SECTION 1 : Introduction
SECTION 2 : Multi-period sites
SECTION 3 : Mesolithic
SECTION 4 : Neolithic Settlement
SECTION 5 : Megalithic tombs and Neolithic burial practices
SECTION 6 : Bronze Age Occupation Sites
SECTION 7 : Bronze Age burial practices
SECTION 8 : Iron Age
SECTION 9 : Iron Age burial practices
SECTION 10 : Royal sites
SECTION 11 : Western stone forts
SECTION 12 : Early Medieval Period - Christianity
SECTION 13 : Ringforts
SECTION 14 : Crannógs
SECTION 15 : Medieval Dublin
SECTION 16 : Late Medieval Period
SECTION 17 : Anglo-Norman Towns
SECTION 18 : Anglo-Norman Fortifications


Without a Roman invasion, as in Britain, Ireland remained a rural, tribal based society. By the fifth century, the old political order was being replaced by new assertive dynasties, such as the Uí Néill in the Midlands and the NW and the Eoghanachta in Munster. Ireland was without towns, had no monetary system and was virtually illiterate, with the exception of ogham script. The beginnings of Christianity were already stirring by the early fifth century and with this came a focal point for the communities spread throughout the countryside in settlements such as ringforts and crannógs.

Evidence of Christianity is found in Ireland from at least the early fifth century, more particularly in the south. The introduction of Christianity into Ireland may have first spread from Britain and was apparent as self sufficient eremitic communities of men, who established settlements. By the early eight century the organisation of the early Irish church was predominantly monastic. Such monastic settlements were generally surrounded by an outer circular enclosure, the vallum, with an inner enclosure surrounding the church and graveyard. Glaspatrick, Co. Mayo, Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Iniscealtra, Co. Clare, Omey Island, Co. Galway, Illaunloughan, Co. Kerry, Church Island Co. Mayo and Butterfield Avenue, Co. Dublin offer a wide geographical example of these types of sites and provide insight into the types of associated structures and artefacts uncovered on early monastic sites.

Monastaries grew into great centres of skilled craftsmanship and learning. From the seventh century they copied and illuminated manuscripts, studied Latin and produced texts, sculptors produced high crosses of the eight and tenth centuries, masons built churches and often round towers and metalworkers created works of art such as the Ardagh Chalice and the various reliquaries and shrines of the seventh to the twelfth centuries. In the eight century monasteries expanded to include larger communities among them married lay people, housed in wooden buildings within the outer enclosure.

Among the many missionaries was the Deacon Palladius, who in 431 was sent to the ‘Irish believing in Christ’ and St. Patrick, who in the second half of the fifth  century left a documentary account of his mission in his Confession and Epistleto Coroticus. Other missionaries to Ireland included Sechnaill who worked in Meath and founded the monastery at Dunshaughlin (Domnach Sechnaill), Ciaran, who founded the monastery of Seirkieran in the late fifth/early sixth century and a second Ciaran, who founded the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly in 549.

The latter part of this period saw church reform and the visual impact of this was the introduction of the Romanesque style of art in Ireland. Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, constructed between 1127 and 1134 is the product of an Irish building tradition but influenced by West British styles. Over the next few decades the techniques used at Cashel were progressively assimilated into the skills of local masons, producing a unique blend of Romanesque which is distinctive to Ireland and frequently referred to as Hiberno-Romanesque. This style replaced the traditional Irish doorway with several orders of sculptured arches supported on pilasters, arcades with attached columns were used on the walls, the stone was cut ashlar and there was extensive use of sculptured ornament.  West of the Shannon the Romanesque tradition continued into the thirteenth century although elsewhere with the invasion of the Anglo-Normans came a new style of architecture.

Cashel has a particularly rich history and was associated with the early Kings of Munster. It was not surprising therefore that the excavations at Cormac’s Chapel also provided ample evidence for the existence of an earlier church and numerous burials dating from the sixth to the ninth century.

12.1 : Butterfield Avenue, The Old Orchard Inn, Dublin 14 97E0140

Site location: NGR: 313200/228200                      SMR: N/A

Judith Carroll

Fig.12.1.1: Location map of Butterfield Ave., Co. Dublin [OSI]

The site is located at the Old Orchard Inn, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 (Fig. 12.1.1). In 1997 during development at the Old Orchard Inn, human skeletons were uncovered. There is no record of any archaeological site at this location in the Archaeological Survey of Ireland archive and no historical reference to the area exists, the only information available on this site was a report to the National Museum in the 1950s of human skeletons found in the area. The first edition OS map however, shows a bend in the old roadway and curvilinear field boundaries that may indicate the presence of an ecclesiastical enclosure. Trial trenching was subsequently undertaken at the development site in order to establish the extent of the remains. Full excavation was undertaken over two two-month seasons (Plate 12.1.1) in 1997 (May-June and August-September). Three phases of archaeological activity were identified ranging in date from perhaps as early as the fifth/sixth century AD to the twelfth or thirteenth centuries.

Plate 12.1.1: Site under excavation, Old Orchard Inn, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham, Dublin [Judith Carroll]

In Phase 1, a palisade trench was identified on both the north and south sides of the excavated area, suggesting that there was an enclosure. Finds of copper and iron slag, significant amounts of animal bone, a pennanular brooch terminal, iron knives and a ‘pig fibula’ associated with the palisade trench suggest both metalworking and occupation of a domestic nature. Radiocarbon dates place this phase to between the fifth and seventh centuries AD.

During Phase 2 the site was used for burial and the excavation revealed the remains of at least 200 individuals. Some of the remains were badly disturbed but analysis of a significant proportion was possible. In addition to the lack of post-medieval features or finds, the east-west orientation of the burials, the shallowness of the burials, the presence of stones placed by the skull in ear-muff fashion, suggests an early medieval or medieval date for the burials. A C14 determination from one of the skeletons yielded a date centred in the early tenth century. The burials were almost all contained within or superimposed on the area enclosed by the palisade trench of Phase 1. The relationship of burials and the comparative lack of disturbance of the skeletons suggested that the burials were all more or less contemporary to within a number of consecutive generations. The burials were sealed by layers containing Leinster cooking ware, suggesting that they did not post-date the thirteenth century.

Phase 3 saw the construction of a second palisade trench with a possible entrance feature. Stone walls associated with a hearth were uncovered on the north. Evidence for late twelfth/thirteenth century occupation was apparent in the form of a stony habitation layer, post-holes, 60 sherds of Leinster cooking ware, an iron socketed spearhead, an iron spur and probable harness mount.


Carroll, J. 1998  ‘The Old Orchard Inn, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham’,   In I. Bennett (ed.),   Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 59-60.

Carroll, J. 1998  ‘Rathfarnham, The Old Orchard Inn’, Medieval Archaeology 42, 161.

12.2 : Church Island, Co. Mayo  93E0109

Site location: NGR 11160/22750            SMR MA099-017

Frank Ryan*

Fig.12.2.1: Location map of Church Island, Co. Mayo [OSI]

Church Island is a small island located on the western side of Lough Carra that is situated in the centre of Mayo (Fig. 12.2.1). The excavations further the information on early church sites, especially those in remote areas.

Excavation of this site was undertaken over a single season in 1993 and was confined to an area 13m X 8m incorporating a medieval church. Five levels were recorded on the site. The earliest level (Level 1) revealed a large wooden structure, indicated by four post-holes. Another nine post-holes may represent evidence for other structures. A small rectangular building was defined by a shallow trench and two post-holes. A large hearth was located to the NW of this building.

The next level (Level 2) was defined by a trench dug to enclose an area 8m X 4m. The trench contained loose stones and boulders and an entrance feature was recorded in the NW end. Several layers of daub were added to level the ground. One pit, four post-holes and five stone settings for wooden stakes were also discovered. A plinth constructed of several courses of rounded stones was uncovered at the NW end of the site. It was built on top of the enclosure trench at the SW end and incorporated an internal west corner.

A short intense period of activity (Level 3) followed this. It appeared that a portion of the foundations associated with Level 2 were reused. The western corner was infilled with stones and some evidence suggested a fire occurred in the NW half of the building. A small furnace was located at the SW end.

The Level 4 building was slightly off alignment with the Level 2 building. The walls of the extant church were in ruins except for the SE gable. A carved sandstone window survived in the gable. Other features included an altar base and a central post-hole. Evidence of a SW window and a NW entrance also survived.

At Level 5 eight human skeletons were excavated. They probably represent reuse of the site.

A total of 22 skeletons were recorded from the site. Finds included a range of iron objects and a variety of animal, bird and fish bones. No diagnostic finds were associated with Levels 1 and 3. A small piece of dressed green porphyry and a bronze stick pin were found at Level 2. Dating of Level 4 relies on the three decorated bone mounts and bone comb fragments. The fabric of the building suggests a late thirteenth or fourteenth century date.


Ryan, F. 1994  ‘Church Island’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 59-60.

Ryan, F. 1994  ‘Church Island, Lough Gara’,  Medieval Archaeology 38, 277.

12.3 : Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly E558

Site location: NGR 20111/23043           
SMR OF005-027--- and OF005-058---

Heather King*

Fig.12.3.1: Location map of Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly [OSI]

The site is located at the modern graveyard of Clonmacnoise, to the east of the monastic enclosure on the Eiscer Riada (Fig. 12.3.1; Plate 12.3.1). The discovery of the first recorded ogham stone from Co. Offaly while digging a grave in the new graveyard at Clonmacnoise prompted a series of excavations, funded by the National Monuments Service (formally the OPW).

Plate 12.3.1: Aerial view looking south-west, Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly [Aerofilms]

The upper levels, dating to post AD 1000, consisted of pits, cobbled surfaces and refuse spreads. Beneath this were the eight to tenth century levels that contained Round House 2 in the eastern half of the cutting. It was c.8.5m in diameter and the foundation levels consisted of 13 large boulders with a doorway on the SW and a central hearth. A contemporary two-cell, D-shaped house was 1m to the west and the floor of that building consisted of several discrete deposits/dumps of sands and gravel. It appeared to represent two phases, one with two large post-holes in the side walls possibly representing roof supports and the other on the southern side representing an earlier round house. There was a long narrow enclosure at the west with a sand and gravel yard, a wooden gate and a large hearth. Six flags at the exterior southern wall, led to a large hollow with a number of furnace bottoms, slag, and a large quantity of animal bone, ash and charcoal. Another section of a possible rectangular structure with a number of post-holes and three pits was also excavated. A similar D-shaped platform was found adjacent to the road on the east and it contained a large post-pit.

The earliest evidence of occupation was a curved double row of post-holes in the south-eastern corner of Cutting 1. An area of cobbling was also uncovered and may have represented a cobbled slip and a place where boats were tied up. Later a boundary of wood and stones was built across the cobbles parallel to the Shannon with a sunken feature behind it, possibly representing a docking area for boats. 

A semi-circle of post-holes in the northern end of Cutting 1 may have represented half of a circular structure. Above this, separated by charcoal enriched soil, was a rectangular floor possibly associated with two corn drying kilns. One of the kilns had 12 stake-holes running in a circle below the rim which may have been supports for a suspended mat or tray for holding corn. A large post-pit was associated with the kilns and a later pit damaged the kilns.

