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


The Viking Age effectively ended in the early eleventh century when trade took over as the main activity of the Hiberno-Norse people. Irish towns were politically dominated by Irish kings, such as Diarmait MacMorrough, the King of Leinster, who on attempting to change the system was forced to flee and sought help from Henry II of England. This chain of events led to the invasion of the Anglo-Normans in 1169 that brought with it an era of castle building, the development of towns and the basis for our legal system. As the Later Medieval period progressed the Anglo-Normans became almost completely integrated into Irish society, becoming ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. The castles, abbeys and churches of the time are a poignant visible reminder of the changes brought by the Normans and the rich architectural heritage they left behind.

When the continental monastic orders began establishing houses in Ireland around the 1140s, it was apparent that the church in Ireland had not yet been reorganised from the monastic system into a parish system. While there are many examples of medieval parish churches in Ireland, the archaeological record is however very sparse. Few churches of this period have been excavated and many of those that have been excavated were badly disturbed as a result of later activity both in the interior and exterior. The excavation at Ardfert, Co. Kerry is therefore very valuable because of its range of churches that span the twelfth to seventeenth centuries and include a Romanesque structure and a fifteenth century church. Churches were generally simple in plan, some of those surviving today date to the twelfth century although most are fifteenth century. These churches can be divided into two groups, the nave and chancel churches of the twelfth-thirteenth century and the simple rectangular churches of the fourteenth-sixteenth century (Sweetman et al 1995).

Among the continental orders to establish foundations between the twelfth and the fifteenth century were the Cistercians (see Tintern Abbey), the Franciscan Friars, the Benedictines and the Augustinians (see Kells Priory and 5/6 Cecilia Street, Dublin). These new foundations had distinctive layouts, different to that of the earlier monasteries. The church, chapter house and residential buildings were situated around a central square or cloister.

The Cistercians are considered to have had the largest influence on medieval ecclesiastical Ireland (Barry 1987). Thirty three houses of this order have been identified. In a typical Cistercian monastery the church was situated north of the cloister, the chapter house, parlour and refectory to the east of the cloister and the layman’s quarters to the west. As with the early monastic sites these Abbeys were expected to be self-sufficient and there was often an outer court containing some or all of the following: the guest quarters, bakery, granary, brewery, school and mill.

The dissolution of the monasteries in 1536-40, followed by Cromwell’s campaign a century later, caused irreparable damage to medieval church buildings in Ireland. It is not often that the archaeologist gets an opportunity to gain such a valuable insight into the workings of these foundations and indeed to investigate relationship between the clergy, their in-house lay community and the local parishioners. The provision of funding for the publication of the archaeological investigation of the houses at Ardfert, Tintern and similar medieval ecclesiastical sites is imperative in furthering our understanding of this period of Later Medieval Ireland.


Barry, T. B. 1987  The Archaeology of Medieval Ireland, London.

Sweetman, D., Hancock, O. and  Moran, B. 1995  Archaeological Inventory of Co. Laois, The Stationery Office, Dublin.

16.1 : Ardfert, Co. Kerry  E493

Site location: NGR 78600/12140            SMR KE020-046---

Fionnbarr Moore*

Fig. 16.1.1: Location map of Ardfert, Co. Kerry [OSI]

A monastery was reputedly founded at Ardfert by St. Brendan 'The Navigator' in the sixth century (Fig. 16.1.1). There are three medieval churches on the site today. The earliest building is the cathedral which was in use from the twelfth-seventeenth centuries and contains a Romanesque west doorway. One of the two smaller churches is in Romanesque-style and the other is a plain fifteenth century structure which has carving of wyvern (mythical creature like a griffin and dragon with eagle’s legs and feet) on one of the windows.

