Evidence of life in Medieval times has been unearthed by archaeologists in the North Dublin suburb of Baldoyle.
The unusual thing about this excavation is that it’s taking place in the grounds of a housing estate. And to be more specific – one of the dig sites is actually located in the garden belonging to the mother of archaeologist Paul Duffy.
Paul Duffy from Grassroots Archaeology discussed his work, his finds and what they’re still looking for along with Terry Barry, associate professor of Medieval History with Trinity College Dublin.
(from left to right) Tertiary flint flake, split flint pebble and secondary flake
A Background to the Seagrange Archaeological dig in Baldoyle
Grassroots Archaeology is a community based project funded by the Royal Irish Academy. Its goal is to discover, with community involvement, what remains of a potential archaeological site beneath the surface of the modern housing estate of Seagrange, Baldoyle.
This potential site was identified through analysis of old aerial photography taken prior to the construction of the estate.
The cropmark identified on the Cambridge Series Aerial Photo from 1970 exhibits several features consistent with that of a Medieval Moated Site namely:
• Rectangular shaped enclosure 55m N-S x 60m E-W
• Situated in lowlying ground prone to flooding
• A possible leat (water inflow channel) leading into the NE corner
• A possible spring 80m NE from which the leat runs.
• Surrounded by land once used for agriculture
What is a Moated Site?
A 13th-14th century enclosure, generally rectangular, defined by a ditch often filled with water (hence moat) and surrounded by an internal bank. The bank would have been surmounted by a palisade and the entranceway usually protected with a gatehouse, thereby protecting the space within from attack or raiding. The traditional interpretation suggests that moated sites represent the fortified dwellings of minor Norman lords or wealthy landowners particularly associated with a second wave of Anglo-Norman settlement into border territories on the fringes of Anglo Norman control (mid 13thC onwards).
The excavations to date have uncovered several features consistent with what one might expect from the interior of such a moated site - namely a linear gully, a pit and an area of metaling (primitive paving).
Finds to date include medieval pottery (12th to 14th C), a bone implement (interpretations from highly placed academics range from a cloak pin, a pin beater used in weaving and a possible writing implement – all medieval artefacts), flint artefacts, iron slag/bloom (indicative of metalworking) and glass fragments (under analysis but potentially medieval). From domestic deposits, an abundance of animal bone and marine shell (cockle and mussel) have been retrieved and environmental analysis has yielded charred oat and barley grain.
Again, this range of material is what one might expect to find in association with a Medieval Moated Site. But, to date (1/10/13) we have yet to discover the actual moat. We are therefore constrained in what we can say about the findings. Cautious initial interpretation is acceptable; categorical statement is not.
The site, within the townland of Baldoyle lies a mere 700m North of Dublin Bay at 4.5m above sea level. In 1166, Baldoyle became the first grant made to the Priory of All Hallows, an Augustinian (Arroasian Canons) foundation which once stood on the current site of Trinity College. This grant was made by Dermot McMurrough shortly before he was expelled from his kingdom. Immediately following the Norman conquest of Dublin in 1170, Baldoyle was originally granted to Adam de Pheypo but the monks successfully petitioned Henry II upon his arrival and the grant of Baldoyle was confirmed by the King. At 722 acres, Baldoyle comprised the largest block of land owned by All Hallows but the exact limits of this grant are unknown. The de Pheypo family it seems retained some interest in Baldoyle making grants in 1236 and the Lords of Howth contested lands in Baldoyle until the monks were obliged to settle the dispute with a money payment in the 13thC.
What is a Grange?
The monks, through the employ of lay brothers and serfs (betaghs) would have farmed their holdings in Baldoyle. This type of monastic farm is known as a Grange. Grange farms were widespread in medieval Ireland run by the major religious foundations. Very few have actually been the subject of excavation. These farms would have comprised of a range of farm buildings usually set out around a rectangular yard. In Britain studies have shown that these farms were often surrounded by a moat.
The traditional belief is that the Grange of Baldoyle occurred at the site known as Grange Abbey where the upstanding remains of a medieval church can still be seen. This church occurs 1km to the NW of the site in question. There are no historical documents linking this building with the grange of Baldoyle and the name Grange Abbey is no more than a folk memory that at some time the area was associated with monks. It is quite likely that this name did not become current until after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16thC. Two phases of excavations at Grange Abbey yielded no results which suggest the presence of a Grange.
Who built the Seagrange Site?
If indeed the Seagrange cropmark represents a Moated Site, it may have been constructed by a minor Anglo-Norman lord who was active in the area and did not possess the means to build a castle such as St. Laurence’s at Howth. Possible contenders include the de Pheypos, as discussed or alternatively the de Cursuns who held Raheny and Kilbarrack. The Seagrange site occurs 120m North of the modern townland of Kilbarrack Upper and the 17thC Down Survey lists the entire area as Raheny.
The church known as Grange Abbey has been dated on stylistic to the late 13th – mid 14th centuries. The first mention of a church here in the sources is in 1472 when a church is mentioned at ‘Little Grange’. It is possible that the original grange of Baldoyle occurred at the Seagrange site and that the monks and lay brothers had a moat constructed around their farmstead for some measure of protection.