2004:0162 - SITE AR129, KEELTY, Clare

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Clare Site name: SITE AR129, KEELTY

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 04E0025

Author: Graham Hull, TVAS Ireland Ltd, Ahish, Ballinruan, Crusheen, Co. Clare.

Site type: Post-medieval limekiln

ITM: E 532157m, N 677217m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.841611, -9.007024

A substantial, stone-built limekiln dating to the second half of the 19th century was excavated on the N18 Ennis bypass. The limekiln is thought to be an element of an estate, probably associated with the Keane family, notorious land agents at the time of the potato failure and after. Artefacts (clay tobacco pipe, china and a high-quality glass inkpot) support cartographic and documentary evidence indicating 19th-century semi-industrial activity.

Excavation and historical research has demonstrated that the structure was built after 1840 (and probably after 1855) and was a ruin by 1894. The 40-year period in which the kiln could have operated is relatively well documented and it will be interesting to examine further the social and economic environment of the time. It is very possible that the Keelty limekiln was a commercial venture of the wealthy Keane family.

Limekilns are not uncommon in Ireland; indeed, many townlands had their own. In the west of the country small round kilns were typical. The larger, well-built types with arched recessed fronts, built onto hillsides, are characteristic of richer farm areas and were often associated with local estates.

Limekilns convert limestone to highly alkaline burnt lime. Burnt lime was primarily used to reduce the acidity of boggy land in order to improve fertility. No direct evidence of the type of fuel used in the Keelty kiln was found during the excavation but it is very likely that peat, for fuel, was the reciprocal goods for the wagon-loads of alkaline burnt lime that were required to bring acid bogs into cultivation. Other uses of burnt lime in the 19th century included house rendering and disinfectant, water purification, and applications in the tanning industry.

Limekilns were in use in rural County Clare until the 1950s, but, more generally, the demise of the limekiln came first with the import of South Americanguano in the later 19th century and then with commercial limestone crushing in the 20th century.