2005:223 - 31–34 CORNMARKET STREET, CORK, Cork

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Cork Site name: 31–34 CORNMARKET STREET, CORK

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 74:122 Licence number: 05E0126

Author: Deborah Sutton, Sheila Lane & Associates, Deanrock Business Park, Togher, Cork.

Site type: Urban post-medieval

ITM: E 567167m, N 572082m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 51.899920, -8.477099

Excavations were undertaken over a period of eight months in 2005 on a Cork city-centre site to the immediate east of the walled medieval city. The site extended east from Cornmarket Street to St Paul’s Avenue and south from Little Market Street to the rear of street-front properties on Paul Street. St Paul’s church, constructed in 1723, stands within the development site at the south-east corner. Seven areas (2500m2) were excavated and these totalled almost the entire area of the development site. Areas 1 and 5 were excavated along the western perimeter of the site and the remaining Areas 2, 3, 4a, 4b and 4c were excavated to the east of these. The removal of material from the remaining unexcavated areas of the site was monitored.

The walled city of Cork was separated from the surrounding marshland by wide water channels. Documentary and cartographic sources indicate that the first expansion of the city into these marshes began in the early 17th century after the bridging of a section of the water channel facilitated the reclamation and development of the north-east marsh in the area of the development site. A stone wall, part of which may have been exposed outside the site boundaries during the Cork main drainage works (Hurley et al. 2003), enclosed the marsh. Excavation confirmed that extensive reclamation of the marsh took place in the post-medieval period. Deposits up to 1.7m thick of degraded domestic waste were dumped on the estuarine muds along the entire western and southern boundaries of the site. These deposits, which contained large amounts of post-medieval pottery, clay pipes and animal bone, were transported across the bridging point with the walled city (south-west of the site) and dumped from west to east and from the south-west to the north-east across the marsh. A small quantity of Saintonge and Ham Green wares within these deposits suggest that post-medieval redevelopment within the city was impacting on waste deposits dumped in both the medieval and post-medieval period. The lower slopes of these organic deposits, which fanned out to the north and east to form a wide crescent across the development site, were overlaid by a deposit of relatively clean manually introduced estuarine muds, which sealed both the deposits and the wet muds to the north-east. Reclamation continued by dumping local gravels, crushed stone and locally dredged mixed riverine clays and gravels into this sealed, bowl-shaped area.

Reclamation of the remaining southern portion of the site, using deposits of degraded domestic waste, extended eastwards and tailed off close to the area of St Paul’s Church. Two of the earliest east–west property boundary walls, which extended east from the quayside, followed the downslope of these deposits at their eastern edge and are probably broadly contemporary with the construction of the church in the early 18th century. Reclamation, again using degraded organic material, continued to raise ground levels between these walls. Later east–west plot or property boundary walls to the north extended eastwards across the entire development site and were constructed in stages as the ground levels were raised, but there was no large-scale reclamation between these boundaries once the walls had been constructed.

The earliest structures erected on the reclaimed marsh were located in the south-west of the site c. 15–20m east of the existing street front. Cartographic and excavation evidence suggest that these stone buildings were probably residential dwellings built to the east of the wide quays at the west. The construction of the houses probably dates to the late 17th century. House 1 (Areas 1, 4a) had an internal east–west length of 8.2m and was constructed on a lime-mortared offset foundation of sandstone. The west, north and east walls survived to a height of 0.77m. Two internal dividing walls and a cobbled floor surface are likely to be associated with the first phase of the use of this building. Corner features, probably fireplaces, were inserted at a later stage. A formally laid out garden to the rear of House 1 is contemporary with the building. An area of flower or herb beds, edged with the metapodial bones of cattle (Margaret McCarthy, pers. comm.), was defined by a path of green sand (also edged with cattle bone) to the west and a path of horizontally laid cattle bones to the north. A later extension to the rear of House 1 partially overlaid the sand path, which was edged with brick at this time. An east–west boundary wall defined the northern limit of the House 1 property to the west.

A wide area of cobbles to the north of and contemporary with House 1 may have been a cobbled lane. The erection of a second east–west boundary wall overlaid this surface and a narrower lane, which terminated flush with the rear wall of House 1, extended east from the quayside between the boundary walls. Roque’s 1759 map of Cork indicates a lane named Horn Court at this location. Later paved and compacted surfaces maintained the lane for a further period of time. A second building, House 2, to the north of the lane, had internal dimensions of 6.3m north–south by 5.5m and a door in the south wall. The building abutted the south face of a third east–west property boundary wall, which extended east across the site from this point. The primary floor surface of House 2 was cobbled. A semi-subterranean stone-walled and cobbled building (4.5m2), cut into the upper levels of the organic reclamation deposits and abutting the west wall of House 2, may have been a sub-basement or yard area associated with this building. A semicircular feature built into the south-east wall corner may have been a mural oven.

A backfilled well shaft, cut from the uppermost level of the dredged clay reclamation deposits along the western side of the site and lined with unmortared stone (1m internal diam.), may be associated with the early houses. The decayed remains of a barrel were recovered from the well base. A timber pump stick for pumping up water remained in situ. Further east, one of two adjacent wells identified close to the northern perimeter of the development site during the monitoring of the bulk excavation after the archaeological excavations were completed was similarly constructed with a barrel and timber pump stick. This well had also been backfilled. In the second of the two adjacent wells, randomly placed stones surrounded a barrel (0.6m diam.) within the well cut. A second bottomless barrel placed above the first created the well shaft. The well was empty.

Several kilns (possibly nine) were exposed during excavation. Documentary sources (Caulfield 1876) note a proposal by the existing Corporation in 1794 to build public bread ovens in this area of the city. The nature of the kilns, however, suggests that they may have functioned as corn-drying kilns and their location close to the city Cornmarket and to the quays confirms this. The kilns were generally built against the external rear wall of a property and had a wide-mouthed flue and a cobbled chamber.

Up to four large drains extended eastwards in stages across the site. The drains were stone-lined, some with cobbled bases, and were capped with sandstone slabs. The two southern drains post-dated the construction of Houses 1 and 2 and the construction of the boundary walls in this area (Area 1). Later drains, including short, brick-walled spurs, fed into the major drains to create a drainage network. Modern drains inserted into the existing drains further north on the site damaged large sections of these features.

The water channel to the west of the reclaimed marsh was maintained as an open waterway until the mid-18th century. Once the quays went out of use, the buildings moved to the existing street-front. The foundations and property boundary walls of a late 18th century, two-storey, steep-roofed building were exposed during the excavation of the south-west corner of the site (Area 1). The building, noted in early 20th-century photographs of Cornmarket Street, stood until recently in a terrace of 19th-century four-storey buildings.

Artefacts recovered during excavation included a large quantity of post-medieval wares (North Devon sgraffito ware, Staffordshire slipwares, stonewares, pearlware and glazed earthenwares), floor and roof tiles, bone buttons and knife handles, marbles, hone stones, keys, coins, pins, spoons, military buttons and a gold poesy ring with an inscription. A large amount of animal bone was also recovered. Twenty-six pieces of architectural stone were recovered, most of which had been reused in the construction of boundary walls and paved or cobbled surfaces, and these included a twin ogee-headed window piece with carved animals.


Caulfield, R. 1876 The Council book of the Corporation of the City of Cork from 1609 to 1643 and from 1690 to 1800. Guildford.

Hurley, M., Trehy, J. and Reilly, B. 2003 Excavations at Cornmarket Street, Cork. Cork Main Drainage Scheme. Unpublished report.