2004:0090 - CARLOW: Kennedy Street, Carlow

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Carlow Site name: CARLOW: Kennedy Street

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 04E1337

Author: Colum Hardy, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Graveyard

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

ITM: E 671765m, N 676697m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.836442, -6.934880

Excavation was undertaken of skeletal remains uncovered on Kennedy Street, Carlow, at the request of Carlow Town Council. The proposed work involved the upgrading and widening of a footpath on the southern side of Kennedy Street. It also involved the laying of three cables/pipes within an excavated trench beneath the footpath for c. 10m in a westerly direction to the junction of Mill Lane. In the area of the proposed excavation the works will extend parallel to, and a maximum of 1–1.5m north of, the existing footpath.

The skeletal remains were situated at the junction of Kennedy Street and John Street, on the southern side of Kennedy Street, c. 50m east of Carlow Castle (SMR 7:18(02)) and opposite the graveyard (probably associated with St Mary's Church (SMR 7:18(07)) at Castle Hill/John Street, which is no longer in use. The site is in the low-lying flood-plain adjacent to the rivers Barrow and Burrin. The road and footpath surfaces were removed by JCB with a toothed bucket. Three skeletal remains were identified within the trench. Burials 1 and 2 were excavated and removed for specialist analysis, as they lay in the direct line of the proposed works. The partial remains of Burial 3 were evident within the southern section and were not in any danger of being disturbed so were recorded and protected by a semi-permeable membrane and covered over.

Burial 1 was oriented east-west and was located west of Burial 2 and over Burial 3. It was very badly damaged, with only the thorax remaining in situ. No skull was recorded. The lower limbs were also missing, apart from the right femur and the head and neck of the left femur. It appears as if the remains have been truncated from either end. The body was supine and extended with the arms parallel to the body and the hands resting on the pelvis. The skull would have been positioned to the west. The grave-cut was badly disturbed, with only the northern and eastern edges visible. The southern grave edge had been totally removed and as a result Burial 3 was exposed below it. The grave-cut was rectangular in shape with rounded corners and measured approximately 2m east-west by 0.5m+ and c. 0.3-0.5m deep. It was cut into a compact natural wine clay, which deepened towards the east. The grave was filled with a soft yellow sand with occasional charcoal flecks, 0.2–0.3m deep. No finds were recorded with this burial.

Approximately 0.2m east of Burial 1 was Burial 2. It too was orientated east-west, with the skull positioned at the west. Burial 2 was lower than Burials 1 and 3 and was sloping downwards in a west to east direction. The remains were in a good state of preservation and were c. 0.5–0.6m below the surface of the footpath. The skull had been damaged as a result of the site works but the majority of the remains were still in situ. The eastern perimeter of the burial, however, had been truncated by the laying of cables some years previously. This resulted in the remains being truncated on the upper tibia (just below the knee). The left fibula was present, but the right one was absent, as were both feet. The remains were supine and extended with the arms and hands resting on the ground parallel to the body. The grave was rectangular in shape with rounded corners. The surviving portion measured 1.65m east-west and probably would have measured up to 2m, similar to Burial 1. It was 0.55-0.6m wide and c. 0.3m deep. It had sharp sides and a flat base sloping down west to east. It contained two fills. The upper fill consisted of compact brown sandy gravel, which had a depth of 0.07m. Below this was the main fill, which consisted of light-brown/yellow medium compacted sandy clay with small stones and pebbles and occasional charcoal flecks. It had a depth of 0.15-0.2m and produced no finds. No evidence for a coffin or cloak/shroud was identified. The base of the grave consisted of an orange sandy silt.

Only the partial remains of Burial 3 were exposed. It was not excavated. Partial remains of the left side of the body were identified. These included the humerus, radius and ulna, three metacarpals/ phalanges, two ribs, femur (0.38m long) and pelvis. There was no evidence for the left tibia, fibula or foot, which may have been truncated, similar to Burial 1, which was also missing its lower limbs. It was orientated roughly east-west, with the unexposed skull presumably to the west. This left side of the body underlay the right side of Burial 1 and was also supine and extended. The grave-cut for Burial 3 had the same orientation as Burial 1. Only 0.25m north-south of it was exposed (it continues southward beyond the limit of excavation), while approximately 1.1m east-west was visible. The grave-cut edge definition became gradually poorer to the east, with the grave presumably originally being c. 2m in length. It appears as if the northern grave-cut edge had been reduced at the same time as the southern edge of Burial 1. The fill of Burial 3 consisted of medium compacted yellow-grey stony silt. Only c. 0.25m by 1.1m was cleaned back prior to it being recorded and covered over. No depth was ascertained, in order to preserve the remains in situ. Not enough of the skeletal remains were exposed to be able to age or sex the body.

The positioning of the skeletal remains in an east-west orientation is an indication of a Christian burial rite. The present St Mary's Parish Church, located at the junction of Church Street and Castle Street, is the closest to the skeletal remains. The present Church of Ireland building stands on the site of an earlier building of possibly 17th-century date. The present St Mary's Church is the third on the same site. Two graveyards are reported to have existed near St Mary's since the Middle Ages. One of these extended from this church in a western direction as far as John Street. Part of this graveyard possibly still exists behind the houses on the northern side of Castle Hill opposite the Castle ruins and almost directly opposite Mill Lane. It is possible that this small portion of graveyard was formerly part of St Mary's during the Middle Ages (post-AD 1600). If this was the case and the graveyard from St Mary's stretched as far west as the remains of this small cemetery site on Castle Hill, it is not inconceivable that the skeletal remains excavated were once within the boundary of the graveyard of St Mary's Church. Alternatively, the small remains of the cemetery on Castle Hill along with the excavated remains may relate to Carlow Castle. A record of a farm lease from February 1723 between Simon Oates and Thomas Buser describes the area to be leased as 'bounding on the south with the Castle Churchyard, on the north by Gaynor's plot, on the west by the Castle Yard and on the east by the road leading to the Barracks' (document no. 43/441/28858). It is possible that the skeletal remains form part of this castle churchyard.

Brehon House, Kilkenny Road, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny