2015:147 - Keel West, Mayo

County: Mayo Site name: Keel West

Sites and Monuments Record No.: MA053-003003 & MA053-003004 Licence number: 09E0302 Extension

Author: Stuart Rathbone

Site type: Settlement cluster and field system

ITM: E 455817m, N 804433m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.969054, -10.197656

During July and August 2015 Achill Archaeological Field School undertook a series of excavations within a settlement cluster at Keem Bay, Achill Island (MA053-003003). The largest visible foundation within the settlement, House 3, had originally been the subject of a limited excavation directed by Teresa Bolger in 2009. The earlier work had demonstrated that a substantial stone-built foundation survived underneath the turf and, importantly, that intact floor deposits were present. Excavations in 2015 were conducted as an extension to the original license issued in 2009. A large rectangular trench measuring 13m by 7m, with a 0.5m wide cross baulk running through the centre, was placed over the building. The cross baulk was removed towards the end of the excavation, once the intact floor deposits were reached.
House 3 proved to be a small sub-rectangular house with neatly constructed dry stone walls. The curved corners incorporated particularly large boulders, presumably placed to reinforce these natural weak points in the building. The house measured 8.75m by 4.7m externally and just 6.66m by 2.8m internally. It was divided into two compartments, separated by a stone-lined cross drain, with a larger living compartment with an open hearth on one side and a smaller compartment on the other which was probably used to house animals. Despite the small size of the house it was arranged in the classic byre style. The upslope end of the building was set into a terrace cut into the hillside and the floor of the downslope end had been built up to provide a level interior. House 3 appears to be a permanently occupied house which conforms to historical accounts of early 19th-century houses on Achill.
A total of 291 artefacts were recovered during the 2015 season. The majority of these came from a narrow area between the upslope end of the building and the cut of the terrace on which the building was constructed, an area which was clearly used as a dump. The majority of the artefacts were small pieces of late 18th-century/early 19th-century creamware. The dump was sealed over by a layer of collapse from the building's walls, indicating that the dump was contemporary with the occupation of the house rather than being a later deposit. A fragment of an iron stove door and a very well manufactured Erricsson Wizard stropping handle for sharpening razor blades (patented 1924) were also recovered, but these came from the base of the overlying turf and seem to have been dumped at the site during the early 20th century. Added to the 48 artefacts recovered in 2009 a grand total of 339 artefacts were recovered from this building.
A small linear trench measuring 10m by 2m was placed over a series of lazy beds separated by a sunken linear feature located around 60m south of House 3. This showed that the linear feature was a narrow open drain but although 30 finds with a general 19th-century date were recovered from the trench, the finds were not from contexts that could be used to accurately date either the lazy beds or the drain.
A small rectangular trench measuring 4m by 3m was placed over the corner of an elongated rectangular foundation defined by a narrow earthen bank located about 85m south east of House 3. The bank was found to be of a simple earthen construction and it seems unlikely that it could have been the foundation of a domestic building, and it was probably an unroofed animal pen although it could have been a crude agricultural building. A massive assemblage of over 1327 finds came from this trench, a mixture of glass and creamware fragments and small heavily corroded iron objects. Unfortunately the vast majority of these finds came from upper layers and are thought to result from the site being used as a dump either during the occupation or subsequent renovation of the adjacent Coastguard Station. The construction date of the enclosure was therefore not established.

Achill Archaeological Field School, Dooagh, Achill, Co Mayo