2006:678 - Murphystown, Dublin

County: Dublin Site name: Murphystown

Sites and Monuments Record No.: DU023–025 Licence number: 06E0227

Author: Aaron Johnston, for Cultural Resource and Development Services Ltd, Unit 4, Dundrum Business Park, Dundrum, Dublin 14.

Site type: Medieval; modern quarrying; modern demesne features

ITM: E 719322m, N 725378m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.265311, -6.211327

Excavations were undertaken in advance of the proposed LUAS B1 line, an extension of the LUAS Green Line from Sandyford to Cherrywood. The work was funded by the Railway Procurement Agency and consisted of a test excavation in May 2006, followed by full excavation in July and August 2006. The development passes within 28m to the west of Murphystown Castle (DU023–025), in the vicinity of the Glencairn estate. The castle is in ruins; only three walls of the 15th-century tower-house survive. Given the proximity of Murphystown Castle to the development corridor and the potential for associated archaeology, a decision was made to assess the entire width of the development corridor in this area (c. 4800m2). The archaeological features identified in this area were subsequently excavated, exposing various phases of possible archaeological remains: 13th–14th-century quarrying activity, 18th–19th-century demesne landscaping activity, 18th-century agricultural furrows and 19th-century quarrying.

The earliest features exposed on site were medieval quarry trenches, which measured 4.5–5m long, 2–3m wide and 0.5–0.6m in depth and followed exposed seams of underlying granite bedrock. These trenches were filled with greyish-brown silty clay that contained residual pottery sherds from around the 13th–14th centuries. A single toolmark was found on the granite bedrock, which may have been made by a thin circular spike or chisel-type tool.

Murphystown Castle seems to post-date the quarrying trenches containing the 13th–14th-century pottery. The pottery evidence from the quarrying trenches may indicate that there could have been earlier activity in the area which required a source of building stone, possibly a residence or perhaps an earlier proto-tower-house. Or there may already have been residual sherds of medieval pottery in the surrounding topsoil which could have been mixed in with the backfill of the trenches after quarrying had taken place in the 15th century.

Shallow linear features, mainly located in the northern half of the site, were interpreted as 18th-century agricultural furrows. These furrows were mostly orientated north-west/south-east and they were all linear, with straight parallel sides gently sloping to a flat base.

Evidence of demesne landscaping activity was located at the southernmost edge of the Glencairn estate, directly under a stand of mature trees. This area, although heavily overgrown, revealed a minor landscaped earthwork feature. It was roughly U-shaped in plan and consisted of small mounded gravel banks with drainage ditches on one side; one of the ditches was lined with roughly rectangular stones one course high. The earthwork measured at least 19m in length and 15m in width and the banks are 0.8m in height from the base. Underneath the bank a copper alloy token dating to 1794 was found. This find, along with the general topography of the feature, suggests 18th–19th-century demesne landscaping activity connected with the estate house lands c. 90m to the south-east at Glencairn.

At least five large 19th-century quarrying pits measuring up to 7–8m in length, 2–5m in width and 2–3m in depth were identified during the testing phase and were found to have been backfilled with rubble and debris from the quarrying operation. These included many angular granite cobbles, blackware pottery fragments, dark-brown bottle glass, earthenware plant-pot fragments, creamware and bone china pottery fragments and the occasional iron object.

Relatively limited arrays of archaeological features were exposed at Murphystown. Granite bedrock lies close to the surface in this area, with the result that the surviving cut features, apart from the more modern quarry pits, are fairly shallow. While additional structures and agricultural enclosures may have been attached to the castle, they could not have penetrated to a great depth and are more likely to have been entirely erased by quarrying, agricultural clearance and demesne landscaping in the 19th century.