A number of post-pits beside the western perimeter may have formed another circular structure c.7.5m in diameter. A charcoal layer was recorded above the structure and above that were stone foundations. Within this building and on the west side was a compact layer with a hearth defined by stones set into it. To the east were layers of gravel and sand representing a path/gravelled surface. A large timber or peat lined circular pit had been cut into the floor of the structure and contained bones, charcoal and a number of finds.

A variety of pits, post-holes and cobbled/flagged surfaces were investigated. The flexed burial of a child of about seven years was uncovered in a pit c.0.70m below the surface within the uppermost undisturbed medieval level. It is suggested to date to the post-medieval period or later. A metal-working hearth was also excavated and produced a large quantity of broken crucibles and moulds. Two stone-lined wells were found in the upper levels, one with a number of medieval potsherds in an adjacent layer which suggests the construction of the well in the thirteenth century or the late use of an eleventh/twelfth century well.

A metalled road ran across the site in a NE/SW direction and measured 18.5m long and 3m wide. It was cut by a large pit which contained a crutch-headed pin dating to AD1000-1075. Ridge and furrow cultivation had disturbed the tenth-twelfth century deposits in the NW area of the site.

Finds included iron knives, nails, a disc-headed pin and rings, worked bone and antler, blue and green glass beads, bone points, pins and combs, crucibles, one with a gold speck, slag, hones, spindle whorls, bronze wire, bronze and iron loop-headed pins, a chert hollow-based arrow-head, cross-slab fragments, bronze escutcheon with animal head, bronze tweezers, dress pins, strap end, needle and case, stirrup ring, Jew’s harp, a bronze mount with spiral design dating to c. AD 700, an iron escutcheon, two sherds of E ware, a fragment of bracelet with white interlaced inlay, jet bracelets, a Hiberno-Norse penny, silver ingot, thirteenth and fourteenth century pottery sherds. Large quantities of animal and fish bones were also excavated.

The radiocarbon dates support the theory that the Early Christian activity at the site began in the seventh century and also suggests that there was some earlier activity. The lack of medieval pottery at the site in an area so close to the Anglo-Norman castle may suggest that the site was abandoned before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans and remained unused since then.


King, H. 1991  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1990. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 49-50.

King, H. 1991  ‘Clonmacnoise’,  Medieval Archaeology 35, 212-3.

King, H. 1992  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1991. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 40-1.

King, H. 1992  ‘Clonmacnoise’,  Medieval Archaeology 36, 289.

King, H. 1993  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 53-4.

King, H. 1993  ‘Clonmacnoise’,  Medieval Archaeology 37, 297.

King, H. 1994  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 66-7.

King, H. 1994  ‘Clonmacnoise, the New Graveyard’,  Medieval Archaeology 38, 277.

King, H. 1995  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 74-5.

King, H. 1996  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

King, H. 1997  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1996. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 92-3.

King, H. 1997  ‘Clonmacnoise Monastery, New Graveyard’,  Medieval Archaeology 41, 309.

King, H. 1998  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 149.

King, H. 1998  ‘Clonmacnoise Monastery, New Graveyard’,  Medieval Archaeology 42, 169.

King, H. 1999  ‘New Graveyard, Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1998. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 174-5.

12.4 : Clonmacnoise Bridge, Co. Offaly 95E231/97E0243

Site location:            NGR 20110/23080            SMR OF23-005---

Aidan O’Sullivan and Donal Boland

Fig.12.4.1: Location map of Clonmacnoise Bridge, Co. Offaly [OSI]

The early medieval wooden bridge at Clonmacnoise (Fig. 12.4.1) crosses the River Shannon immediately downstream of the monastic site (Plate 12.4.1) and is visible underwater today as a double row of eroded wooden posts at water depths of 1.5-5m. The site was first discovered in 1994 by two local divers (Donal Boland and Mattie Grehan). In 1995, a preliminary site survey was carried out by the Irish Underwater Archaeological Research Team (IUART). In 1997 and 1998, a detailed site survey and excavation was carried out by Aidan O’Sullivan and Donal Boland (Management for Archaeology Underwater Ltd.) for the National Monuments Service (formally Dúchas) and dendrochronological dates were obtained from the School of Palaeoecology and Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast, indicating that the structure was built c. 804 AD.

Plate 12.4.1: Aerial view looking south-west, Clonmacnoise Bridge, Co. Offaly
[National Monuments Service]

Plate 12.4.2: Underwater photo showing timbers, Clonmacnoise Bridge, Co. Offaly
[Donal Boland]

The early medieval wooden bridge was located on a shallow and relatively narrow part of the river, but owing to the exceptional depth and softness of the riverbed clays there, it could never have served as a natural fording place. While it is likely that this was a long-term crossing point for boats, it was crossed by a bridge structure for only a brief period. While its proximity to the monastic site explains its location, it is also significant that the bridge was approached on both sides by more long-distance route ways, the Slí Mhór to the east and a bog trackway in Coolumber to the west.

The bridge measured c.120m in length and 4-5m in width. A line of narrow, vertical hazel and alder poles was first driven into the riverbed to mark out its proposed location. The main bridge structure was then constructed of a double row of vertical oak posts, 4-5m apart. The bridge consisted of c. 25 pairs of these posts, spaced at c. 4-6m intervals going across the river, of which 17 survived. Underwater excavations revealed that the vertical posts were prevented from sinking into the riverbed by a simple, but ingenious method of individual base-plates, beams and planks (Plate 12.4.2) This could be reconstructed from the single vertical post excavated and extracted from the riverbed. This was driven to a depth of 3.5m into the soft clays. It had been crudely sharpened to a blunt point with augur holes drilled through the tip. It had a through-mortise cut through its side (3.5m from the tip). This snugly held a transverse oak beam; itself mortised at either end. Each of these mortises also a held broad, cleft oak plank. As the post descended into the riverbed, this arrangement of planks prevented it from sinking too far and allowed it to stand without swaying. Similar features on most of the other vertical posts indicate that this technique was used right across the river. The superstructure of the bridge has long been destroyed by collapse and riverine erosion and many timbers may have been robbed out soon after its abandonment. It is unlikely however, that it stood much higher than 6m above the riverbed, with a walkway of hurdles, poles or planks supported on a superstructure of jointed beams. Comparative studies of early medieval bridges in northern Europe and ethnological parallels of more recent wooden bridges suggest that the Clonmacnoise bridge would not have had a life span of much more than 40-50 years.

The underwater surveys and excavations also uncovered a number of associated finds. This includes eleven dugout boats, some of which were found beside the bridge timbers. Remarkably, three of these boats contained early medieval woodworking tools, including felling and carpentry axes and a whetstone. These tools may well have been lost during the bridge construction project. Another find on the riverbed beside the bridge included a rare eighth/ninth century copper-alloy basin, similar to examples found previously in the early medieval Derrynaflan hoard and in Derreen, Co. Clare. This is a type of vessel that was probably used in the church liturgy, for holding wine or washing of the hands. Its location on the riverbed could be explained by its accidental loss or by its violent removal from the monastery during a raid. Alternatively, the vessel may have been deliberately thrown into the river (it bears damage from a sharp object) for some as yet poorly understood reason. Other finds include a prehistoric chert core, an iron dish, wooden objects, animal bone and quantities of iron slag eroded into the river from probable early medieval ironworking sites along the riverbank.

The early medieval bridge at Clonmacnoise should be interpreted in the context of local and regional social and political developments in the Irish midlands in the early ninth century AD. It may have been constructed to enable the growing monastic population to travel easily back and forth to their agricultural estates on the west side of the river, or to enable pilgrims to come easily to the monastery. Alternatively, the bridge may have been constructed through royal patronage, as part of the aggressive political and military expansion of Connacht kings during the period. It can also be understood as a single event in the long-term history of travel across the River Shannon.

Note: The Clonmacnoise bridge project will be published in 2004 as O’Sullivan, A. and Boland, D. The early medieval bridge at Clonmacnoise: Underwater archaeological investigations, 1994-1998. Clonmacnoise Studies, Vol. 3, National Monuments Service.


Boland, D. 1996  ‘Clonmacnoise’,  In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd, Bray.

Boland, D. and O’Sullivan, A. 1997  ‘An early medieval wooden bridge at Clonmacnoise’,  In F.J.G. Mitchell and C. Delaney (eds.), The Quaternary of the Irish Midlands. Field Guide 21, Irish Association for Quaternary Studies, Dublin, 14-21.

O’Sullivan, A. and Boland, D. 1998  ‘Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1997. Wordwell, Bray, 148-49.

O’Sullivan, A. and Boland, D. 1998  ‘Medieval Irish engineers bridge the River Shannon’,  Discovering Archaeology 1, 32-37.

O’Sullivan, A. and Boland, D. 2000 The Clonmacnoise bridge: An early medieval river crossing in County Offaly. Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 11. Wordwell, Bray.

O’Sullivan, A., Brady, N. and Boland, D. 2000  ‘Clonmacnoise’, In I. Bennett (ed.), Excavations 1998. Wordwell, Bray, 174.

12.5 : Glaspatrick, Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo 94E0115

Site location: NGR 90600/28020            SMR MA087-04401-

Gerry Walsh

Fig.12.5.1: Location map of Glaspatrick, Co. Mayo [OSI]

The site is located on the summit of Croagh Patrick overlooking Clew Bay, Co. Mayo (Fig. 12.5.1) and was excavated over two short seasons in 1994 and 1995. The excavation was financed by funds raised locally by the Croagh Patrick Archaeological Committee, the local church and Mayo County Council.

A rectangular dry stone oratory was uncovered approximately 25m east of the existing oratory built in 1905. The dry stone oratory was orientated EW with the south wall and the south-western corner cut into the natural rock. As a result these walls were faced on the inside only, with the outer faces starting at present ground level, giving it the impression of being a “sunken” building. The south and eastern walls showed signs of corbelling. The outline of the building from the outside would have been similar to that of an upturned boat while the interior would have been a roughly pointed vault.

The eastern entrance had a slight suggestion of inclined jambs. On either side of the entrance, inside the threshold flag, were two large stone-lined post-holes, one of which was a double post-hole. An iron object was retrieved from the fill of one side, while the fill of the other produced an iron nail and a fragment of iron. Three sherds of local medieval pottery, two corroded bronze pins, some fragments of iron, two worked flints and some worked stones were recovered from the surviving remains of a possible floor level. Some modern finds were also found in this layer and had probably filtered down through the overlying layers of collapse. A radiocarbon date of 430-890 Cal AD was returned for a sample of charcoal from within the oratory.

In 1995 excavation work was concentrated on the dry stone rampart wall that encircles the summit of the mountain. This rampart and associated hut sites may represent pre-Christian occupation on the summit of the mountain. In one cutting, a layer of rough paving was uncovered inside the inner face of the rampart wall. Overlying this rough paving was a layer that produced two iron fragments, two flint chips, a clay pipe stem fragment and a blue glass bead. Overlying this was a thin layer of stone rubble that produced a broken burnt chert flake. The inner face of the rampart wall was also exposed and the excavation showed it was built on the natural scree and faced only on the inside.