Plate 16.1.1: Ardfert, Co. Kerry General View of Cathedral           
[National Monuments Service]

The excavations at the cathedral were undertaken by the National Monuments Service (formally O.P.W.) in advance of conservation work. Between 1989 and 1995, several areas were investigated including the Romanesque west doorway, a section of the north wall incorporating Early Christian masonry and a stairway inside the west gable, the south transept, the nave, choir, south aisle, sacristy and the immediate surrounds of the east and southeast end of the cathedral. Over 800 burials were recorded, ranging in type from cist graves to simple inhumations, dating from the Early Medieval to the seventeenth/eighteenth centuries and later. Bedrock occurs close to the surface on this site and much disturbance was caused by modern burials to already shallow levels of archaeological strata.

West end of the cathedral; the North Wall and Stairway

Excavation revealed the possible extent of the earlier twelfth century church wall in the form of a narrow stone spread overlying the boulder clay in the northwest area. The foundations and lower courses of the cathedral north wall were uncovered outside the north-west end and illustrated a re-usage of larger blocks of Early Christian masonry in the thirteenth century. A possible corner of the pre-Romanesque church was also revealed here, which subsequently formed the nave-chancel division in the twelfth century church. Overall the foundations uncovered were not very substantial.

An early grave was found under a layer of densely packed stones outside the north-west corner of the cathedral. Two stone-lined graves were found outside the cathedral to the east of the north doorway. One contained the remains of two individuals, one directly on top of the other. The second contained an inhumation placed diagonally across the grave, two human skulls and scattered remains of at least one other person were on top of the skeleton and another skull was placed under the toe bones. A small green glass bead and eight quartz pebbles were also found in this grave. Inside the north doorway and below the medieval floor was a stone-lined grave containing at least four individuals.

The final burning of the cathedral in the sixteenth century may be represented in the form of a stony, charcoal speckled layer. A concentration of post-medieval internments inside the north and west doorways destroyed the original floor. At the internal west end of the cathedral a stone stairway ran up the west wall terminating in a narrow platform.

Other finds from the excavation in this area included a Romanesque sandstone voussoir decorated with chevrons, a floral design and beading, a limestone corbel decorated with two crouched figures, post-medieval ridge-tile fragments and roof slates and some smaller finds.

The South transept

The excavation here revealed various phases of rebuilding. The internal excavation showed that the south transept had been extended into a pre-existing cemetery in the seventeenth century. Within the transept the lower courses of a wall were exposed which may represent the fifteenth century phase of the building.

To the east and west of the south transept early to late medieval burials were found some of which extended outwards from under the transept walls. A hearth-like pit and a stone filled pit, contemporary with the level of the medieval burial, were discovered at the east side chapel of the south transept. A sub-circular arrangement of medieval burials was also found here. Extending to the west a section of the thirteenth century south aisle wall was uncovered.

Finds included numerous carved architectural fragments dating to the twelfth century and later, two Early Christian Cross-slabs, a medieval arrowhead, coins dating from the eleventh to nineteenth centuries and possible grave goods of a bronze buckle and a French Token of fifteenth century date. 

Nave, Choir, South Aisle, sacristy and exterior of east and south-east end of the Cathedral

A find of an Edward I coin may provide a terminus post quem date of 1279 AD for the construction of the cathedral. Also uncovered in this area was a wide, shallow fosse with possible entrance causeway. Two pits were cut into the causeway with fragments of bronze, animal bone, an iron chain with spike and Saintonge pottery in the fill. Two pillow stone burials were at the top.

In the south aisle the line of the south wall was revealed along with a ditch pre-dating the thirteenth century cathedral. A skeleton to the east of the cathedral had a Roman intaglio mounted on a twelfth/thirteenth century ring. Three oval glass mounts were found with the skeletons head.

To the N and NE of the sixteenth century vestry three post-holes were revealed, one was cut by a pit that pre-dated the vestry. To the south a patch of burning with human bones adjoined a mottled yellow band and may represent a floor with a hearth but no definite structure was established. To the west of this a circular stone spread within a shallow pit may be the remains of a small building. This overlay two occupation layers the lower of which contained charcoal, burnt bone, stone and ash. A burial was discovered stratigraphically between these two layers, which in turn overlay two other skeletons A paved area was also recorded below the skeletons.

