2010:454 - Abbeyshrule Abbey conservation project, Abbeyshrule, Longford

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Longford Site name: Abbeyshrule Abbey conservation project, Abbeyshrule

Sites and Monuments Record No.: LF023–113 Licence number: E4177; C180

Author: Judith Carroll, Judith Carroll & Company Ltd, Consultant Archaeologists, 11 Anglesea Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.

Site type: Disarticulated human remains

ITM: E 622676m, N 759236m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.582514, -7.657554

The site was the Cistercian abbey in Abbeyshrule from which the small Longford town takes it name. The abbey was in ruins and essential conservation works were being carried out under ministerial consent C180 to treat a low level wall between the chancel and the nave which contained three arches and which were showing signs of potential collapse. Works on this feature commenced on 5 October 2010. The writer attended the works as requested by Longford County Council for archaeological monitoring during removal of the soil above the arches.

The first task of the contractor – after making the wall containing the arches safe to work on – was to remove the build-up of soil and vegetation which had accumulated on top of the wall. This area was approximately 8m north–south by 2–3m, while the soil and vegetation layer was approximately 0.3–0.6m in thickness. The contractors removed the upper vegetation layer from the top of the wall by hand, using heavy-duty trowels. The underlying soil was heavily rooted and stony. As one of the contractors dug into it, human bone was discovered at a depth of c. 0.1–0.15m. This bone was disarticulated and not in situ. At first this was thought to be random and relatively insignificant, as human bone fragments might reasonably be expected to occur widely on such a site. However, as more human bone came up in another area, it became clear that human remains might have been deposited deliberately here. The DOEHLG were informed and it was decided that further works should continue under licence. Works on the wall were therefore called off at that point and recommenced on 13 October 2010, after the proposal for works under ministerial consent was updated and approved by the DOEHLG.

Approximately 5.5k of disarticulated human bone was removed from different parts of the ledge or wall above the arches. All was mixed in with the soil, which appeared like garden soil and was about 0.3–0.5m in thickness. The bone was weathered to varying degrees and represented the partial remains of a number of individuals. There was no indication of in situ burial.

The ledged arch wall itself, which is not an original feature, is likely to date no earlier than the 16th century, possibly dating to the 17th century. It superimposed an earlier blind arch over a doorway.

The reason for the deposition of the human bones on the arch wall is still not completely clear. It is not unlikely, however, that they were found during works on the abbey or during grave digging (19th- and 20th-century graves can be seen within the abbey ruins). They could even have been found in the locality and brought for deposition in a sanctified site. That human remains would have been found very widely in the abbey grounds is likely. The Cistercian Abbey dates from the late 12th or early 13th century and post-dated an early medieval ecclesiastical site on the grounds, as the adjoining graveyard contains the shaft of a 9th-century high cross.

The remains were excavated over three days, 13–15 October, and are currently awaiting an archeosteological report.