ARCHAEOLOGY HOMEPAGE
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
Acknowledgements

SECTION 18 : ANGLO-NORMAN FORTIFICATIONS

The motte and bailey is the most common form of early Anglo-Norman fortification and less well known is the ringwork castle. Ringworks generally consisted of an embanked enclosure with external ditch and palisade around the top of the bank, probably with a wooden gate tower and an internal wooden tower. The motte was a large artificial earthen mound with a wooden palisade around the summit enclosing a wooden tower. The bailey was a low, usually rectangular platform, located to one side of the motte but separated from it by a fosse/ditch which fully surrounded both structures. Very few of these monuments have been excavated and fewer still published, adding greatly to the importance of the excavation at Lurgankeel, Co. Louth.

Soon after the 1169 invasion, the Anglo-Normans began the construction of permanent stone castles to ensure they held their positions and extended their control. The earliest thirteenth century, fortifications consisted of simple stone-built keeps with strong surrounding curtain walls and moats. The development of flanking towers to defend the weakest parts of the castle soon followed, as did the construction of a barbican at the main entrance. The size and layout of these castles varied considerably and depended greatly on the suitability of the site, finances, skilled labour and suitable raw materials. The royal castles, such as Dublin and Limerick, were generally built without a keep, with the plan instead based around a powerful curtain wall with towers surrounding a roughly rectangular enclosure. Kilkenny, although not a royal castle, was built to a similar plan. The majority of these castles were used over extended periods of time, even into the nineteenth century, with extensive alterations and additions evident. Many were also constructed on the sites of earlier Hiberno-Norse fortifications, which are attested to by several of these valuable excavations.

18.1 : Lurgankeel Mote Albany, Co. Louth E55

Site location: NGR 30220/31190  SMR LH004-053

Etienne Rynne and Marcus Ó hEochaidhe*

Fig. 18.1.1: Location map of Lurgankeel Mote Albany, Co. Louth. [OSI]

This site, positioned on high ground close to the western bank of the River Kilcurry, Faughart, Co. Louth (Fig. 18.1.1), had been badly damaged over time and it was decided that the Office of Public Works would excavate the remaining features of the monument. The investigation was undertaken in 1964 and revealed a Norman settlement, consisting of a bridgehead or campaign fort, with evidence for two mottes within a bailey and an outer ward and was probably occupied by a small company of soldiers.

Excavations exposed the structural extent of the monument and a range of finds dating to the thirteenth century. The motte and bailey was enclosed by a ditch and bank incorporating about one third of an acre. The flat-topped circular motte, c.15m in diameter at the base, 8m at the top and 3m high, contained the remains of a wooden tower which was surrounded by a palisade and breastwork of timber posts and earth. The oval bailey was 60m by 50m with a deep, wide ditch and outer bank. It contained the remains of a circular, ditched-enclosed mound that may have represented the first motte.

The majority of finds came from the fill of the ditches and included c.300 fragments of pottery, two iron arrow-heads, an iron rowel-spur, an iron knife blade, iron cattle goads and a variety of iron objects. The pottery sherds including cooking pots and handled jars, suggest that the site was occupied throughout the thirteenth century and was abandoned in the early fourteenth century.

This excavation was important as it established a date for this type of site, of which few have been excavated. The evidence for an earlier motte is also essential for establishing a sequence of building at the site.

References

Office of Public Works. 1965  ‘National Monuments’, Oibre 2, 20-25.

Ó hEochaodhe, M. ‘Minutes of Proceedings Session 1964-65’,  Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy.

18.2 : Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny  E627

Site location: NGR 25080/15570  SMR KK019-026---

Ben Murtagh

18.2.1: Location map of Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny [OSI]

The site is located on the south-eastern edge of Kilkenny city on the southern bank of the Nore River (Fig. 18.2.1). Between 1991 and 1993 work preceded the restoration of the central wing of the castle, while between February 1995 and February 1998 work was carried out in and around the south tower to facilitate restoration to the parade wing and from October 1998 to November 1999 work was centred on the south-western half of the castle yard (Area A) and the north-western side of the castle (Area B). Work also included a study of the building history of the monument.

