2010:474 - Annagh, Achill Island, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: Annagh, Achill Island

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 09E0219

Author: Theresa McDonald and Stuart Rathbone, Achill Field School, Dooagh, Achill Island, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Transhumant settlement

ITM: E 459706m, N 807804m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.000392, -10.139984

Small-scale excavations took place at Annagh booley village during August 2010. Annagh is located on the northern side of Achill Island and is difficult to access, whether on foot or by boat. The settlement consists of numerous buildings and a probable megalithic tomb, all sitting on a plateau overlooking the edge of Lough Nakeeroge East, at 50m OD, supposedly the lowest-lying lake in Ireland. The main concentration consists of thirteen buildings spread around the plateau in small clusters, together with one outlier on an approach path to the east of the settlement. In addition to two previous EDM surveys (by McDonald in 1989 and Meide in 2005) and a GPS survey (McDonald 2009), Achill Field School in 2010 undertook additional detailed surveys of the entire settlement as part of Theresa McDonald’s PhD research. This consisted of a GPS survey of the buildings now cleared of their dense vegetation cover, and the preparation of detailed drawn, written and photographic accounts of each structure. This was supplemented by small-scale excavation of two of the adjacent buildings’ interiors and the enclosed area through which the buildings were accessed.

Structure 1 is a small oval-shaped drystone building measuring 5m by 3.3m externally with its long axis aligned east–west. The walls survive to a maximum height of 1.5m and their inward-leaning nature and the curving corners indicate that the roof was constructed using corbelled stone. Excavation took place in the eastern third of the building, stopping at the 0.3m-wide doorway that is located at the south-east. The interior of the building was filled by a mixture of large stones and black peaty soil that was heavily penetrated by fern rhizoids (root-like structures). This material was built up to a depth of around 0.5m and clearly resulted from the slow collapse of the corbelled roof. In the area where this could be fully removed, a floor surface was revealed consisting of large thick stone slabs.

Along the south-east wall a series of alcoves are built into the wall of the building and the lower easternmost was included in the excavation area. The soil and stone layer continued into this alcove and its removal revealed a dense build-up of limpet shells in one corner. The stone floor did not extend across the base of the alcove and further peaty soil was removed until the mineral soil was reached approximately 0.15m below the upper surface of the stone floor. Under one of the collapsed stones in the north-east that was too large to remove, a deposit of ash and crushed shell was encountered and a sample of this was taken.

Structure 2 is a small oval-shaped drystone building measuring 4.1m by 3.35m externally with its long axis again aligned east–west. It abuts the north-east corner of Structure 1 in a manner which suggests that the two buildings are likely to be contemporary. Its walls did not survive to the same height as Structure 1, being only a maximum of 1.2m high, and the building was entered through a 0.35m-wide entrance in the centre of the southern wall, but in all other aspects the building was very similar to Structure 1. Excavation took place in the eastern half of the building and a deposit of large stone and black peaty soil with rhizoids was encountered. Unfortunately the stones proved too large to remove with the available personnel and excavation was halted before the floor level was reached.

A low wall runs from the south-east corner of Structure 1 around to the south-east corner of Structure 2, following an arcing course. The wall defines a small enclosure with an entrance at the south and from which the two buildings were entered. Excavation took place within this enclosure, again encountering a layer of unsorted loose stone with black peaty soil and rhizoids. In most areas this deposit could not be fully removed, but near the junction of the two buildings mineral soil was encountered at a depth of 0.4m. Interestingly it was clear that the walls of Structures 1 and 2 were not built on the mineral soil in this area and were underlain by a further black soil with stones. This may suggest that the enclosure wall is actually part of an earlier building that Structures 1 and 2 overlie, but this would be hard to prove without removing one of the structures in its entirety.

Finds from the excavation included bottle glass, ceramics and iron cooking-pot fragments. A spoon found high up in Structure 2 may be considerably younger than the other material. The general nature of the assemblage suggests a 19th-century date. Artifacts were retrieved from all of the contexts, with the highest number occurring in the enclosed area close to the two doorways. Whilst these artifacts clearly indicate occupation was occurring in the 19th century, it is not possible to relate them to a date of construction which could potentially be earlier. Further excavation is planned to take place at adjacent structures in the settlement in 2011.