Post-Medieval and Industrial Archaeology in Ireland: An Overview. (Special Section)

By Donnelly, Colm J.; Horning, Audrey J. | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Post-Medieval and Industrial Archaeology in Ireland: An Overview. (Special Section)


Donnelly, Colm J., Horning, Audrey J., Antiquity


Key-words: Ireland, Plantation, Post-Medieval, industrial, archaeology

While the archaeological study of the early modern period was generally underplayed within Irish archaeology before the 1970s, since that time there has been a significant increase in research on post-medieval and industrial themes. The origins, achievements, and recent developments of post-medieval and industrial archaeology in Ireland are discussed, with a consideration of the future of these disciplines.

The commencement of post-medieval archaeology in Ireland rests with the study of sites associated with the Plantation period of the 16th and 17th centuries--a period which saw a major influx of British settlers into Ireland, leading to substantial changes in the island's social, economic, political and religious organization. The maps, memoirs and letters generated by the Ordnance Survey in the years immediately preceding the Great Famine of the late 1840s represent some of the first accounts to be compiled on the ruins of Plantation castles and fortified houses (Day & McWilliams 1990-1998). The buildings and their associated histories were also considered suitable material for early 20th-century antiquarian study, prompting publications such as those by Westropp (1906-7) in Munster and by Bigger (1902) in Ulster. Interest in Ulster's Plantation castles continued into the 20th century; the first overview of the province's archaeological heritage (Lawlor 1928) contained a chapter devoted to the buildings, while they also featured prominently throughout the Preliminary Survey of the Ancient Monuments of Northern Ireland (Chart 1940). This tradition continued in the pages of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, where Dudley Waterman and Martyn Jope published on a range of castles, also producing seminal synthetic papers (Jope 1951; 1960; Waterman 1961).

Early research on the post-medieval period tended towards the investigation of standing masonry rather than excavated evidence. While Waterman and Jope concentrated upon castles and manor homes, geographer Emyr Estyn Evans (1996) pioneered the study of vernacular architecture and rural settlement, establishing the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Co. Down which incorporates relocated examples of Ulster's vernacular buildings, albeit without the aid of contextual archaeological information. One early example of post-medieval archaeological excavation was an investigation of the development of a clachan (a cluster of farm-dwellings and associated out-houses) at Murphystown, Co. Down by Buchanan et al. (1958). The use of archaeological excavation techniques to further the study of Plantation-period settlement was not advanced until the 1980s, when archaeologist Nick Brannon used excavated evidence as a means of enlightening the historical documentation for a range of urban and rural sites (Brannon 1999). This process is best demonstrated by the work Brannon and Blades undertook at the medieval priory at Dungiven in Co. Londonderry, revealed through archaeology as the location of Sir Edward Doddington's `lost' 17th-century manor house (Brannon & Blades 1980). Archaeological investigations of the Plantation continue in Ulster, at sites such as the deserted village of Movanagher, Co. Londonderry (Horning 2001) and Newtownstewart Castle, Co. Tyrone (O'Baoill 2000), with several settlements associated with the Munster Plantation also recently excavated in Co. Cork by Klingelhofer (2000).

The archaeological study of the urban heritage of Ireland's post-medieval period was pioneered by the late Tom Delaney during his excavations from 1972 to 1976 at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, an Ulster town founded under the Anglo-Normans in the late 12th century. Delaney displayed a welcome and holistic approach to urban excavation; recognising that post-medieval deposits and structures must be investigated and recorded to tell the story of Carrickfergus in its entirety (Delaney 1977; Simpson & Dickson 1981). …

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