Plate 18.2.1:The Parade Wing, Kilkenny Castle
[Ian Doyle]

Evidence for pre-castle activity was uncovered in the form of the remains of three walls of a twelfth century, square, sod-built structure, measuring c.4.2m north-south by at least 4.6m east-west. Evidence for a central hearth, a nearby small furnace, a series of post-holes, bronze and iron working and sherds of cooking ware were all uncovered. Above this was a large bank (2.85m high) that ran south-west to north-east under the Central Wing of the castle.

The foundation of the north-west curtain wall of the stone castle built in the early thirteenth century and the remains of the south-west gable wall of the Jacobean house that once formed the north-west wing of the castle were also uncovered. Running parallel to the inside of the destroyed curtain wall was the remains of the foundation of a destroyed seventeenth century building that formerly ran along the south-east side of the castle yard. Excavation in the area of the cellar at the south-western end of the central wing of the castle revealed the remains of a sally-port (thirteenth century) which consisted of two flights of stone steps descending down into the moat. Between the two flights of steps was a landing with a round-headed doorway. The area of the moat on the outside of the south-western curtain-wall also exposed the extensive base batter beneath the curtain-wall. Here a well preserved sally port was exposed. The entrance to an original garderobe chute was found along the bottom of the base batter. It rose up through the base batter and the curtain-wall to a garderobe probably accessed from the second floor. During the second half of the seventeenth century the sallyport was blocked up and the moat filled. In the early eighteenth century the ground was raised for the construction of the classical gateway which was inserted through the curtain wall of the thirteenth century stone castle. An eighteenth century stone-built culvert was discovered extending in a south-east/north-west direction along the middle of the parade. In 1863 a lawn was laid down skirting the SW exterior of the castle.

Plate 18.2.2:Sally port gateway in the southwest curtain wall, Kilkenny Castle
[Ian Doyle]

The extent of the original circular chamber in the interior of the ground floor of the south tower was exposed and revealed the single entrance giving access from the outside via stone steps, with five embrasures, each for a plunging arrow-loop. The ground-floor chamber also originally contained a central stone pillar. It was also discovered that the northern part of the tower was built into the outward slope of the earthen rampart, while the southern part was constructed down into the ditch of the earlier fortress. Two partially stone lined rectangular pits were later dug through the original floor in the south-western quadrant of the chamber. These were backfilled with a variety of late medieval finds and organic deposits. Later still the floor was raised and the stone pillar was demolished. In the second half of the seventeenth century a cobbled floor was laid in the chamber and later subdivided by internal walls.

Plate 18.2.3: Sally port gateway and steps, Kilkenny Castle
[Ian Doyle]

A large quantity of finds were recovered, the majority from the moat, mainly from seventeenth and eighteenth century contexts. In the South Tower a large number of medieval finds were retrieved. Overall, the excavations confirmed that much of the early castle remains are buried under modern ground level.

Post excavation is still on-going in relation to this series of excavations. It is planned to publish the findings through the auspices of The National Monuments Service.

References

Murtagh, B. 1992  ‘Kilkenny castle, Kilkenny’,  In I Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1991. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 29-30.

Murtagh, B. 1992  ‘Kilkenny castle’,  Medieval Archaeology 36, 286.

Murtagh, B. 1993  ‘Kilkenny castle, Kilkenny’, In I Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1992. Wordwell Ltd., Bray, 39-40.

Murtagh, B. 1993  ‘The Kilkenny Castle archaeological project, 1990-1993: Interim Report’,  Old Kilkenny Review 4(5), 1101-1117.

Murtagh, B. 1998  ‘Kilkenny Castle, The Parade, Kilkenny’,  In I Bennett (ed.),  Excavations 1997. Wordwell Ltd., Wicklow, 102-104.

Murtagh, B. 1998  ‘Kilkenny Castle’,  Medieval Archaeology 42, 164.

Murtagh, B. 2000  ‘Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny’,  In I. Bennett (ed.),  Excavations Bulletin 1999. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

18.3 : King John’s Castle, Limerick E534/93E082

Site location: NGR 15770/15770  SMR LI 005-017

Ken Wiggins

Fig.18.3.1: Location map of King John’s Castle, Limerick [OSI]

King John’s Castle is a magnificent medieval fortification located along the western side of a large island in the River Shannon (Fig. 18.3.1), where historic settlement at Limerick, first established in Viking times, was concentrated. The castle forms a large, nearly square enclosure dating from the thirteenth century, much of which is well preserved today. The surviving elements of the castle include three massive angle towers, two along the edge of the Shannon, forming the north-western and south-western corners of the enclosure and a third at the north-eastern corner. The twin-towered gatehouse, the earliest of its type in Ireland, is probably the castle’s most impressive feature. Part of a bastion added to the south-eastern corner in the seventeenth century remains intact.

Plate 18.3.1: King John’s Castle.  General view of site looking north
[Ken Wiggins]

Plate 18.3.2: King John’s Castle Undercroft remains.            
[Ken Wiggins]

In the thirteenth century, the walls at Limerick were rebuilt and extended and the castle was incorporated within the defences of the northern half of the city, known as ‘English Town’. In 1751, a large infantry barrack was constructed inside the courtyard. The barrack was enlarged in 1793, resulting in the demolition of the eastern curtain wall and much of the bastion, creating a substantial parade ground on the eastern side of the castle. In 1922 the British military finally withdrew and the castle remained closed for the rest of the decade. In 1933 the corporation leased the courtyard from the Office of Public Works for the construction of municipal housing. This resulted in the demolition of much of the castle barrack, prior to the construction of twenty-two houses in four terraces.

This state of affairs prevailed until 1988 when a plan was devised for the restoration of the castle as a National Monument that envisaged the complete removal of the terraced housing. In early 1990 demolition commenced and archaeologists began to uncover the foundations of the eastern curtain wall of the castle, together with remains of the northern flank and eastern face of the bastion. Archaeological excavations on this area continued until September 1991. The excavated area (Site 1) measured c. 47.5m north-south, extending from the standing north-eastern tower of the castle to the standing southern wall of the bastion. The excavation width (east-west) varied between 17m and 30.5m, straddling the line of the eastern curtain wall and including the whole interior of the bastion, as well as a limited area outside the eastern face of the bastion.  The original project design involved the total reconstruction of the eastern curtain wall and the bastion. Owing to the diverse nature of the discoveries made in the course of the excavation and the problems of how best to keep them on view to the public, it was ultimately decided that the entire site should be spanned by the construction above it of a boldly designed visitor building. This interpretative centre was formally opened in October 1991, finally launching King John’s Castle as Limerick’s flagship tourist attraction.

In the summer of 1993 Shannon Heritage Ltd, managers of the castle, in conjunction with FÁS, decided to set up an archaeological research project in the castle. The aim was to reveal more structural remains within the courtyard that could be displayed to visitors, and to gain more information about the origins and development of the castle. Two substantial new sites were established (Sites 2A and 2B), and excavation continued for a further season in 1994. Site 2A was located to the rear of the gatehouse, with maximum dimensions of 15.3m (east-west) by 15m (north-south). The main objective was to establish the nature of a demolished extension on the courtyard side of the gatehouse. Site 2B was located next to the western curtain wall, with maximum dimensions of 32.5m (north-south) by 23m (east-west). The intention here was to reveal any surviving evidence for the basement of a large storehouse building, dating from the late thirteenth century, but demolished 500 years later. This site included the area around the castle’s watergate at the base of the curtain wall. Undisturbed boulder clay was reached along the eastern side of Site 2B in 1995 at a depth of 6m below the courtyard of the castle.

