revealed a shallow depression in the subsoil. As the northern extent of this feature was not impacted by the development, it was preserved in situ beneath geotextile and hardcore.

F2 was approximately oval shaped with maximum dimensions of 3.51m east-west by 1.68m. A narrow trench, 0.4m wide, was excavated across its centre, which revealed a cut with gradual sloping sides, a flat base and a maximum depth of 0.51m. It contained three fills similar to those recorded within F1, with one being redeposited boulder clay and a second consisting of a mixture of boulder clay and topsoil. All contained flecks of charcoal, burnt clay and decayed stone; small fragments of early red brick were also present in all three deposits. The boundaries between these fills and the edges of the cut were ill-defined and it is likely that some disturbance had occurred. As this feature lay south of the road-take and was not impacted on by the development, the trench was backfilled and the entire feature covered by geotextile and hardcore.

F3 was an irregular shape with maximum dimensions of 1.3m east-west by 0.82m. Cleaning revealed an upper deposit of charcoal-rich clay with decayed stone and small flecks and fragments of early red brick throughout. As it was not impacted on by the development, no further work was undertaken on this feature and it was securely covered by geotextile and hardcore.

In conclusion, it is probable that these features are of a relatively late date and are unlikely to be associated with the ringfort (SMR 35:5) which lies 114m to their east. The presence of early red brick in F2 and F3 suggests that they date to or after the early modern period. In addition, the proximity of the three features to each other and the similarities of the deposits suggests that all three are contemporary. While these features may be the remains of activity such as agriculture, clearance, etc., it is probable that they are associated with the construction of the Dublin-Galway railway line, which lies only 5m north of F1. Due to the ambiguity of structure and function and the likely late date of these features, it is not intended that further analysis be carried out. These features have been preserved in situ, securely covered by a layer of geotextile and hardcore.

Brehon House, Kilkenny Road, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny