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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Irish Times article

This is a good article from last year, sourced from a Medieval resource blog...

Layers of history at medieval site.
31 August 2007
Irish Times

Excavations at the remains of a medieval castle in Tulsk, Co Roscommon, have unearthed the castle latrine and a pair of dice made out of antler or bone about 500 years ago, writes Marese McDonagh.

Archaeologists have uncovered layers of history at the site, including part of a tower house castle and a 16th century military structure linked to the notorious Sir Richard Bingham, who was governor of Connacht during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I at the end of the 1500s. According to Dr Niall Brady, who led the Discovery Programme project, the finds will provide valuable insight into the lives of Gaelic chieftains and their households during the late medieval period, a facet of Irish history which he feels has been largely ignored.

Excavation at the ring fort in Tulsk began in 2004 and a series of summer digs have taken place since then, with this year's yielding a number of significant finds, including two ring pins, possibly used as clasps for cloaks, dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Tulsk was the base of the O'Conor Roe chieftains and the discovery of part of a medieval castle is regarded as a milestone in the search for more information about rural areas which were controlled by chieftains and not by the British crown from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The finds connected with Bingham, who was known as "the flail of Connacht", were a "bonus", as they had not been expected at this site, according to Dr Brady. "We found musket shot, English coins, iron arrowheads, evidence of the presence of soldiers which had nothing to do with domesticity," he pointed out.

The archaeologists believe that the tower house castle was in ruins by the time of Bingham's reign as governor of Connacht as several stones from the tower were reused in the 16th century buildings. Situated on top of an earthen mound or ring fort, the tower of the castle, with its commanding views over the northern approaches to Tulsk, would have represented a clear statement of the power and status of the local Gaelic lord. The excavation suggests that the tower was rebuilt a number of times right up to the late 16th century, when Tulsk was garrisoned.

Despite the persistent rain, which made the summer dig more difficult, the team managed to excavate into the ditch surrounding the castle, where they uncovered the medieval garderobe, or latrine, of the castle. Appropriately, the excavation was based beside the Cruachan Aí Heritage Centre in Tulsk, the focal point of one of the most important Celtic royal sites in Europe, with a reputed 60 national monuments within a four-mile radius. It was the seat of the kings of Connacht and is also believed to have been home to the warrior queen, Maeve, who launched the famous cattle raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúalinge) from this area. The Washington Post recently described the site as "a Machu Picchu not of stone but of thatch-covered wooden palaces when Helen of Troy was just a kid".

Dr Brady said he hoped that as the excavations ended for another year these most recent finds would reinforce the importance of Tulsk as a key heritage attraction. The ring fort site his team is exploring stands beside a site known as Castleland, where it is believed another castle was built for the O'Conors in the early 1400s.