2004:0008 - ARMOY: St Patrick's Church, Glebe, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: ARMOY: St Patrick's Church, Glebe

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 41:17 Licence number: AE/04/155

Author: John Ó Néill, Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork

Site type: Ecclesiastical site

Period/Dating: Medieval (AD 400-AD 1600)

ITM: E 710991m, N 933979m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.134481, -6.311223

The excavations at St Patrick's Church, Armoy, took place in advance of the proposed extension of the modern graveyard into a field to the north of the modern church precinct. St Patrick's Church is the 19th-century successor to a medieval ecclesiastical foundation, of which a round tower and the exposed plinth of the south wall of a medieval church are the only visible remains. The site is associated with an early saint, Olcan, and is mentioned in a number of medieval documents. The interior of the church was excavated prior to conservation work by Declan Hurl in 1997 (Excavations 1997, No. 5). The round tower was investigated by Edmund Getty in 1843 and a souterrain and other evidence consistent with an earlier foundation have been reported from the vicinity of the church.

The southernmost limits of the excavation adjoin the current wall of the graveyard some 20m to the north of the medieval church and round tower. A similarly located strip will be excavated in 2005. To date, an area measuring c. 15m by 10m has been investigated and a number of phases of activity have been identified. The earliest recorded evidence to date is for an enclosure ditch, with some suggestion of an internal bank. The ditch was a maximum of 4m in width and 1.2m in depth and an iron staple and fragment of a decorated copper-alloy mount suggest that this feature dates to some time around the 8th century AD. The base of the ditch was stepped in places, with traces of a gully at the base along the southern (inner) side. A deposit of boulders was associated with this feature in the investigated portions of the ditch. While there was no clear evidence of substantial recutting of the ditch in the relatively sterile fills, the irregular base would seem to suggest this possibility. This ditch may have defined the precinct associated with the earlier ecclesiastical centre. The remains of an internal bank were inferred from a substantial deposit of clay which was present across the interior, extending to 5m south of the ditch. If further investigation confirms that this is the remains of a bank, it would appear to have been deliberately levelled.

The sterile fills of the ditch also suggest that the site may have diminished in importance until the 11th century, when there appears to have been a major building campaign at the site. A number of furnaces, some associated with souterrain ware, immediately pre-dated the construction of a drystone precinct wall along the alignment of the now silted-up enclosure ditch. A proposed construction date for the round tower in the late 11th or early 12th century would be consistent with these structures being associated with the same general building phase.

A number of arcing gullies trace the limits of paddocks against the drystone precinct wall. These gullies were under 1m in width and 0.3m deep. At least two phases could be identified, with the entrance in the same place in each phase. The gullies enclosed an area of around 40-50m2 and may have been used as vegetable or flower gardens or herbaria.

A substantial mortared wall, running north-south, lies at the easternmost limit of the area investigated in 2004 and, if it is associated with buildings, these must lie in the eastern half of the field. The wall survives as a substantial block of mortared stone with a rubble core at the northern end, and a robber trench extending to the south. There has been little investigation of this wall to date, although it widens out at its northern end and may represent the base of some form of gate feature. This wall is clearly later than the features described above.

A number of pits in the interior of the enclosure also cut through the earlier features. The largest was 2.3m in diameter and 1.2m deep. Some of these pits have produced everted-rim ware and sherds of green-glazed medieval pottery, suggesting a date in the 13th or 14th century. These are thought to be medieval rubbish pits associated with the north-south wall. A number of very badly degraded burials have been recorded at the southern end of the excavation. These appear to be contemporary with the rubbish pits. The burials are in extremely poor condition and survive only as traces.

Finds from the site include fragments of copper alloy, including a decorated mount, iron nails, medieval pottery in various forms and fabrics, whetstones, metalworking debris, a possible iron medieval bell-clapper and a bone needle. The most recent activity relates to the use of the site as a garden from the 18th century and it is possible that any standing remains were removed during the course of the early 19th-century building works associated with construction of a rectory and the modern church.

School of Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast