2014:084 - Dooagh Beach, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: Dooagh Beach

Sites and Monuments Record No.: None Licence number: 14E0125

Author: Stuart Rathbone

Site type: Early Modern animal burial ground

ITM: E 460535m, N 804916m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.974686, -10.126023

Heavy storms at the beginning of 2014 cleared away a deep shingle bank on Dooagh Beach, Achill Island, Co Mayo, exposing a large peat bed. Examination of this peat bed revealed that a large number of rectangular pits had been cut into its upper surface. In some instances it could be seen that some of the pits contained large mammal bones but it was not clear from surface examination if the pits contained complete animal burials or if they simply contained assortments of articulated or semi-articulated animal bones in a manner consistent with waste disposal.

The site was subject to a detailed GPS and photographic survey which established that a total of 26 pits were visible in the area of freshly exposed peat, although it later became clear that further pits were present to the immediate east of the site where the same peat formation was exposed in a vertical cliff face from which large animal bones could be seen protruding in at least 20 separate locations.

In May 2014 two of the most intact looking pits within the cluster were excavated by Achill Archaeological Field School. Pit 22 was found to measure 2.67m by 1.02m with a maximum depth of 0.49m. It contained an intact pony skeleton with its legs folded up underneath its body in a fashion thought to indicate that the animal had been killed at the burial site. Pit 26 was found to measure 2.03m by 1.63m, with a maximum depth of 0.67m. It contained an intact pony skeleton with its legs fully extended out from the body, necessitating the excavation of a much larger pit. It is thought therefore that the animal died elsewhere and had been brought to the beach for burial after rigor mortis had set in.

Examination of the two pony skeletons suggested that both animals had a hard working life and had been fed a nutritionally poor diet. The pony in Pit 22 is estimated to have had a withers height of between 13 and 15 hands, whilst the pony in Pit 26 is estimated to have a withers height of between 12 and 14 hands. These heights lie comfortably within the height range for Connemara ponies and it is known that a large number of Connemara ponies were imported to Achill in the late 19th century.

The horseshoes associated with the two excavated ponies indicated that the animals date from the middle of the 19th century or later. Local accounts indicate that animals were being buried in this location up until the 1950s. The site seems to have been used for the burial of large animal carcasses in a community that was too far removed from an abattoir to make removal of animals feasible.

In July 2014 the shingle bank that had previously protected the site was re-established by Mayo County Council engineers, during work to remedy storm damage in advance of the Achill Half Marathon. It is thought that the site is currently reasonably well protected.

Axhill Archaeological Field School, 1150 Broadway Boulevard, Reno, Nevada, USA