Up to thirty hut sites are located on the north and western sides of the mountain outside of the rampart wall. Hut B was circular in plan with a maximum diameter of 5m. The interior was composed of a thin layer of peat containing a spread of charcoal that overlay the natural scree and bedrock. The charcoal spread produced a broken chert flake fragment, a minute bronze fragment and a modern penny. A 4m long stretch of the inner face of the rampart wall, again faced on the inside only was uncovered at the NW corner of the summit. A broken retouched flint flake, a possible hone stone and a yellow glass bead were recovered here. Overlying this layer another soil layer produced a small chert flake, a flint chip, an incomplete bronze mount and a white glass bead. The topsoil layer here produced a broken retouched flint flake, two black glass beads, three blue glass beads, two amber beads, a purple glass bead and some modern finds. Some of the beads may date to the third century BC.

Hut A on the western side of the mountain was oval in plan and no definite inner or outer wall face survived. A broken retouched flint flake, a small chert flake and a chert chip were recovered from the interior of the hut.

This site offered further evidence of early church sites and their associated buildings. It is also a historically rich site of national importance and the archaeological proof of its early use as a Christian and probable pre-Christian site is quite significant.   


Walsh, G. 1995  ‘Glaspatrick, Croagh Patrick’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 69-70. 

Walsh, G. 1994  ‘Preliminary Report on the Archaeological excavations on the summit of Croagh Patrick, 1994’,  Cathair na Mart: Journal of the Westport Historical Society, 1-10.

Walsh, G. 1996  ‘Glaspatrick, Croagh Patrick’, In I. Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

12.6 : Illaunloughan, Co. Kerry 92E0087

Site location: NGR 3663/7308         SMR KE087-036---

Claire Walsh and Jenny White Marshall*

Fig.12.6.1: Location map of Illaunloughan, Co. Kerry [OSI]

The eremitical settlement on the island of Illaunloughan in the channel between the south Kerry coast and Valencia Island is one of nine similar sites situated on offshore islands in this region (Fig. 12.6.1). Upstanding features included the remains of a gable shrine, located on top of a mound and encircled by orthostats, a well, a small drystone oratory, a drystone hut and a possible enclosing wall. The site was in use in the early twentieth century as a burial place, primarily for infants. The research excavation was carried out over four seasons between 1992-95, as part of the UCLA Overseas Research Project.

The Oratory

Excavation in the area of the oratory revealed two main phases of activity, an earlier earthen or sod-walled structure, followed by a later dry-stone structure. The earlier structure included a sill-stone at the west entrance flanked by two posts, with wall trenches containing a silt fill, probably the remains of sod-walling, sandwiched between thin sandstone lining slabs. Post-holes at the east and south of the east wall suggest a roof support independent of the wall structure. Five associated burials were uncovered to the east.

The later stone oratory was built directly on top of the original oratory foundations. All skeletal remains from this phase were male indicating that the site did not serve as a community church but that this was the site of a hermitage. An earlier or contemporary leacht was also revealed on the north side of the oratory, underlying the oratory walls. Carbonised material overlying the clay floor of the oratory gave a C14 date of 640-790 Cal. AD. 

A series of burials, oriented EW, were also revealed in the immediate vicinity of the oratory. These burials were dated to the medieval period when modifications were also made to the oratory structure.

The graveyard

In the 1993 season the medieval burials were excavated. Burials were generally placed in simple, earth-cut graves and many were sealed with rough slabs, some were lintelled. One burial was found to extend beneath the drystone wall of the oratory; many of the burials had quartz pebbles placed with the body. A date sometime in the Early Medieval Period has been suggested for most of the burials, though Later Medieval burials were uncovered including those of females and infants, indicating a change in function of the site.

The gable-shrine (Plates 12.6.1 and 2)

This tent-like slab structure was situated in a drystone leacht and sited on a terraced mound which was paved. Following removal of the slate slabs the presence of two small sealed stone cists was revealed. Each contained the bones of possibly two individuals. Fragments of cranium and a mandible were also found and several whole scallop shells (the emblem of St. James) were also present in the fill. These skeletons have yielded C14 dates of early seventh and middle eight centuries. Further excavation revealed the extended remains of at least five individuals, several of which pre-dated the paving around the central shrine. It was apparent to the excavator that the entire mound structure was utilised as a cemetery. Excavation of the shrine mound was completed in 1994. Three rock-cut graves which pre-dated the shrine were encountered. Their presence suggests the possibility of an earlier, sacred focus in the area. Following excavation the shrine mound was partially reinstated. The shrine, regarded locally as having a cure for sore eyes, continued to be visited long after the Oratory had fallen in to disuse.

Plate 12.6.1: Gable Shrine during excavation, Illaunloughán, Co. Kerry
[Con Brogan/Claire Walsh]

Plate 12.6.2: Gable Shrine after conservation, Illaunloughán, Co. Kerry
[Con Brogan/Claire Walsh]

Hut Site Enclosing Wall and Midden

A cutting in the area of the hut site revealed that the raised ridge to the west represented an enclosing wall, the full extent of which was not discernable due to erosion. Three earlier, circular, timber-built structures were found to pre-date the drystone hut. Hut A was similar in construction to that preceding the stone built oratory and Hut B was defined by parallel trenches and a number of post-holes with a paved path leading to the doorway. Both huts had associated hearths. The third hut (Hut C), sealed beneath a midden and badly eroded, was a post and wattle structure with the doorway on the east. Several ceramic mould fragments, including a decorated fragment and a ceramic die for impressing fine detail, were recovered from the debris overlying the timber structure H. It measured 4.8m in diameter.

