2010:662 - Athlone, Westmeath

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Westmeath Site name: Athlone

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number: 10E0186

Author: Martin Fitzpatrick, Arch Consultancy Ltd, New Line, Athenry, Co. Galway.

Site type: Urban


ITM: E 603942m, N 741537m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.423933, -7.940690

The proposed Athlone main drainage scheme includes improvements to the wastewater and surface water collection networks in various areas throughout the town of Athlone. An assessment of the scheme was undertaken in April 2010. The monitoring of slit-trenches and test-pits was undertaken over a four-month period from May 2010. The soil investigations were undertaken in both urban and rural settings including the town centre and immediate surrounds as well as an area of bog and farmland. The following summary describes only the areas where archaeological features were encountered.

Slit-trench A1.6 was excavated south of the junction of Abbey Road and North Gate Street and north of the possible location of the original North Gate of the town. The trench was excavated east–west across the road and measured 11m in length and 1.5m wide. A wall feature was encountered 1.1m east of the west end of the trench. Service pipes were uncovered to the immediate east and west of the wall, while a further pipe ran across the top of the wall. The wall was uncovered 0.8m below the surface. It was exposed for a depth of 0.7m and was 1m in width. Consisting of a double face with a rubble fill, it is three courses in height with mortar throughout. Occasional red-brick fragments were visible in the west face. Traces of a cobbled surface were recorded adjacent to the base of the wall at a depth of 1.5m. The cobbles, which were concentrated in an area c. 1m x 1m, were small rounded stones extending for a depth of 0.12m and sitting on top of a natural sticky sand. Previous archaeological work in Athlone town revealed that sections of this wall had been uncovered in this area. Monitoring of the Athlone broadband project in 2003–2004 by Dominic Delany (Excavations 2004, No. 1710, 03E0978) uncovered a wall at the junction of North Gate Street and Abbey Road. The wall was built of roughly worked limestone blocks with traces of lime render on both faces. It was c. 1m in thickness and appeared to be built directly on the natural ground. According to Delaney, inclusion of red brick in the wall fabric attests to its post-medieval date. Also in 2003 monitoring of the Athlone gas feeder pipeline was undertaken by Tom Rogers (Moore Ltd) (Excavations 2003, No. 1953, 03E1489). He mentions the discovery of a possible disturbed wall at the lowest part of Northgate Street. It seems likely that all three sections of walling uncovered are part of the same structure, which appears to run along the west side of Northgate Street. An examination of the various cartographic sources for Athlone indicates that the feature may correspond to the town wall defences as depicted on Jean Goubet’s 1691 map of Athlone town. It appears therefore that the wall and associated cobbles uncovered during site investigations are the remnants of the town defences erected in advance of the siege of Athlone.

Slit-trench A1.5 was excavated close to the south end of Northgate Street and directly outside the local Credit Union building. This trench was orientated east–west, measured 9.5m in length and was 1.3m wide. Removal of the road surface revealed an orange/brown clay which was excavated to a maximum depth of 1.4m. A stone culvert, 0.25m wide, was located at a depth of 0.8m in the east end of the trench. No trace of the wall feature encountered in Trench A1.6 was uncovered in this trench.

Slit-trench A1.4 was excavated diagonally across the road from the junction of Northgate Street/Church Street to the path on the opposite side of the road. The trench measured 15.5m in length and was 0.9–1m in width. Some 8.6m from the north end of the trench a mixed layer of brick and mortar was encountered below the road fill, at a depth of 0.3m. This deposit of brick and mortar extended for a length of between 2.4m and 2.5m and was c. 0.3m in depth. Below this, the excavation of a sticky clay revealed a dark-brown clay. Evidence for a wall feature was uncovered at a depth of 1.1–1.2m. All that survived was a single course of stones. The feature was revealed for a width of 1–1.1m. A mixed rubble fill adjoined the wall feature in the south. The significance of the brick and remains of the wall feature is not conclusive but the latter may relate to the former market place and tholsel, of which no trace survives aboveground today. A reference from 1587 informs us that John Rawson was leased the market place of Athlone on condition that he built a timber market house ‘20 yards long and 15 yards wide’ (Cal State Papers 1606–1608, 45). English’s map of 1750 indicates that it is a marketplace while in Sherrard’s map of 1784 it is referred to as a tholsel. A stone arcaded tholsel and market house with a tower surmounted by a cross was constructed here in 1703 and demolished in 1837. The abundance of pipes and services in this area made any excavations difficult and increased the possibility of disturbance to archaeological layers. However, the excavation of the slit-trench indicated that archaeological layers and features do survive below the ground in this area.

Slit-trench FST A2 was located on Bridge Street and traversed the road diagonally in a north-north-east/south-south-west orientation. This trench measured 6.3m by 1m and was up to 2m deep. The road surface and underlying gravel and rubble was removed to reveal a red-brick and lime mortar rubble at the north-north-east end of the trench. Red-brick wall foundations were encountered at this location. Approximately three courses of one wall spanning the length of the trench were recorded.

Slit-trench F1 was located on Quay Road adjacent to the junction with Peter’s Port on the west bank of the River Shannon. A proposed river crossing will be located to the immediate east. The west side of the trench revealed a wall feature at a distance of 8m from the path on the east side of the roadway. Located at a depth of 0.65m below the surface, the wall of uncut stones with mortar throughout measured 0.8m in width and was revealed to extend for a depth of 1m. Below this depth the space was too confined to excavate further. On the west side of the wall, red brick, occasional pottery and animal-bone fragments were recovered. An examination of the cartographic evidence from the area suggests that this feature may correspond to the 1691 map of Athlone town by Jean Goubet, where defences associated with the castle are indicated in this area.

Two test-trenches and a test-pit were excavated through the area of the proposed pumping station, which is located on the slope of a hill. No artifacts or features of archaeological significance were encountered.