2007:1246 - SLIEVEMORE DESERTED VILLAGE, Slievemore, ACHILL ISLAND, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: SLIEVEMORE DESERTED VILLAGE, Slievemore, ACHILL ISLAND

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 07E0191

Author: Theresa McDonald and Nick Brannon, Achill Archaeological Field School, Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Multi-period archaeological landscape

ITM: E 463231m, N 807312m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.996919, -10.086031

The deserted village is of linear plan, comprising some 84 (surviving) single-storey houses situated along the 100m contour on the south face of Slievemore Mountain. The village has no recorded name, save for placenames Tuar, Tuar Riabhach and Faiche, which seem to be related to activities such as flax growing and livestock pasturage. One hundred and thirty-seven structures appear on the 1838 first-edition 6-inch OS map, making it the (then) largest settlement on the island. Excavations in the deserted village began in 1991. Ros Ó Maoldúin was Director of Excavations for the 2007 season.
House 23
House 23 is a rectangular one-roomed, single-storey structure, aligned (as with most village houses) with its long axis on the north–south slope. It externally measures 6.25m north–south by 3.35m, with opposing east (open) and west (blocked) doorways, a remodelled north gable wall and (unusually for the village houses) an internally corbelled south-west corner. Foreshortening of the house by the insertion of a secondary north gable wall forms part of a pattern seen elsewhere in the village and seems to indicate reoccupation of an already deserted village.
Excavations by Audrey Horning and Nick Brannon in 2005 (Excavations 2005, No. 1133, 05E0599) and Simon Ó Faoláin in 2006 (Excavations 2006, No. 1471, 06E0428) took place in the interior of the house, part revealing a stone bench and a hearth built into the north gable, and an east–west drain which exits via the east doorway into an external manure pit. In 2007, after further removal of collapsed building stone, the full floor plan was revealed. The house interior comprised two areas – the northern one for human habitation, the southern for livestock – separated by the east–west drain. The hearth, partially contained within a recess into the (remodelled) north gable, was bounded on the east by a stone bench and on the west by a shelf. South of the drain (i.e. in the livestock area), a blue glass bead was found within occupation strata, and is the only non-utilitarian object found within the house. Two small, curvilinear north–south drains beneath the floor level appear to pre-date the house, but have yet to be explained.
The associated drystone-walled garden lies to the west and north of the house and is bordered by a stream on the east. Excavations in the garden, which began in 2004, found two-phase evidence of north–south lazy-bedding overlain by east–west lazy-beds. A curvilinear east–west drain, lying north and upslope of House 23, diverted surface water from the dwelling. Continuing excavations of the garden soil recovered bottle and window glass, spongeware and whiteware ceramics, and iron fragments of a pitchfork and a spade, an iron bar from a fireplace(?) and a rifle shell, dated to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The village roadway
During the course of the 2006 excavations on the village road that overlies a semi-orthostatic, semi-subterranean structure, two roadway phases were uncovered. This area was widened to facilitate the recording of sections. The upper, later road surface, of stone cobbles, removed in 2006, overlay a layer of 0.16m-thick (hillwash?) sand above a humic soil, underneath which was the lower, earlier cobbled road surface.
The West Round House (RH1) at Slievemore
The West Round House (RH1) is one of a group of eight round house sites situated along the 400ft. contour on the south slopes of Slievemore Mountain. RH1 is the best preserved and lies 50m from Round House 2, the two separated by a (?prehistoric) curvilinear field wall. Known locally as ‘The Brion’, ‘Bruighean’ or ‘The Chieftain’s House’, the site features prominently in local folklore and was the focus of many superstitious tales, no doubt helping greatly in its preservation. The site commands a fine view of the slope now occupied by the deserted village, Keel Lake and Trawmore Strand, Clare Island and many other islands in Clew Bay. To the west the view of Blacksod Bay is obscured by rising ground, while to the east there is an uninterrupted view as far as Maumnaman and Salia Bay.
The site appeared as a level platform with a low bank defining the perimeter and with a dramatic drop in height around the downslope/south side. Although completely overgrown with peat and grass, it was clear that a substantial drystone wall was present on the south side, and that a possible entrance incorporating orthostatic stone elements was present at the south-east. RH1 is roughly circular, measuring 12.5m east–west by 11.1m externally and 8.15m east–west by 7m internally. Construction involved digging into the hillside and using excavated soil to create a level platform upon which the structure was erected. The north upslope side of the structure is only 0.35m above the adjacent ground surface, while the south downslope wall, due to the construction of the platform, is over 1m above the ground surface. A micro-topographic survey of the site was carried out in 2006.
Excavations outside RH1 in 2006 indicated periods of peat growth interspersed with layers of hillwash sand. High concentrations of organic material – possibly animal manure – were found, which may date to 19th-century reuse of the site as an animal pen. Excavation within the interior in 2007 found basal silt which contained concentrations of charcoal and stone artefacts, mostly debitage. A charcoal sample yielded a radiocarbon date calibrated to the Middle Bronze Age (95.4% 1441–1210 cal bc). If the sample relates to occupation, the significance of RH1 and other associated sites cannot be overstated, suggesting that it belongs to a rare category of Irish Bronze Age houses (Doody 2000,141).
Upland hut sites on Slievemore Mountain
In 2003, students attending the Field School discovered a group of very small ‘hut’ sites, situated at c. 200m OD on the south slopes of Slievemore Mountain. The sites, on two terraces, were concealed by ferns, grasses and heather. Eight subrectangular structures, four of which survive in an excellent state of preservation, are characterised by corbelled chambers, lintelled entrances and ‘causeways’, combined with substantial subsurface entrance platforms. Some are conjoined with separate entrances opening into corbelled chambers.
A 2006 survey of the site was followed in 2007 by excavation of two of the structures (Nos 3 and 5). Other than a layer of small stones underlying the structures, there was no evidence of foundation trenches. A total of 75 artefacts were excavated, including one quartzite core, a possible quartz awl, a quartz scraper and much quartz debitage.
The upland location of the site, the small size of the structures and the absence of artefacts other than quartz make interpretation and classification of these monuments problematic. The 2008 discovery of a second group at the same elevation warrants the formulation of a research design with questions focusing on the location, the possible multi-period nature of occupation evidenced by the differing architecture forms of sites in such close proximity, whether occupation was permanent or seasonal and the nature of resource procurement. Further investigation of these sites is planned for 2009.
Reference
Doody, M. 2000 Bronze Age houses in Ireland. In A. Desmond, G. Johnson, M. McCarthy, J. Sheehan and E. Shee-Twohig (eds), New agendas in Irish prehistory, 135–59. Bray.