2003:2028 - NEW ROSS: Priory Lane, New Ross, Wexford

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Wexford Site name: NEW ROSS: Priory Lane, New Ross

Sites and Monuments Record No.: WX029-013---- Licence number: 03E0645

Author: Cóilín Ó Drisceoil

Site type: Historic town

Period/Dating: Multi-period

ITM: E 571658m, N 727300m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.295246, -8.425119

An assessment of a proposed apartment and commercial unit development was undertaken. The site lies along the quay of New Ross, in the south-west corner of the walled medieval town within the zone of archaeological potential identified by the Urban Archaeology Survey of New Ross (SMR 29:13). This section of the urban area was developed in the second half of the 13th century by the then Lord of Leinster, Roger Bigod, and contains an important concentration of archaeology.

The earliest historical reference to Priory Lane appears c. 1699 on a map of New Ross presented to the town by the Earl of Anglesey (Carroll 1875). The lane is shown beside the 'Friars' Garden', a reference to the Franciscan friary that stood on the adjacent site. The lane probably developed from a slip that gave access from Priory Street to the quays. There are no extant remains of the friary, although a grave slab survives in St Mary's Church which is reported to have been found in the area (Orpen 1911, 27). Three other grave slabs and a stone sarcophagus, which are no longer extant, were also reportedly found here. Due to a lack of surviving data, the precise position of the Franciscan friary and its associated buildings is unclear. The two earliest extant maps of New Ross (1649 and c. 1699) both mark the friary in the south-west corner of the medieval town, in the block of land formed by Priory Street, Priory Lane, the town wall and the riverfront. What is not clear from the maps is the northern extent of the friary precincts (i.e. if it extended into the development area). It may be significant in this regard that, at the time of dissolution in 1541, the precincts of the Franciscan monastery are reported to have occupied an area of two acres, though the exact extent is not noted (White 1943, 363–4).

The first-edition OS 1:1056 map shows that the development area contained two long rectangular buildings. The western building housed a badminton club until recently. Both have now been demolished. Modern sheds surrounded the development area until demolished in December 2003.

There were two testing phases: Phase 1 was carried out on 3 May and Phase 2 on 4–5 December 2003. Seven trenches were excavated. The bedrock lies c. 7.5m (-4m OD) beneath present ground level in the east of the site. It was not reached elsewhere. A marl deposit was encountered at the base of Trenches 1 and 2 in the west of the site. In Trench 2, this is likely to have been a lens within the deep estuarine peat deposit encountered throughout most of the site. In Trench 1, the marl is likely to have sealed the peat deposit. The peat was sterile of human artefacts, though it contains a wealth of palaeoenvironmental evidence. Without absolute radiocarbon determinations, its chronology must remain uncertain. The depth of the deposit and its location, however, suggest that it may have begun formation in the early Holocene period. Its development was probably halted by the creation of the medieval town in the early 13th century and its subsequent advancement into the foreshore.

Marl sealed the peat throughout much of the site. This is likely to have been deposited as a result of consistent low-energy inundation of the area. In Trench 1, a layer of estuarine silt overlay the marl, representing higher-energy deposition. Silt layers were also recorded intermittently throughout the site.

In the eastern half of the site, extensive archaeological deposits were recorded overlying the marl and peat. The only possible archaeological deposit in the western section of the site was recorded in Trench 4, though its attribution is uncertain. The infilling of the western half with massive quantities of shale in the post-medieval period may have truncated any archaeological materials that were originally extant there.

Lying above the peat in Trench 5 was a layer of organic fill that contained much dumped material in the form of medieval pottery, worked wood and leather. This particular deposit was not found in the other trenches, but sealing this and extending throughout much of the eastern half of the site was a garden soil of probable medieval date. The deposits were dumped on the foreshore to allow for cultivation, perhaps as the gardens of the adjacent priory.

Dumped shale was recorded throughout the site. Shale occurs as bedrock in much of the countryside surrounding the town and the shale quarries which are marked on the first-edition OS map are likely to have been the source of much of the stone recorded at Priory Lane. The modern quayside is the product of a long history of reclamation. The 15m (50-foot) contour, which roughly coincides with the Priory Street-North Street axis, is likely to mark the extent of the reclamation deposits, as east of this there is a steep incline.

The foreshore reclamation must have been a massive undertaking, involving the shifting of thousands of tonnes of infill material; the shale and gravel deposits have been found elsewhere along the quay by Sarah McCutcheon (Excavations 1997, No. 601, 95E0086 ext.) and Martin Byrne (Excavations 2000, No. 1065, 00E0151). In Trench 6, it was possible to view the nature of the infill process in some detail. Here it was evident that a large hole had been excavated into the existing strata prior to the deposition of stone. The stone was then deposited, forming a stable foundation for subsequent construction. There was a complete absence of diagnostic artefacts associated with the shale, which makes its dating difficult. It is clear, however, from Trench 6 that the layers of medieval date were truncated by the infill.

The absence of evidence for a riverside wall in the trench accords with the cartographic evidence; there is a gap in the riverfront wall at this location on the 1649 map of New Ross. The map shows the proposed route for an attack on the town and marks the gap in the riverfront wall as 'the passage', again indicating that it was open.

At the time of writing, redesign of the proposed development footprint is in train and thus an archaeological mitigation schedule has not been determined.

Carroll, W.G. 1875 A memoir of the Right Rev. James Thomas O'Brien, D.D. London.
Orpen, G.H. 1911 New Ross in the thirteenth century. New Ross.
White, N.B. (ed.) 1943 Extents of Irish monastic possessions 1540–1541. Dublin.

Tulla, Threecastles, Co. Kilkenny