Another excavation took place along the southern side of the castle in 1995 (Site 3). This came about in connection with a proposal by Shannon Development to create a tourist facility called Castle Lane, incorporating a theme tavern and function room, as well as providing a new location for the city museum. There was considerable archaeological impact involved in the project, as the proposed development was to be located very close to the southern curtain wall and the bastion, much of it coinciding with the line of the castle’s thirteenth-century ditch. As the Shannon Heritage/FÁS project was well established in the courtyard, arrangements were made to open a large site at Castle Lane to assess the evidence for the castle’s outer defences and to establish how much further archaeological work was needed in advance of construction work. Site 3 was located in the angle formed by the southern curtain wall and the western flank of the bastion. It measured c.18m (north-south) by 12m (east-west). Excavation took place throughout much of 1995, ending in early 1996. Further work on the Castle Lane site was undertaken in January 1997 in the form of three large test cuttings (3A, 3B and 3C), followed by further hand-excavation and monitoring during the construction of the Castle Lane development in the latter part of 1997, coming to a conclusion in May 1998.

The complete run of excavations at the castle from 1990 until 1998 has contributed immensely to our understanding of the site. The archaeological record can be divided into a number of distinct phases of activity:

(1) Pre-Norman evidence

The primary occupation levels exposed at the northern end of Site 1, as well as in Sites 2A and 2B, indicate considerable activity, in the form of dense arrangements of pits, post-holes, stake-holes, etc. Part of a Hiberno-Norse sunken-featured structure (SFS 5) was revealed in Site 2A, but could not be excavated in full. The most impressive feature was a 2.3m-wide limestone road revealed in Sites 1 and 2B, aligned east-west, which bisected the courtyard of the castle, climbing from the river’s edge to the west across the much higher ground adjacent to Nicholas Street to the east. An intriguing limestone revetment pre-dating the road was discovered in Site 2B.

(2) The Anglo-Norman ringwork castle (1175-6)

 The main evidence for a ringwork-type fortification came to light during the Site 1 excavations in 1990-1. Stunning remains of the structure were exposed in the north-eastern quadrant of the castle, consisting of a clay bank secured by a rough limestone revetment. The retaining wall was placed directly on top of the pre-existing limestone road. The rampart was defended by an external ditch, measuring c. 11.4m wide by up to 2.8m deep. Part of the northern line of the ringwork bank was exposed on Site 2A and more of its southern extent on Site 2B.

(3) The restored authority of Domnall Mór Ó Briain (1176–94)

 Three sunken-featured structures (SFSs 1–3), post-dating the ringwork ditch, were excavated on Site 1. These structures had stone-lined entrance corridors on the eastern side. SFSs 1 and 3 consisted of one-roomed chambers, but the interior of SFS 3 (the western half of which was excavated in 1995 on Site 3), was divided into two rooms. The floors did not include a hearth, suggesting that the structures may have been used for storage rather than as living accommodation. A similar structure on Site 2A with decayed internal timberwork (SFS 4) was internal to but post-dated the Anglo-Norman ringwork. This was a one-roomed structure, but there was no stone-lined entrance passage. A long post-and wattle fence was inserted lengthwise into the partially infilled ringwork ditch. It was connected to a separate post-and wattle fence aligned north-south.  Another sunken building (SFS 6) was excavated on Site 3, which was smaller than those revealed inside the courtyard.

(4) The development of the stone castle in the thirteenth century

 Excavations on Site 1 revealed substantial foundation remains of the eastern curtain wall. The wall was built as a series of five distinct sections of limestone masonry, extending southwards from the north-eastern corner tower. The fourth section was built without footings and was entirely removed during the demolition of the wall. At the southern end of Section 5, the masonry formed an angle with the southern curtain wall, indicating that there was no round tower at this corner before the construction of the bastion in the seventeenth century.

