2008:420 - St Paul’s Church, King Street North, Dublin, Dublin

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Dublin Site name: St Paul’s Church, King Street North, Dublin

Sites and Monuments Record No.: DU018–020/414 Licence number: 08E0309

Author: Franc Myles, Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 27 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.

Site type: Post-medieval graveyard


ITM: E 714470m, N 734657m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.349737, -6.280668

An assessment was undertaken on foot of a proposal to develop two structures and a new landscaped public space within the churchyard and cemetery of St Paul’s Church, Smithfield. Two trenches were excavated to assess the depth and extent of burials within the proposed building footprints and to assist the design of an engineering solution. The present church (William Farrell, 1824) was deconsecrated in 1987 and has been altered and occupied by the SPADE Enterprise centre for several years. Most of the graveyard is under tarmac and the remainder, an unused fenced-off area to the south, under gravel. A further section of the historical curtilage has been alienated to the south again, where a former school building now houses a community centre. The trial-trenches were opened in the unused southern area, just beyond the boundary fence, against the eastern and western boundaries of the graveyard.

There appear to have been burials in the graveyard soon after the foundation of the original church in 1697, including several members of the Odacio Formica family of glassmakers, who had established a flint glasshouse in Smithfield by 1675. The first vaults within the church were allocated in 1702 to the Corker, Westenra and Tillson families. The graveyard was used by the military serving in the nearby Royal Barracks (the single surviving exterior memorial commemorates the Royal North British Fusiliers killed in 1803) and would also appear to have provided space for those on the parish poor list. Burials ceased in St Paul’s c. 1860.

Two areas of 5m2 were opened mechanically to assess the depth of the upper level of burial cuts and to quantify their density in plan form. Trench 1 was opened at the eastern side of the graveyard in the area previously occupied by a school building demolished in the 1980s. The second trench was opened immediately opposite on the western side of the graveyard. It was initially proposed that both trenches be opened to the upper level of the burial cuts, specifically to assist the foundation design of the proposed structures.

Over Trench 1 the gravel surface was removed with a grading bucket on to a terram geotextile sheet, which directly overlay a floor surface of hard lime mortar. This was delineated on the eastern side by the remains of a wall footing, leaving a 2.7m passage between the modern precinct wall and the demolished building. Removal of the surface and wall footing revealed three grave slabs against the precinct wall, which were recorded and left in situ. Further mechanical excavation to the west of the slabs continued to a depth of 1.2m, at which point a single in situ burial was encountered.

The grave slabs lay under a gap between the demolished building and the modern precinct wall and fence, the concrete foundation of which was poured over their eastern ends. Their upper surfaces were 0.65–0.7m under the present surface. The northern slab was in calp limestone and the upper surface had flaked off; the inscription (if one existed) had thus been eroded (or may survive on the underside). The slab measured 1.05m in width and was at least 1.28m in length. Its head was carved to a curving design typical of the late 17th to early 18th century and it is presumably primary to the graveyard’s foundation.

The central slab was also in calp limestone and its head had been removed in recent years by the insertion of a Wavin pipe, which also removed the last two figures of the date (18—). The slab measured 1.05m across and was at least 1.28m in length, but probably not much more. The southern slab, also in calp, measured 1.06m across and was at least 1.56m in length, the base of the slab sitting under a concrete overpour.

Further mechanical ground reduction was undertaken just to the west of the grave slabs, over the area previously occupied by the school building. A single deposit was recorded up to a depth of 1.2m below the existing surface over an area of c. 3m by 3m and excavation ceased when a faint burial cut was encountered. The surrounding and overlying material appeared to be quite disturbed; a stony clay silt, it contained many fragments of disarticulated human skeletal material, with no fragment more than 80mm in length. The cut appeared faintly, dug through a more compact version of the same material as above. It was located c. 2.5m south of the modern fence delineating this end of the graveyard, close to the south-facing section. An investigation with a trowel encountered a cranium 0.15m below at the eastern end of the cut. The edge of the cut was lost towards the west; however, it was possibly picked up again at 1.6m from its eastern end, indicating perhaps the burial of a young adult. The remainder of the trench was trowelled off at this level in an attempt to investigate the density of the burials; however, no obvious grave-cuts were encountered and no further ground reduction was undertaken. The disarticulated bone collected was carefully placed back into the trench prior to its backfilling.

Trench 2 was also opened over an area 5m by 5m, directly west of Trench 1 against the western boundary wall and the modern fence demarcating the lower end of the graveyard. No articulated remains were encountered in the eastern side of the trench to a depth of 1m; however, an in situ articulated skeleton was represented by a cranium in the east-facing section at 0.7m, the remainder of the skeleton presumably extending west to the boundary wall. A sequence of modern disturbance was recorded over the trench, with a quantity of loose animal and human bone dumped in the north-western corner, directly under the terram geotextile sheet. A single grave slab was recorded in the south-eastern corner of the trench under the terram; this was ex situ (face down and aligned roughly north–south) and appears to have been disturbed in recent years. The slab was removed to the side of the trench and covered over with backfill.

The material directly under the terram was reduced in 100mm strips to avoid disturbing in situ burials. An articulated cranium was located 2.2m east of the western boundary wall at a depth of 0.7m and a section retained along a line parallel to the wall to avoid its disturbance. Cleaning down the section revealed the grave-cut and investigation of the cranium revealed the presence of vertebrae, suggesting the burial was intact and in situ. There were no other obvious burial cuts in the 4.5m-long section, which suggests that this may be the only burial in this particular area of the graveyard against the wall.

The eastern side of the trench was reduced further in 50mm strips, to a depth of 1m, without encountering further in situ burials. The soil removed was similar, though less compact, than the equivalent material in Trench 1. There were however considerably more fragments of disarticulated human bone present throughout the deposit than was the case in Trench 1. At a depth of 1m, two and possibly four grave-cuts, positioned side-by-side and extending west–east, were noted. The northern and more obvious cut was investigated and a badly preserved rib cage and pelvis were recorded.

The evidence presented in Trench 1 would indicate that the construction of the school building resulted in the disturbance of the ground underneath, which may have resulted in the disturbance or exhumation of any graves immediately affected, presumably leaving the burials under slabs between the eastern wall and the precinct wall undisturbed. Apart from those burials presumably located under the slabs, it can probably be assumed that in situ burials occur from 1.2m below the present surface, with a low density in plan when compared to later graveyards.

In Trench 2, there was less evidence of disturbance but more disarticulated human bone, suggesting that any disturbance was occasioned by later burials. Two phases were noted, with the later phase represented by a single burial 0.7m below the present surface and the earlier phase represented by possibly four graves within the area opened at a depth of 1m below the surface.

The presence of in situ burials is to be expected in a graveyard, especially one where the very gravestones themselves are depicted on one of the earliest historic maps. Where the depths of the in situ remains have been established at between 0.7–1.2m, it is possible that burials survive at higher levels elsewhere over the proposed building footprints.