The dry-stone structure measured 4.3m in diameter and had a corbelled roof. Half of the drystone hut was excavated revealing a floor level below its contemporary ground level for protection against the prevailing winds. A C14 date for 775-961 Cal. AD has been given for its construction.

A cutting through the midden revealed over 100 burials of post medieval century date. These burials had considerably disturbed the underlying deposits.

Sieving of the midden material retrieved a large sample of faunal remains. Botanical remains indicate that crops were imported to the site from neighbouring farming communities. Metalworking debris, including a carved bone motif piece, was recovered from the lowest level of this cutting. A succession of pathways and roughly paved surfaces occurring outside the doorway of the drystone hut as well as in the western extent of the medieval graveyard, were uncovered.

The intensity of the archaeological remains in this small area has provided a unique opportunity to grasp the chronological, social and economic development of these small monastic establishments. As such, the publishing of this report along with results of C14 dating are of the utmost importance.


Marshall, J. W. and Walsh, C. 1998  ‘Illaunloughan, Co. Kerry: An Island Hermitage’,  In M. Monk and J. Sheehan (eds).  Early Medieval Munster:archaeology, history and society. Cork University Press, Cork, 102-111.

Walsh, C. 1993  ‘Illaunloughan, Illaunloughan’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 35.

Walsh, C. 1993  ‘Illaunloughan, Portmagee’,  Medieval Archaeology 37, 295-6.

Walsh, C. and Marshall, J. W. 1994  ‘Illaunloughan’, Illaunloughan. In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 45-46.

Walsh, C. 1994  ‘ Illaunloughan’,  Medieval Archaeology 38, 275-6.

Walsh, C. and Marshall, J. W. 1995  ‘Illaunloughan’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1994. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 45.

Walsh, C. 1995  ‘Illaunloughan’,  Medieval Archaeology 39, 268.

Walsh, C. and Marshall, J. W. 1996  ‘Illaunloughan’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1995. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

Walsh, C. 1996  ‘Illaunloughan’,  Medieval Archaeology 40, 298-9.

Walsh, C. and Marshall, J. W. 2003  ‘Illaunloughan Island, An early medieval site in County Kerry’,  Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 24.

12.7 : Iniscealtra, Co. Clare    E180

Site location: NGR 16980 18500  SMR CL029-00905-

†Liam de Paor

Fig.12.7.1: Location map of Iniscealtra, Co. Clare [OSI]

Iniscealtra Island or Holy Island is situated in the SW area of Lough Derg, off Mountshannon (Fig. 12.7.1). Among the buildings contained within the ecclesiastical enclosure at Iniscealtra is a ruined oratory, three churches, two of which display Romanesque features and a round tower (Plates 12.7.1 and 12.7.2). Excavation was undertaken over a number of seasons from1970-75 and a reference to work in 1980 was also found although no report was available. The excavation concentrated in five areas. Evidence of occupational, industrial and ecclesiastical activity at different phases from pre-Viking to the twelfth and on to the later centuries was retrieved.

Plate 12.7.1: General view of site, Iniscealtra, Co. Clare
[UCC Collection]

Plate 12.7.2: Doorway, Iniscealtra, Co. Clare                      
[UCC Collection]

Site 1: Area of the Baptism Church/ St. Mary’s Church, and Church Enclosure

The church and church enclosure were excavated and no burials were present within the enclosure. Twenty burials were uncovered within the church and two of these were women who had died in childbirth. Others were adult males or young adults. Finds included iron nails, coffin handles and part of a bone pin. A bronze mounting, with ornament of late twelfth/ early thirteenth century date, appeared to have been attached to an armlet of organic material on the upper arm of one burial. It is probable that these burials dated from around AD1200.

Four stages of construction were identified in the enclosure, the latest represented by a late medieval or modern, dry-stone wall. A system of paved paths, associated with this wall, was connected with St. Mary’s Church and probably dates to the seventeenth or century. More evidence for industrial activity was found. As well as the stone, bronze and iron, there was evidence of bone comb manufacture. This activity appears to have taken place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A large cesspit was also excavated to the north of the enclosure. 

Site 4: “St. Michael’s Church”/ “Garraidh Mhichil”

This area consists of a D-shaped enclosure located around the summit of the Island, near the centre of which is a roughly square enclosure (c.15m diameter) marking a children’s burial ground. The internal enclosure had two phases: an earthen bank with external ditch, and later unmortared, stone, wall on the inner slope of the bank. Traces of stone paving were found running along the inside of the wall.

Each infant grave contained a handful of quartz pebbles and a long stone pebble (sometimes a whetstone, sometimes a shaped stone of phallic appearance).

A small (2.5m) mortared stone structure at the centre of the enclosure had a W doorway of modern date and this door was removed. Finds date the main period of activity at this site to c. AD 1500-1800; the stone structure is thought to have been associated with pilgrimages to the Island in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Site 5: Anchorite’s Cell/The Confessional/The Penitential Cell-area to the north of St. Caimin’s Church and the Saint’s graveyard

The earliest phase of activity in this area consisted of probable pre-Viking burials and the erection of a stone cross. Finds from the next phase of activity in the eleventh century include strips of bronze with engraved ornament in Ringerike style. The third phase saw the construction of “Anchorite’s Cell”, a small stone built structure that stood in an enclosure defined by a dry-stone wall, again with paving running along its inner base. This is thought to be further evidence of the development of cult-sites on the island associated with nineteenth century pilgrimage.

The cell was taken apart and numbered for reconstruction revealing an inner sub-megalithic structure pre-dating the outer, mortared building. The building was constructed on a flagstone platform that overlay two similar earlier platforms. A small deposit of both human and animal bones underlay the cist-like base of the inner structure. The enclosing wall was also removed. Underlying the wall, occupational deposits dating to the eleventh and twelfth century were exposed. Traces of a rectangular, probable wicker enclosure were found underlying, as well as some pits, which in turn overlay some burials. Evidence of cultivation (medieval) extended to the western and northern limits of this enclosure.

To the west of the ‘Cell’ a small sub-circular, timber structure of comparable size, with an enclosing wicker fence was discovered. This is interpreted as the original cell (O’Donovan suggests this was a tomb-reliquary) that was later rebuilt in stone in c.1700.

Further excavation to the north revealed a small, circular, timber structure, with central hearth, which appeared to be associated with eleventh century bronze working. It is thought to indicate a monastic re-settlement of Inis Cealtra.

Burials predated both enclosures. Among the most notable finds were whetstones, decorated quern fragments, a fragment of grave-slab with triquetra knot and spiral ornament, some amphora sherds from the drift surface and late glass and pottery sherds.

Site 6: A natural hollow between sites 4 and 5.

Excavation in this area consisted of one sondage extending between sites 4 and 5, cutting across the boundaries of the two larger enclosures. Numerous pits and work areas indicate occasional activity. A late date for the smaller enclosures truncated by the sondage is suggested.

Site 7

Opened in 1974, this cutting covered an area around St. Caimin’s Church and the Round Tower. A burial area, predating the two buildings, was discovered. Finds, including sub-Roman pottery, indicated nearby occupation and other activity. A detailed stone survey of the church doorway was undertaken identifying a total of seven voussoirs with human masks. They appear to be part of an arch-ring like that of Dysart O’Dea or Inchagoill. The doorway appears to have been of four orders.

A full report, lodged with the National Monuments Service on the Iniscealtra excavations was prepared by Liam de Paor prior to his death and awaits publication.


De Paor, L. 1971  ‘Inishcaltra (Holy Island)’   In T. G. Delaney (ed.), Excavations 1970,  Association of Young Irish Archaeologists and Ulster Archaeological Society. 4-5.

De Paor, L. 1972. 10. Inishcaltra (Holy island). In T. G. Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1971, 8-9.

De Paor, L. 1973  ‘Inishcaltra (Holy Island)’,  In T. G. Delaney (ed.),  Excavations 1972,  Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 30-31.

De Paor, L. 1974  ‘Inishcaltra (Holy Island)’,  In T. G. Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1973, Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 5-6.

De Paor, L. 1975  ‘Inishcaltra (Holy Island)’,  In T. G. Delaney (ed.),  Excavations 1974, Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 10-11.

De Paor, L. 1976  ‘Inis Cealtra (Holy Island)’,  In T. G. Delaney (ed.) Excavations 1975-76, Association of Young Irish Archaeologists, Ulster Archaeological Society and Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement. 8-9.

De Paor, L and Glenn, D. 1995  ‘St. Caimin’s, Iniscealtra: Reconstruction of the doorway’,  North Munster Antiquarian Journal 36, 87-103.

Manning, C. and Hurl, D. (eds). 1989/90 ‘Inishcaltra’, Excavations Bulletin 1980-84: Summary Account of Archaeological Excavations in Ireland. Journal of Irish Archaeology 5, 65-80.

12.8 : Omey Island, Co. Galway 92E0053

Site location: NGR 05700/25600            SMR GA021-017

Tadgh O’Keeffe

Fig.12.8.1: Location map of Omey Island, Co. Galway [OSI]

The early Christian monastic site on Omey Island is located close to the north shore (Fig. 12.8.1). This multi-period site (Plate 12.8.1) was exposed by sea erosion on a 5m high sand cliff. The focus of the excavation was the Early Christian enclosure, probably the remains of the monastery known to have been founded on the island by St. Feichin in the early seventh century. The rescue/research excavation was completed in one season in 1992 and funded by the National Monuments Service (formally the OPW).

Plate 12.8.1: Aerial view of round house and burials, Omey Island, Co. Galway
[Tadhg O’Keeffe]

Plate 12.8.2 Early Christian Burials, Omey Island, Co. Galway
[Tadhg O’Keeffe]

The earliest level consisted of a prehistoric midden deposit. The remains of three small structures and associated hearth were discovered. Finds of cord-impressed pottery, perforated bone pins, antler tools, a small flint slug-knife and a rounded flint scraper were associated with this phase suggesting an early Bronze Age date for the settlement, this is supported by two radiocarbon determinations of 1710 Cal. AD (UB-3706) and 1930 Cal. AD (UB-3708).

Above the prehistoric levels were EW orientated pit burials. Beads of red and blue glass and of bone were found with some of the child burials, suggesting that the cemetery belongs at or close to the interface between paganism and Christianity. There was no definite evidence for an associated enclosure. A stone-walled enclosure, rectangular in plan, possibly of monastic or eremetical origin was erected above the burials. Within this enclosure were typical Early Christian burials (Plate 12.8.1), one of which was marked by a dry-stone leacht (ninth to tenth century). The erection of this leacht marked the end of the enclosure as a place of burial. The interior of the enclosure gradually filled with a deposit of sand and domestic refuse. Around the turn of the millennium the site was re-edified. A trapezoidal platform was created directly on top of the enclosure. Later, possibly in the twelfth/thirteenth century, a new mortared leacht was erected directly on top of the original. Later this too became buried by sand. Late in the middle ages a cemetery containing at least 50 individuals in pits and lintelled graves was cut into the sand. There was evidently no trace of this cemetery by 1800 when at least three houses were built.