The remains of a pair of very solid limestone walls projecting from the back of the twin gate-towers, flanking the entrance itself, were excavated on Site 2A. These defined what would have been a square extension with a vaulted ceiling behind the gatehouse, providing greater depth and protection for the main gate in the medieval period. 

Without doubt the most spectacular feature of thirteenth-century date was the undercroft of the castle’s great hall or storehouse, which came to light on Site 2B. The undercroft of the building had been backfilled around 1790–1800 with vast quantities of heavy rubble following the demolition of the superstructure by the British military. What emerged in the course of the work was the well-preserved basement level, measuring c.24m (north-south) by 15m (east-west) by up to 5m in depth below the courtyard. The most impressive features of the undercroft included four splayed arrow loops overlooking the river, a large doorway in the northern wall, leading into an unexcavated ante-chamber, and a fine sandstone window in the eastern wall, next to a blocked doorway. A stout buttress was built against the exterior of its eastern wall. Limited excavation below the floor level of the undercroft exposed the footing of the western curtain wall, at a depth of 8.7m below the courtyard level. The building was framed along the eastern side and southern end by the retaining walls of a wide access corridor, established in the year 1297 that connected the watergate with the courtyard. A long stretch of the original corridor masonry was excavated, with a maximum surviving height of 1.7m. Once the corridor was constructed, the courtyard was levelled with bulk clay infill. A gold ring was recovered from this material (Whyte 1996).

A complete section of the castle ditch was excavated on Site 3 in 1995-6, containing thick clay deposits of medieval date at the lower levels. Limited evidence for the medieval ditch was revealed on Site 1, underneath the walls of the seventeenth-century bastion.

(5) Early seventeenth-century improvements

 The weak south-eastern corner was fortified in 1611 by the addition of an artillery platform or bastion. Site 1 excavations exposed the foundations of the eastern wall, c.16m long, surviving to almost 4m in height. The northern flank was 8m long, and incorporated a sallyport of finely dressed limestone blocks. Evidence for the re-cutting of the castle ditch in 1611 was exposed on Site 3.

(6) The siege of the castle (1642)

 The remains of four mines and four countermines dating from the siege of May to June 1642 were excavated on Site 1, along with part of a trench dug by the castle’s garrison. Two significant features dating from the siege were discovered on Site 2A: a burial pit and a large pit dug in the gate passage to help defend the courtyard in the event of a storming attack on the main gate. The archaeology of the siege has been published in full as a monograph (Wiggins 2000). 

(7) Later seventeenth-century improvements

 In the 1660s changes were made to the corridor around the undercroft of the storehouse. The eastern extent was backfilled and sealed, and a new retaining wall with a sloping face was built along the southern side, with a maximum surviving height of 3.4m. The brick floor of a building adjacent to the eastern side of the storehouse, possibly dating from the 1690s, was excavated on Site 2B. The castle ditch was re-cut several times between c.1651 and 1691.

(8) Castle Barrack material (1751-1922)

 Mortared limestone rubble foundations relating to the barrack buildings were recorded and removed on Sites 1, 2A and 2B. A limestone partition inserted into the Site 2B undercroft may date from the start of the barrack era in 1751. Forty years later the storehouse was demolished, and its backfill contained a large volume of pottery and numerous metal objects. In the watergate corridor, many limestone steps and cobblestones, a vaulted ceiling and other masonry survive from this phase. 

References

Whyte, E., 1996  ‘Church property dumped in Limerick Castle’,  Archaeology Ireland, 35,  14–16.

Wiggins, K., 2000. Anatomy of a Siege: King John’s Castle, Limerick, 1642. Wordwell, Bray.

18.1 : Lurgankeel Mote Albany,
Co. Louth
18.2 : Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny
18.3 : King John’s Castle, Limerick