By Martin Fitzpatrick, Arch Consultancy Ltd.
Since mid September 2011 a small team of archaeologists has been working on the site of the parish centre adjacent to the existing church at Church Street.
Plans for the development of a Parish centre have been ongoing for a number of years and Canon Tony King has retained the services of local archaeologist, Martin Fitzpatrick of Arch Consultancy Ltd., to advise on the development. Archaeological input has been necessary as the development is located immediately adjacent to the medieval town wall and moat, which once enclosed the town.
Burials and Line of Original Moat
Archaeological testing in advance of development was undertaken by Arch Consultancy in 2009. This involved the excavation of a number of trenches through the site to evaluate the archaeological potential. The testing uncovered a number of burials and a deep cut feature that corresponded with the line of the original moat. It was recommended that the moat feature and the concentration of burials should be avoided by the new development. Planning permission for the development was then sought and subsequently received with a condition of the planning requiring that all ground works to be archaeologically monitored and features of archaeological interest to be recorded and manually excavated.
Large Pit Features and Medieval Pottery
Work on the site has uncovered numerous large pit features that have been cut into the natural clay and filled with loose stones. These features were shown to be extraction pits associated with the 18th and 19th century church that existed on this site before the present church was constructed in the mid-1960s. The removal of material adjacent to the existing church walls proved it was constructed along the line of the earlier church, with the cut stones of the 19th century building surviving below one doorway. A number of pits on the site proved much older in date with a number of fragments of 13th and 14th century pottery attesting to activity on this site from the medieval period. Slag finds from the site indicate metalworking was also being practiced in this area.
Detail of a large pit being excavated
Burials in shallow Graves
The 18th and 19th century churches that occupied this site had a burial ground, which extended to this side of the church grounds. The archaeological excavations undertaken in 2009 found a number of burials that appeared to have been placed in the town moat as this would have been an easy place to dig a grave. The current archaeological works have uncovered a number of further burials of possible 19th century date, which were located in very shallow graves. An archaeologist that specializes in human remains (osteoarchaeologist) recorded and excavated these burials and they will be re-buried on the site with an appropriate service.
The tomb structure and a burial at the front of the site
Close to Church Street a large rectangular stone-lined tomb was uncovered
during excavation works. The tomb had originally a brick constructed vaulted roof that had collapsed into the tomb filling it with rubble. In the area of the tomb a cut-stone headstone dating to the 1870s and dedicated to the Mitchell Family was recovered from the topsoil. Removal of the tomb fill found it contained a number of burials –one of which had a date of 1900 and was also a member of the Mitchell family. The details of the tomb and its contents were recorded and a new roof slab is being designed to ensure that the remains will not be disturbed by an access road planned for this area. Archaeological excavation found that the tomb was constructed on the site of an earlier lime kiln with the walls of the kiln still surviving today.
The excavations on site are coming to a close and a full report on the findings will be available. The work has uncovered another interesting chapter in the history of Athenry.
Martin Fitzpatrick Archaeological Consultancy Ltd. Ballydavid South, Athenry, Co. Galway. Tel: +353-91-845 089
Fax: +353-91-845 089