The foundations of a rectangular structure extended out from the north wall of the cathedral, to the west of the vestry. It was dated to post-1340-1390 AD and may relate to a layer of cobbling. The foundations on the east were disturbed by a burial. Occupation material and a cobbled layer covered the foundations of the fourteenth century structure.

The ‘sacristy’ area revealed a cobbled surface with an early threshold below the ogee-headed north door. A pit under the west foundations held a large deposit of disarticulated human and animal bones. A James II coin of 1685 gave a terminus post quem date for the late blocking wall near the central pillar of the south transept.

Along the early medieval masonry on the north wall of the cathedral was a concentration of medieval burials, including infant burials in the later layers. In the cathedral south door a cobbled threshold was associated with a medieval burial associated with a stick pin.

In the cathedral interior a number of graves were uncovered, some of which pre-dated the thirteenth century phase of the cathedral, and also were of modern, seventeenth/eighteenth century and medieval date. The south, east and west pre-Romanesque wall foundations were also revealed here.

At least nineteen ‘ear-muff’ or ‘pillow Stone’ burials and many more articulated skeletons, were recovered both from the medieval burial horizon and underlying the cathedral walls.


Moore, F. 1990  ‘St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1989, Wordwell Ltd., Dublin, 29-30.

Moore, F. 1991  ‘St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1990, Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 37.

Moore, F. 1992  ‘St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert’ In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1991, Wordwell Ltd., Bray, .22.

Moore, F. 1993  ‘St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert.’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992, Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 34.

Moore, F. 1990  ‘Ardfert Cathedral’ Medieval Archaeology 34, 234.

16.2 : Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny           
E110 and 96E0092

Site location: NGR 24990/14340           
SMR KK027-030

Tom Fanning and Miriam Clyne

Fig.16.2.1: Location map of Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny [OSI]

The Anglo-Norman Augustinian priory of St Mary was founded c.1193 beside the King’s River at the edge of the medieval borough of Kells (Fig. 16.2.1; Plate 16.2.1). Large-scale investigations concentrated on the church, the claustral ranges and the lower ranges within the monastic precinct.

Plate 16.2.1:Aerial view of Kells Priory
[National Monuments Service]

Plate 16.2.2: The Cloister, Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny
[Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler]

The initial research excavations were carried out by Tom Fanning over four seasons between July and August 1972, a second and third season in 1974 and 1975 and finally for two months in 1980. The final season of excavation was undertaken by Miriam Clyne in 1996. All investigations were carried out on behalf of and funded by the National Monuments Service. They were undertaken as part of and in advance of a programme to facilitate the conservation, presentation and interpretation of the site.

The earliest church plan was uncovered and identified in the excavations. This building had a simple cruciform design, comprising a chancel with a transept to each side and a nave. One of the most significant findings was the main drain, which was constructed before the domestic ranges. The drain provided water for flushing the rere-dorter latrines and the water supply for it was taken from the moat outside the precinct. The well-built drain had a paved floor and was covered with vaulting or lintels. Thirteenth-century structural remains in the east and south claustral ranges and the cloister were uncovered (Plate 16.2.2). The earliest floor was probably of clay, which was replaced by mortared pebbles. Masonry seating bases were preserved in the east range and cloister ambulatories. Kells priory had lower ranges surrounding a courtyard. The investigations revealed that the kitchens and infirmary were located in two of these ranges. The periphery of the precinct was divided into courts, which were allocated distinct functions. Courts, with cobbled surfaces, were excavated to the north of the church. Here, the masonry remains of a thirteenth-century tower, on the inside of and defending the curtain wall, were revealed. The tower had an external stone staircase and a doorway allowing access to the river. During the thirteenth century, the church was enlarged. By the middle of the century, the nave was extended and a north aisle built, and later on the chancel was enlarged and a lady chapel constructed. The floor in the church was tiled. An elaborate mosaic pavement was laid in the presbytery. The best evidence was preserved in the Lady Chapel, where the mortar bedding had the impressions of the tiles and six tiles were still in position. The final building work of this phase probably dates to the early fourteenth century, when a larger north transept was constructed.

