2005:1402 - BURNCOURT CASTLE, BURNCOURT, Tipperary

County: Tipperary Site name: BURNCOURT CASTLE, BURNCOURT

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 80:4 Licence number: 03E1909

Author: Rose M. Cleary, Department of Archaeology, University College, Cork.

Site type: Fortified house

ITM: E 594625m, N 617790m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.311723, -8.078820

Excavation was undertaken in advance of remedial works at Burncourt Castle. The castle is a 17th-century fortified house, built by Sir Richard Everard and first occupied in 1641. The castle was burnt by either Cromwell or by Lady Everard in 1649.

A sketch plan by OPW staff in 1929 showed a cellar accessed by steps. The cellar had been filled in with up to 1.5m of stones in the past fifty years and this fill was removed to expose the paved cellar floor. The cellar floor was cobbled with well-set cobblestones of irregular sizes. The area of the cellar was 71.6m2. It was clear from the removal of fill that the cellar area must have been cleaned out after the castle was burnt in 1650. The castle was abandoned after the fire and this suggests that it was considered beyond repair, either due to financial considerations or because of structural damage. The fire probably resulted in the collapse of the inner structural timbers and the roof must have partially or fully caved in. There were no remains of any material in the cellar that could be associated with the fire of 1650 and it can only be assumed that any debris from the castle burning, including roof slates and lead flashings, were salvaged for use elsewhere. The cost of slates in the 17th century may have been an incentive to salvage the slate from the site. A few fragments of slate were recovered from the fill of the cellar, from the interstices of the cobbled cellar floor and from the backfill of a drain trench.

The original cellar height was c. 2.37m (7ft 8in) and this suggests that it was a large room. The cellar floor was cobbled and an adverse camber in the cobbling functioned as a drain to collect water and carry it to an ope at the base of the east wall. The excavation in 2004 (Excavations 2004, No. 1569) uncovered the remains of this drain to the south of the cellar below the ground-floor level; it exits through an ope in the south cellar wall. This drain links to the drain across the cobbled cellar floor. The drainage system also extends on the north of the building and the camber in the cellar floor cobbling extends to the north-west tower. The drain network was integral to the construction phase of the castle. The excavation in 2005 was within the southern section of the central block and confirmed that the drain extended to the south-west tower.

Steps led into the cellar from the south side of the central block and the south cellar wall extended westwards from the steps. This wall was not a freestanding structure; it abutted boulder clay levels and was in fact a stone facing. The cellar occupied only the north end of the central block of the castle.

Other features recorded in the south section of the castle in 2005 included stake-holes, interpreted as the remains of scaffolding used during construction, and thin lenses of mortar that are likely to be construction debris. A foundation deposit of cattle bones was recorded partly under the footing of the east wall. The bones were of an adult individual that had been dissected by cutting through the backbone and the carcass was then placed whole within a pit.

The excavation also uncovered two trenches interpreted as ‘robber trenches’ and these have been dated to pre-1830 by glass finds.