2014:140 - Rathfarnham Castle, Rathfarnham Road, Dublin 14, Dublin

County: Dublin Site name: Rathfarnham Castle, Rathfarnham Road, Dublin 14

Sites and Monuments Record No.: DU022-014 Licence number: E4468

Author: Antoine Giacometti

Site type: Post-medieval fortified house

ITM: E 714410m, N 728904m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.298097, -6.283637

A programme of archaeological monitoring was carried out at Rathfarnham Castle (RMP DU022-014 & National Monument 628) over six months from June 2014 to January 2015, as part of a phase (Phase 6) of the OPW’s restoration works focusing on providing better visitor access to the site.

A large number of interesting archaeological features were exposed during monitoring. The highlight was the discovery of 17,500 artefacts dating to the end of the 17th century in a washpit under the south-west flanker tower.

Outside the castle
Excavations outside the castle found no medieval artefacts and no evidence for a moat, supporting J. Carroll's conclusions that there is no pre-1583 phase at Rathfarnham Castle. Evidence for an earlier defensive gatehouse was found in the 18th-century coach-house, locally named ‘Cromwell’s Fort’. Sixteenth-century foundations and surface level coping or batter were exposed around the castle, and excavation revealed a 16th-century doorway into the north-west flanker at basement level. The remains of an 18th-century brick clamp fire to manufacture low-quality bricks was found in the north, and a three-chambered 19th-century water filtration system using tin screens to filter drinking water was identified in the western courtyard.

Two features previously noted by Carroll in 1993 were again identified in 2014: the former 18th-century double-stair entrance-way, and an 18th-century tunnel to the west of the castle. The 2014 monitoring confirmed Carroll's 1994 conclusion that much of the area around the castle has been raised up in the 18th or 19th century by just over 1m, and that little archaeological stratigraphy survives outside the castle due to extensive later disturbance.

Main block
A 16th-century doorway and a 16th-century fireplace, both previously-known, as well as a possible 17th-century window, were recorded in the upper floors.

The existing stone basement floor is not original, but rather dates to c. 1690-1740. The two existing fireplaces in the southern room of the basement are 18th-century insertions, and a huge pair of original fireplaces were identified in the northern basement room, which was probably the 16th-century kitchen. The location of a stone spiral staircase was identified in the east of the spine wall, and a thinner continuation of the spine wall was excavated to the west.

Northern flanker towers
The two northern flanker towers are smaller than the southern flankers, and no excavation work took place within them. Survey work recorded 16th-century gun loops and blocked doorways in these flankers and suggested the presence of a blocked defensive room below the original entrance staircase to the castle.

South-east flanker tower
An excavation took place in the south-east flanker basement in July-August 2014 in advance of the installation of toilet facilities. This exposed two gun loops, the 16th-century floor level, and a 16th-century oven that had been demolished in the 18th century. The location of the oven, combined with the evidence of the 16th-century fireplaces in the south-west flanker, suggest that the ornate Queen Anne-style chimney on the corner of the south-west flanker could be a remodelled 16th-century chimney.

South-west flanker tower
The demolition of a 20th-century staircase and removal of plaster from the walls exposed many interesting features in the south-west flanker. Five 16th-century gun loops (a sixth was found in the subsequent excavation) faced north and east, defending the castle. Three 16th-century windows faced west, and two 16th-century windows or garderobes faced south. Two 16th-century yellow sandstone fireplaces were situated on the western side of the north wall, directly below the Queen Anne-style chimney. A possible 17th-century wooden window was also recorded.

The original 1583 floor levels of the south-west flanker appear to have been the same as the main block at basement level and ground floor level. The upper storeys appear different, however, due to the addition of a possible mezzanine above the ground floor. The basement appears to have been roofed by a half-vault in the eastern half and a wooden staircase and platform in the western half, unlike the other flanker towers.

An excavation below the floor in order to insert a lift shaft identified two 18th-century phases of renovation. The later phase was associated with the widening and raising of the windows and the replacement of the basement ceiling. The floor level was raised to match that of the kitchen extension, the doorway between the tower and main block was blocked up, and a new larger doorway was inserted to the kitchen extension. In effect, the tower became part of the kitchens. This phase is likely to date to the same period as the construction of the new kitchen wing, which is tentatively dated to the Henry Loftus phase in or around 1770.

More surprisingly, an earlier 18th-century phase of renovations was also identified. This was associated with the insertion of large basement-level windows (smaller and narrower than the later 18th-century windows, but larger than the 17th- and 16th-century windows) and a decorative cabinet, suggesting a complete change of function from service to living space. This phase also involved blocking the 16th-century kitchen fireplaces in the main block and raising the entire basement floor by just under 1m, perhaps to deal with flooding problems from the blocked drain below, which was also repaired at this time. The new kitchen seems to have been moved to the southern side of the main block basement at this stage, though it is also possible that an earlier kitchen extension had been constructed directly to the west (J. Carroll, pers. comm. 2014). A. Hayden (pers. comm. 2014) has pointed to a number of features in the upper stories of Rathfarnham Castle that could support an early 18th-century phase of renovation. This may be associated with the arrival of Edward Worth as a tenant in the castle from c. 1705.

Below these two phases, the excavation exposed the original 16th-century tower walls and floors. A large 16th-century wash pit with an open-air drain was excavated in the corner of the tower. This was filled with an extraordinary artefact-rich deposit.

The artefacts from the wash pit can broadly be described under three general headings: fashion and toiletries, entertainment and diet, and trade, colonisation and conquest. The extraordinary range and exceptional preservation of this assemblage is remarkable. Among the highlights are: a tortoiseshell fan, an emerald and other gemstones, gold jewellery, an amazing collection of very early crystal wine goblets, very early London stoneware coffee cups, leather shoes, an armour breastplate, wine bottles stamped with ‘AL 1688’, fragments of Nevers glass miniatures diorama, a collection of fine Chinese porcelain and Chinese stoneware, textile, wonderful environmental remains, toothbrushes, lace-making paraphernalia, doll fragments, coins, and wax seals from letters.

Post-excavation work is ongoing. The full report can be downloaded from www.archaeologyplan.com/projects

Archaeology Plan, 32 Fitzwilliam Place Dublin 2