2004:0010 - RATHLIN ISLAND: Portcastle, Ballycarry, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: RATHLIN ISLAND: Portcastle, Ballycarry

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: AE/04/92

Author: Peter Moore and Wes Forsythe

Site type: Pier/jetty

Period/Dating: Late Medieval (AD 1100-AD 1599)

ITM: E 716187m, N 951469m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 55.296568, -6.170457

In 1551 Irish and Scots under Colla McDonnell were based at Bruce's Castle when three or four English pinnacles attempted to displace them. Accounts mention that the Scots had pulled their galleys on to the shore at the place where the action occurred (known as Port-na-Sassanach). The location is probably Portcastle, below Bruce's Castle, and test-trenching here aimed to establish whether there were any remains of this activity, in particular whether the landing place was only used as such or whether maintenance and repairs were carried out there.

The landing place comprises a natural boulder shore, met by a grassy bank upon which the remains of lazy beds can be detected. A 1m by 3m trench to the south of Bruce's Castle, together with a 1m by 1m test-pit, were opened. Upon removal of the sod, a brown loam with sub-rounded/sub-angular stones and a few pieces of modern china were recorded. Below this was an increasingly rounded stone layer that appeared much like the natural beach boulders (a box section at the north-east end of the trench took the layer down a further 0.35m and recorded no change or archaeological material). The layer was judged to be natural and excavation stopped. The test-pit revealed a similar stratigraphy, although the layers were deeper, reflecting a slump of material. A single nail was recovered from the test-pit.

The excavation revealed little archaeological material to indicate the use of the area as a landing place and would tend to strengthen the view that no building/repairs were carried out on this site. The single nail would need to be X-rayed for more information as to its age.

Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, School of Archaeology & Palaeoecology, Queen's University, Belfast and Centre for Maritime Archaeology, Ulster University