2003:1995 - County Buildings, Mullingar, Westmeath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: County Buildings, Mullingar

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 03E1544

Author: Colum Hardy, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd, Brehon House, Kilkenny Road, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

Site type: 19th-century county gaol

ITM: E 643710m, N 752828m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.523598, -7.340827

Testing took place from 29 September to 8 October 2003 in advance of the proposed development of County Buildings and the nearby 'Pound Field', Mullingar, on behalf of Westmeath County Council. This was within the zone of archaeological potential for the town. The construction of civic offices and an amenity area immediately south of the existing County Buildings complex was proposed. All the trenches were excavated with the assistance of a track machine with a 2m-wide toothless bucket. Six trenches, five measuring 10m by 2m and one (Trench 9) measuring 9m by 2m, were excavated within the area proposed for development (Area 1A). A further eight trenches were excavated in the area known as the 'Pound Field' (Area 1A Extension).

Six test-trenches were first opened. Trenches 5-8 were positioned within the grounds of the old gaol south of the Governor's Quarters with Trenches 9 and 10 located south of the gaol boundary wall within a heavily overgrown area. The plan of the gaol centred on the Governor's Quarters, with a semicircular arrangement of yards and cells radiating from it. Substantial structural remains of the gaol were recorded in Trenches 6-8. These included the exterior boundary wall, individual radiating cell division walls and possible earlier structural remains. Finds from these features were similar in all trenches and correspond to the historical dating of the gaol; they included clay-pipe fragments, 19th-century pottery, iron nails, glass fragments, brick, slate and brownware pottery. The structural remains varied in their depth from 0.2 to 0.3m below the surface in Trench 6 (C16) to c. 2.15m deep in Trench 8 (C84).

The exterior boundary wall (Trench 6) was five courses deep and was exposed to a depth of c. 2m below ground level. A small piece of decorated bone with herringbone motif was found at this level. The wall was of solid construction with large cut-and-dressed limestone blocks set and mortared.

The radial cell wall measured 1m wide by 0.6-0.7m deep. It was two courses wide, with dressed, flat-sided limestone. It was of central rubble construction and mortared together from top to bottom.

A substantial wall (C62), deemed to be a possible continuation of the gaol boundary wall (C16) found in Trench 6, was recorded in Trench 8. It measured 0.6-0.7m wide and was exposed for 2.5m east-west. A sondage at the southern end of the trench uncovered a substantial wall at a depth of c. 2.15m below ground level (C84) and parallel to C62. It measured 1m wide and consisted of packed mortared blocks of limestone. It is possible that this structure was part of an earlier phase of the prison boundaries. The average depth before structural remains were located was c. 1m. A series of services and pipes of metal and earthenware were also recorded at this depth, most probably associated with the gaol and later.

Trench 5 produced no structural remains, although a possible drain/ditch, orientated north-south, was recorded at a depth of 1.15m; it was 1.4m wide and produced no finds. However, a button, possibly from a prison officer's uniform, was recorded from the same level. Above these features was a series of ashy and gritty layers, possibly waste material from the gaol hospital. These trenches were excavated to a varying depth of 1.4-2.15m.

No remains of William le Petit's motte and bailey (SMR 19-51(01)) were recorded below the level of the gaol within Trenches 5-8, but this does not discount the possibility that partial remains of the motte and bailey lie elsewhere beneath the level of the gaol within the untested area. It is also possible that the motte and bailey were located at a higher elevation further north, centring on the site of the present County Buildings.

Trenches 9 and 10 were positioned outside the perimeter of the gaol. Trench 9 produced a number of features similar in construction to those of the services in Trenches 6-8. Approximately 0.4m below the surface was a drain and service maintenance access feature. A possible structure with abutting cobbled area was also uncovered, but this produced red-brick fragments with post-medieval pottery below. However, a sherd of medieval pottery was recorded from an alluvial deposit at the base of the sondage at c. 1.25m. This may indicate possible archaeological features at this level elsewhere within this area. Trench 10 produced layers of redeposited silt and clay. Finds included animal bone, earthenware piping, red brick and modern glass. Natural subsoil was reached at c. 2.15m, with a mixture of sticky grey marl with small water-rolled pebbles. No evidence of the documented watermill (SMR 19-51(02)) was recorded within either of these trenches.

Eight test-trenches were opened in the area known as the 'Pound Field' as an extension to Area 1A. Each measured 10m by 2m. The trenches were of varying depths of between 1.35m (Trench 22) and 2.1m (Trench 17). The average depth was 1.8m. A drain of c. 19th-century date was recorded in Trench 21, with a larger drain of similar date recorded in Trench 16. A linear ditch was recorded in Trench 17, orientated east-west, running parallel to the River Brosna. It contained two fills and was 0.65m deep. No finds were recorded from this feature. Its purpose and date are difficult to evaluate. The original extent is impossible to calculate without further monitoring of the area.

No features of archaeological importance were recorded in Trenches 18-20, 22 and 23.

Further investigation of this site prior to any construction will commence in February 2004.