O’Keefe, T. 1991  ‘Omey Island’,  Medieval Archaeology 35, 209.

O’Keefe, T. 1993  ‘Omey Island, Goreen and Sturakeen’,  In I. Bennet (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 30-31.

O’Keefe, T. 1993  ‘Omey Island’,  Medieval Archaeology 37, 295.

O’Keefe, T. 1994  ‘Omey Island’,  Medieval Archaeology 38, 275.

12.9 : Cashel, Cormac’s Chapel, Co. Tipperary 92E0202

Site location: NGR 20750/14100            SMR TI061-025--

Brian J. Hodkinson

Fig. 12.9.1: Location map of Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary [OSI]

The site is located on the Rock of Cashel in the northern area of the town. St. Patrick’s Cathedral stands to the west and Lady’s Well to the east. The initial investigation was carried out in December 1992, followed by longer season in 1993. The excavation was funded by the National Monuments Service (formally the O.P.W.) as part of ongoing restoration work. This investigation into such a well-preserved Romanesque chapel proved vital in furthering our knowledge of the early twelfth century and it also established the existence of an earlier church, possibly dating from the sixth to ninth centuries, at the site.

Plate 12.9.1: Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary
[UCC Collection]

Plate 12.9.2: Doorway, Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary
[UCC Collection]

Plate 12.9.3: Interior view, Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel, Co. Tipperary
[UCC Collection]

Initially three trenches were opened, one in the chancel and one in each of the enclosed areas between the chapel and cathedral. These were later extended to expose the two areas between Cormac’s Chapel and the chancel of the cathedral as well as the interior of the north tower, chancel and around half the nave of the chapel.

In Area 1, east of the north tower, five phases of graveyard were revealed, four pre-dating early twelfth century Cormac’s Chapel. A short length of mortared stone wall underlying the eastern part of the cathedral was probably part of an earlier church, possibly contemporary with the third and forth phase of the graveyard. At phase 3 there was a distinct change in the alignment of the burials from the more or less EW of the phase 2 burials to a more ENE/WNW orientation reminiscent of phase 1. The foundations of the seventeenth century cathedral sacristy truncated the upper layers of the graveyard.

Area 2, west of the north tower of Cormac’s Chapel, in the enclosed area outside the north door of the chapel, was badly disturbed. A circular stone-lined feature, in the corner between the cathedral transept and chancel, pre-dated the cathedral but its relationship to the chapel was unclear; it also cut a skeleton. It may have been a storage pit but unfortunately the fill was modern rubble. A rectangular stone-lined pit in the northern doorway was badly disturbed with no clear link to the chapel, however alterations to the stonework on the north side of the doorway may suggest it was a late insertion. Its function was unclear but it may represent a shrine. A later row of burials in the east of the area may date to between the building of the chapel and the cathedral. A stone-paved surface at a level pre-dating the chapel was also uncovered.

Area 3, within the chapel, revealed a row of four post-holes at the eastern end. The burials at Phase 2 of the graveyard in Area 1 were aligned on this structure leading to its interpretation as an early timber church. To the east in the nave there were no contemporary structures but a possible occupation surface was identified. The timber church appeared to have fallen into disuse and the area was partially used as a graveyard, possibly contemporary with Phase 3 or 4 in Area 1. The foundations of Cormac’s Chapel cut a series of burials at the eastern end. A lot of the interior was disturbed by later activity.

In the north tower of Cormac’s Chapel, the ashlar facing was revealed as continuing down to the level seen in the nave. The opening in the east wall of the tower was originally a window. The inserted doorway and steps between the tower and nave are part of the same work.

In the initial draft of the excavation report the excavator highlights a possible east west divide, a the division between sacred and profane similar to that suggested by Fanning at Reask that is respected by the early phases of activity from the early church up to the building of Cormac’s chapel. He goes on to suggest the possibility that “the actual location of Cormac's Chapel itself is a symbolic harking back to the earlier division, with the chancel arch being deliberately placed on the dividing line to separate the laity in the nave from the clergy in the chancel”.

Finds included sherds of B-ware pottery, stick pins, a parallel piped die, a coin of c.1200-1210 and fragments of bone comb, including a single offcut from a comb tooth plate which was the found in a context relating to phase 1 of the graveyard and is the only evidence recovered that indicates on-site manufacture.


Fanning, T. 1981  ‘Excavation of an Early Christian cemetery and settlement at Reask, Co. Kerry’,  Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. 81C, 3-172

Hodkinson, B. J. 1993  ‘Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel’, In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 56.

Hodkinson, B. J. 1994  ‘Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel. In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 73.

Hodkinson, B. J. 1994  ‘Excavations at Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel 1992 and 1993: a preliminary statement’,  Tipperary Historical Journal, 167-74. 

Hodkinson, B. J. 2003  First draft final report on the Excavations at Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel 1992 and 1993:

12.1 : Butterfield Avenue, The Old Orchard Inn, Dublin 14 97E0140
12.2 : Church Island, Co. Mayo  93E0109
12.3 : Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly E558
12.4 : Clonmacnoise Bridge, Co. Offaly 95E231/97E0243
12.5 : Glaspatrick, Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo 94E0115
12.6 : Illaunloughan, Co. Kerry 92E0087
12.7 : Iniscealtra, Co. Clare   E180
12.8 : Omey Island, Co. Galway 92E0053
12.9 : Cashel, Cormac’s Chapel, Co. Tipperary 92E0202