2004:0144 - SITE AR120, CLAREABBEY, Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: SITE AR120, CLAREABBEY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 04E0027

Author: Kate Taylor, TVAS Ireland Ltd, Ahish, Ballinruan, Crusheen, Co. Clare.

Site type: Post-medieval brick clamp

ITM: E 534935m, N 675475m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.826302, -8.965457

Three areas of brick-making activity were identified on the west bank of the River Fergus near Clare Abbey during works on the N18 Ennis bypass. Brick clamps are brick-making kilns (see report by Graham Hull on site in Dollas Upper, Co. Limerick, Excavations 2002, No. 1164, 02E0557, for technology description).

The northernmost clamp (C) had three phases of use and Clamps A and B were used only once. Both Clamps B and C were cut by the back drain flanking the River Fergus flood bund to the east. The bund, and presumably the back drain, were in existence before 1840 (first-edition OS map).

Clamp A was the best preserved and was composed of six rows (benches) of unmortared brick orientated north-north-east/south-south-west. The benches were 4.5-4.7m long, 0.35-0.45m wide and two or three bricks high. Between the benches were deposits of black burnt peat that had a maximum thickness of 0.08m. Brick-made air vents were seen at the ends of the fuel rows.

Clamp B was formed by ten rows of brick benches, each typically 5.5-6m long, 0.5m wide and orientated north-north-east/south-south-west. Burnt peat was evident between the benches.

Clamp C demonstrated evidence of three phases of brick making at the same location. Initially, the natural clay had been dug out to a depth of 0.2m to produce five slots, each 0.4m wide and 6m long and orientated north-north-east/south-south-west. These slots were filled with black burnt peat and presumably served to hold fuel for the earliest brick clamp. Later, a deposit of broken brick fragments and redeposited natural clay sealed and levelled this clamp and then two more brick kilns were built on top. These later kilns were sited next to each other, although they were not necessarily contemporary. The western kiln was 6m long and 5.8m wide and had six brick benches. The eastern kiln was 6m long and 4.2m wide. The benches of both kilns were 0.3-0.45m wide and orientated north-northeast/south-south-west.

The brick-making activity at Clareabbey seems to have been semi-industrial rather than for making bricks for a single local use. An example at Manusmore excavated by Graham Hull was, for instance, likely to have been specifically built to provide bricks for the nearby ‘big house’ (see No. 174 below, 04E0188). Brick making requires two bulky raw materials – clay and fuel. On the flood-plain of the River Fergus both are plentiful. Finished bricks are also bulky and are of low value and would be suited to water transport. Once at Clarecastle, only 1.5km to the south, there would then be easy access to the wider world. Perhaps it is significant that many buildings in Clarecastle, and even Limerick, are brick-built. Further documentary research may provide evidence of a previously neglected Clare industry. It has been previously thought that brick was brought into Clarecastle as ballast.