The finds provide evidence for contacts and trade. Imported thirteenth and fourteenth-century pottery vessels came mainly from England and France. Other finds can be equated with local industry. The majority of the pottery, used for storage, cooking and at the table, was Irish, and much of it originated in the Kilkenny area. Artefacts, especially those used everyday, such as iron and stone objects, were probably made in the environs of Kells. The excavations revealed that some items were manufactured at the priory. There was a thirteenth-century kiln within the precinct, where floor tiles were made. Iron smelting took place and artefacts, such as nails and horseshoes, were fashioned. The finds demonstrate daily life at the priory and a number of objects can be dated to occupation during this phase. An important find, which shows the high status of the priory shortly after its foundation, is the lead seal of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). Lead points were used for writing and marking out lines on parchment. Sewing is represented by a copper alloy thimble and a stone needle punch. Items probably worn by the inhabitants at the priory were buckles and buttons. Personal hygiene is indicated by a tiny earscoop with a toothpick. There are also bone combs. Other everyday artefacts include keys, knives, hones and fragments of metal cauldrons used for cooking. Bone tuning pegs and an iron Jews harp provide tangible evidence for music at the priory.

The second major building programme at the priory dates to the second half of the fifteenth century. Security was of paramount importance due to external events. The priory provided its own protection by constructing an uncastellated enclosure or prior’s vill (unexcavated), by strengthening the fortifications around the monastic precinct and by building a tower house, known as the prior’s tower, believed to have been the stronghold residence of the prior. Excavations in the prior’s tower uncovered the original mortar floors. Modifications were also carried out on the church and domestic buildings. In the church, the presbytery had a large masonry altar and the stone footings for the cannon’ stalls were uncovered in the choir. A crossing tower was constructed and the remains of the mortar floor were preserved in the crossing. The nave was divided into two distinct parts by a masonry wall. In the eastern end, stalls were placed against the side walls and the bays in the arcade to the aisle were blocked with low perpyn walls. An interesting discovery was the temporary masons’ workshop or lodge in the courtyard at the lower ranges. The courtyard was given over to stone-working and fashioning roofing slates and these activities most likely relate to the late fifteenth-century construction programme. The priory kitchens were divided into at least three rooms and cooking was done on two open hearths.

Despite a decline in economic resources during the late medieval period, the finds include some opulent artefacts. A copper alloy jug or tankard is one of the most exquisite items from Kells Priory. A highly ornate knife butt has St James in pilgrimage attire and an unidentified lady engraved on it. An expertly carved bone parchment pricker or stylus with an anthropomorphic head (Plate 16.2.3) was used either when laying out the script on parchment or for writing on wax tablets. A bone knife handle and knives were found. Pan weights probably also date to this phase. Some of the iron rings and links may have been used for hanging curtains and wall hangings, which were commonplace in the late medieval period. Personal items include buckles and a possible iron purse frame. The use of the horse is represented by a shoe and a rowel spur.

After a period of decay following its dissolution in 1540, Kells Priory found a new purpose as a secular farmstead in the late seventeenth and early centuries. The focus of the farmstead was the prior’s tower and the claustral ranges. It is likely that the former prior’s residence was re-occupied as the family dwelling. Additional living quarters were provided by constructing a lean-to building adjoining the tower house and also in the east range. A cobbled yard with farm buildings was constructed in the former cloister that was surrounded by the converted ranges.

Pottery relating to the farmstead mainly consists of domestic items for the kitchen and table. Most of the glass vessels are wine bottles of the earlier globular and squat types, dating to the period c.1650-1735. Spurred and flat-heeled clay pipes can be associated with the farmstead. Other artefacts, probably belonging to the inhabitants, included bone buttons, iron knives and bone knife handle-scales.

Tom Fanning commenced post-excavation research, including preliminary analysis on the finds, following the 1975 excavation season. Research on the full archival reports began in 1980 and was not completed at the time of his death in 1993. Post-excavation research recommenced in 1994 with an assessment of the excavation records. Four full archival reports on the excavations were written up between 1975 and 1977. The excavations at Kells Priory produced an important and large assemblage of finds containing almost 18,000 artefacts and 2,000 loose architectural stones. Twenty archival reports on the finds, the burial record and the environmental samples were completed between 1995and 2001. Re-editing the archival reports has been ongoing since 2000 and is now in its final stages. The text has been sent for review, and it is envisaged that the excavations at Kells Priory will be published as a monograph by the National Monuments Service in 2004.

Plate 16.2.3: Anthropomorphic head on a bone parchment pricker or stylus
[National Monuments Service]


Fanning, T. 1973  ‘Excavations at Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny’,  Old Kilkenny Review 25, 61-64.

Fanning, T. 1981  ‘Interim Report on the Excavations at Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny, 1980’,  Old Kilkenny Review 2(3), 245-48.

Clyne, M. 1997   ‘Kells Priory’, Kilkenny’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1996. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

The above synopsis was prepared by Miriam Clyne

16.3 : Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford E237

Site location: NGR 27950/11000  SMR WX045-027--

Ann Lynch and Mary O’Donnell

Fig.16.3.1: Location map of Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford [OSI]

Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford is located on the north-western shore of Bannow Bay (Fig. 16.3.1) and is a national monument in the care of The Office of Public Works. The abbey was established  early in the thirteenth century by the Cistercians as a daughter house of Tintern Major in Wales. It continued as a Cistercian foundation until its dissolution in 1536. Shortly afterwards, when the abbey and its lands were granted to Anthony Colclough, an officer in Henry VIII’s army, much of the abbey church was converted into domestic quarters, including the crossing tower, the chancel, nave and Lady Chapel. The abbey continued to be occupied by the Colclough family until 1959 shortly before it was taken into state care. The Cistercians built and occupied Tintern Abbey for 340 years while the Colcloughs lived in the remodelled building for 380 years and they have each have left their own distinctive mark on the site at Tintern.

Fig.16.3.2: General layout plan, Tintern Co. Wexford
[National Monuments Service]

There were two periods of excavation carried out as part of a conservation and presentation project at the site. The first took place over two seasons, in 1982 and 1983, and was directed by Dr. Ann Lynch. The second phase of excavations took place in 1993 and 1994 under the direction of Mary O'Donnell. The 1982/3 excavation concentrated mainly on the nave and chancel while in 1993 and 1994 the work concentrated on the cloister.

Plate16.3.1:Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford. Aerial view of the abbey
[National Monuments Service]

Plate 16.3.2: Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford. The Crossing Tower
[Friends of Tintern]

The Cistercian Monastery

The church was located to the north of an enclosed cloister garth and was originally cruciform in plan. Conservation works have uncovered many of the original features; the simple layout of the nave with rectangular piers, chamfered at the corners and the west doorway with its pointed-arched opening with two attached filleted jamb shafts, banded at mid-height, with moulded bases and capitals. It was also revealed that the rib-vaulted Lady Chapel of the south transept was originally divided into three chapels. Although the arches in the nave suggest the possibility of there having once been a north aisle and transept, investigations in this area recovered no evidence thereof. It is likely that the north aisle and transept were demolished during reorganisation of the abbey in the mid-fifteenth century and subsequent lowering of the ground level has removed all traces of the foundations.

Other features of the church include a series of 18 grotesque heads on the exterior of the north and south chancel walls, three figures of ecclesiastics and a carved head in the interior.

The crossing tower dating to the late thirteenth/fourteenth centuries was converted to a fortified dwelling by Anthony Colclough shortly after 1566.

The 1993 excavations also revealed substantial remains of the cloister arcade walls, including evidence for a ‘pulpitum collationes’ or collation bay, only the second example found in Ireland. Large quantities of cut stone from the cloister arcade were recovered and also some painted plaster indicates the walls in this area of the cloister were painted orange, brown and grey/black. The cloister walkways were also uncovered in the excavation.

A thirteenth century drain/sewer to the south east of the cloister was also excavated which produced evidence of shellfish, nuts and berries giving us some information as to the dietary habits of the thirteenth century monks.

The influence of the second reorganisation of the church in the 1440’s was evident in the probable demolition of the north transept, north aisle and possibly the south aisle. The reduced church was also used as a burial ground by local lay people from this time until the 1560s when the Colcloughs took up residence.

At the time of its dissolution in 1536 Tintern was the third richest Cistercian Abbey in Ireland.

Dissolution phase- Post-Cistercian phase

Only the chancel, the crossing tower, the centre aisle of the nave and the Lady Chapel, and the arched gateway of the cloister, all of which date to the 1300’s, survived this destructive phase. Of the claustral and conventual buildings only the gateway which led into the west range remained standing. 

Colclough Phase

The extent of the modifications to the Abbey and surrounds that were carried out by the Colclough family over the course of their time at Tintern was revealed during the course of the two phases of excavation. During this period the Colcloughs set about converting Tintern into a fortified residential dwelling-house.

Some time after 1566 Anthony Colclough converted the Crossing Tower into a fortified residence - oak floor joists still in place are dated to 1569-1570. Two examples of wall panelling date to the early 1600’s. 

Anthony Colclough was knighted two years before his death in 1584 and was buried in the ruined church south east of the abbey, thought to have been built by the monks as a ‘capella ante portas’.

Sir Thomas Colclough, son of Sir Anthony, inherited Tintern in 1584 and continued its conversion into a family stronghold. Tintern passed on to his son Adam and later his grandson Caesar.  In the sixteenth or early seventeenth century, the chancel was converted into domestic quarters and the lancet windows were blocked up and replaced by Tudor mullioned windows.

In 1641 shortly after the beginnings of the civil war the Protestant branch at Tintern fell under siege by their Catholic Royalist relations allied with Anglo-Normans and Gaelic families. Subsequent to the arrival of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarian forces in 1649, Tintern was again returned to Caesar Colclough. In 1723 due to a lack of heirs Tintern fell to Catholic Royalist branch of the family. In 1766 Tintern was left to a self proclaimed ‘Sir’ Vesey Colclough, who squandered his inheritance and mortgaged Tintern. In 1794, his son John took charge of Tintern and began the task of improving the financial situation of Tintern including establishing a flour mill in the grounds. It is he who is though to have drawn up plans to transform the nave into a very spacious residence, including the insertion of a second storey in the Lady Chapel.

The late eighteenth /nineteenth century saw the last phase of alterations to the Colclough residence. The centre aisle of the nave was converted into a Georgian-Gothic style domestic dwelling. In the nineteenth century the arched gateway of the cloister was reused and incorporated into a stable block/coach house.

Various other stages of alterations to the abbey were revealed in the excavations including seventeenth century drains, foundations of the dividing walls in the chancel, cobbled and flagged floors in the nave and south transept and a brick built oven in the nave.

The Abbey slowly fell into disrepair due to a lack of funds in the Colclough estate. In 1959, having spent 70 years of her life at Tintern, Marie Biddulph Colclough the last of the Colcloughs, offered Tintern to the state to be preserved as a National Monument.


Lynch, A. 1983  ‘Tintern Abbey’,  Medieval Archaeology 27, 221.

Lynch, A. 1984  ‘Tintern Abbey’,  Medieval Archaeology 28, 258-9.

Lynch, A. 1985   ‘Tintern Abbey’,  In In C. Cotter (ed.),  Excavations 1984. Irish Academic Publications, Dublin,

O’Donnell, M. 1994  ‘Tintern Abbey’, Tintern’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1993. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 80.

16.1 : Ardfert, Co. Kerry
16.2 : Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny
16.3 : Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford