Duncannon Fort

 

Duncannon Fort viewed from the beach
Duncannon Fort viewed from the beach

In 2015 Stafford McLoughlin Archaeology was commissioned by Wexford County Council to undertake a Conservation Plan of Duncannon Fort in Co. Wexford. Duncannon Fort is a National Monument in the ownership of both the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Wexford County Council. The Conservation Plan was part-funded by a grant from the Heritage Council under its 2015 grant scheme. The fort is an important 16th century coastal bastioned defence situated on a rocky promontory. It is one of only three bastioned forts in Co. Wexford, and the only one of which is accessible to the public.

Location of Duncannon, Co. Wexford
Location of Duncannon, Co. Wexford

The promontory on which the fort is located may be the site of a prehistoric fort, as evidenced by the place-name, ‘Dunmechanan’ or ‘fort of the son of Conan’, and the obvious defensive location.

The earliest surviving written record of the locality is in the foundation charter of Dunbrody Abbey in 1172. In 1422 King Henry IV made a grant of Duncannon to John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, Waterford and Wexford. It was granted to Sir Osborne Itchingham in October 1545 and in 1569 was granted to Sir Nicholas White. The first mention of the castle is in 1580 when John Itchingham, who was involved with pirates there, resisted arrest by the sheriff. The initial construction of the characteristic line of the defences of the fort was first begun in 1587 under the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada.

Map of Duncannon Fort dating to late 16th or early 17th century ©Lambeth Palace Library
Map of Duncannon Fort dating to late 16th or early 17th century ©Lambeth Palace Library

Two early maps of the fort survive. The earliest dates to the late 16th or early 17th century and shows a castle within a curtain wall, gatehouse and hall, and also a ruined medieval church towards the centre. The characteristic defences are shown in this map.

The second map dates to 1611 under the direction of Sir Josias Bodley who undertook improvements at the fort, which included doubling the rampart, adding stone walling to the cliffs and doubling the size of the gun platforms.

The declaration of the garrison for the anti-royalist British parliament led to the siege of 1645, when the fort was besieged by the anti-parliamentarian Confederates. Four ships arrived to assist the fort, one of which, The Great Lewis, sank. Ships timbers and canon were uncovered from a wreck in the estuary which may be the remains of this ship. The fort surrendered and in the period of 1645-50 was held by the Confederate government. 

Map of Duncannon Fort dating to 1611 © The British Library
Map of Duncannon Fort dating to 1611 © The British Library

Two further sieges took place and in 1650 the fort was retained by parliamentary forces. The defensive capability of Duncannon Fort deteriorated from the end of the 17th century in favour of Passage East in Co. Waterford but the fort was renovated in 1724, and again in 1753. 

During the 1798 Rebellion the fort was a place of refuge for loyalists and it was a place of incarceration for captured rebels prior to their transportation to Geneva Barracks in Co. Waterford. 

In 1814 two Martello towers were built on the landward side of the fort. In the early 20th century the fort was occupied by local militia. It was burned by the anti-Treaty IRA in 1922 after which it lay derelict until 1939 when it was occupied by the Irish Army. During this period the fort was refurbished. In the 1980’s the fort was acquired by Wexford County Council and operated as a tourism attraction until its closure in 2015 due to health and safety reasons.

The buildings which occupy the fort today are largely a product of the 18th and 19th centuries. There are no upstanding or visible remains of the promontory fort, castle, curtain wall, hall, or medieval church which once occupied the site. The defences are also likely to date to the later period. 

Defensive walls and lunette
Defensive walls and lunette
Duncannon Fort walls and circular battery
Duncannon Fort walls and circular battery
Duncannon Fort buildings
Duncannon Fort buildings
Officer's Mess
Officer’s Mess
Sentry box
Sentry box

The Conservation Plan was undertaken to provide an understanding of the historical significance of the fort, the current condition of the built heritage, the ecology of the fort, to understand the role of the fort as a potential driver of heritage tourism in Co. Wexford and to provide policies for improvement and works in relation to all of the above. The plan was undertaken with specialist contributions from an Ecology Consultant and a Conservation Engineer.

It is hoped that the policies and recommendations outlined in the Conservation Plan will be implemented on a staged basis, beginning with maintenance tasks in the near future.  

Guided tours of the fort by Hook Tourism are available during the summer months. Booking and contact details can be found at www.duncannonfort.ie. Hook Tourism is a local organisation dedicated to the promotion of tourism on the Hook Peninsula.


 

 

A Tale of Two Tinterns

Living in Co. Wexford I am a regular visitor to the beautiful Tintern Abbey in the south-east of the county, so I was particularly excited to get a chance to visit the mother-house of the abbey, also called Tintern, which is situated in the Wye Valley in Gwent, Wales. 

Tintern Abbey, Wales
The Welsh Tintern was founded in 1131 by Walter fitz Richard (also known as Walter of Clare), Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow and a member of the powerful Clare family. It was the first Cistercian abbey founded in Wales, and the second in the British Isles after Waverley. The abbey was colonised by monks from L’Aumone in the diocese of Blois in France, which was itself a daughter-house of Citeaux in Burgundy. In 1189 William Marshall became lord of Chepstow and patron of Tintern and it is William Marshall we have to thank for the foundation of Tintern in Wexford.

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By the late thirteenth century the abbey had over 3,000 acres of arable land on the Welsh side of the Wye. In 1245 the lordship of Chepstow passed to the Bigod family. Roger Bigod III (Earl of Norfolk) is remembered as the great benefactor of the abbey, and it was under his patronage that the great church was completed in c.1301.

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The abbey came under the first Act of Supression in 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII. It was was surrendered in September 1536 and the site was granted to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester (d. 1549), who stripped the buildings of their roofs for lead.

During the later eighteenth century the Wye valley became a popular site for tourists, with the ruins at Tintern acknowledged as the highlight of the tour. The publication of the Rev. William Gilpin’s guidebook ‘Observations on the River Wye’ in 1782 lead to an increase in the popularity of Tintern and in 1792 JMW Turner made pencil sketches of Tintern which later became some of his most beautiful watercolours. The abbey was also the inspiration behind one of the greatest romantic poems of the English language: William Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, 13 July 1798’. In 1901 the site was recognised as a monument of national importance and the property was sold to the British Crown.

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The present remains of the abbey consist of the great gothic church completed in 1301, which stands almost complete except for the roof and the north aisle in the nave. In addition there are the excavated foundations of the communal guest hall and other inner court structures to the west of the abbey church. The north side of the complex shows the layout of the infirmary hall and the abbot’s lodgings.

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When you first see Tintern you experience a wave of awe; the place is just so big compared to any of our abbeys here in Ireland. This feeling of awe is reinforced when you walk into the great gothic church and marvel at the sheer size of the place and the vast windows and columns, which seem to be everywhere you look. On a sunny day the light falling through the windows and around the columns is amazing, and with the backdrop of the wooded valley the place is simply magnificent. If you are lucky enough to visit Wales and the beautiful Wye Valley a visit to Tintern is thoroughly recommended.

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Tintern Abbey, Wexford
And now to our own Tintern Abbey. It was founded sometime around the year 1200, following a vow made by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, on his safe arrival in Ireland following a stormy sea crossing from Wales to Wexford. Marshall vowed to establish a new abbey if saved from shipwreck and on reaching Bannow Bay made good his vow and granted 9,000 acres of land for the foundation of a Cistercian abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The land on which the abbey is situated reverted to William Marshall following the death of Hervey de Montmorency in 1205 and the foundation charter of the abbey is dated to 1207-13. Interestingly a second Cistercian house, Dunbrody Abbey, is situated 8 km to the north-west. Dunbrody was granted to the Cistercians by Hervey de Montmorency and consecrated in 1201.

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Tintern was colonised by monks from the Tintern mother-house in Wales, which was then known as Tintern Major, and the Wexford Tintern became variously known as Tintern Minor, Tintern Parva (Little Tintern) or Tintern de Voto (of the vow).

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Tintern was also supressed in 1536, along with Dunbrody and Bective Abbey in Co. Meath. Some monks remained until 1539 when they were removed and the abbey was seized. In 1562 a lease on the abbey and its lands was granted to Anthony Colclough from Bluerton in Staffordshire. Parts of the abbey were converted to residential use and the Colcloughs continued to reside at Tintern until 1959 when Lucy Marie Biddulph Colclough moved to the nearby village of Saltmills. In 1963 the abbey and its immediate surrounds were vested in the Commissioners of Public Works (OPW). The abbey is still maintained by the OPW and is open to visitors during the summer months. The surrounding forestry is owned by Coillte and there are many woodland trails to visit all year round.

A visit to Tintern in Wexford finds it, like its Welsh parent, in a picturesque and tranquil landscape, overlooking a small river where it enters Bannow Bay in a tidal estuary. The surviving buildings comprise the nave, crossing tower, chancel and south transept chapels.

The abbey was the subject of archaeological excavations from 1982-2007, led by Ann Lynch, Senior Archaeologist with the National Monuments Service. A monograph of this work was published in 2010 and it is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in Tintern (book details are at the end of this post).

In addition to the abbey there are two early stone bridges, a medieval church, a holy well, limekiln and mill to explore.

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One particularly nice project in the surrounds of the abbey has been the clearance and planting of the derelict walled garden. Colclough Walled Garden, as it is known, was established in the early 1800’s, 500m south-west of the abbey. Restoration by volunteers organised by Hook Tourism began in July 2010. The original layout of the garden has been reinstated as it was in the 1830’s. The picture below is courtesy of Alan Ryan from Colclough Walled Garden, as I forgot to bring my camera last time I was there! 

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Sources

Information on Tintern Abbey in Wales is from the following source;
http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/abbeys/tintern.php – The Cistercians in Yorkshire Project

Information on Tintern Abbey in Wexford is from the following source;
Lynch, A. 2010 Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford: Cistercians and Colcloughs. Excavations 1982-2007. Dublin. Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Archaeological Monograph Series: 5.

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Location of Tintern Abbey, Gwent, Wales

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Location of Tintern Abbey, Wexford, Ireland

Some Viking-Age Whetstones from South Main Street, Wexford.

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These whetstones, or sharpening stones, are some of my favourite artefacts recovered from any of our excavations in Wexford town. They form part of a collection of stones excavated from an archaeological site at South Main Street, which was Hiberno-Norse (Viking) in origin. Items such as these really give us a glimpse of the everyday lives of the people who inhabited the town, a tangible reminder of lives lived in in the distant past right beneath our streets.

The photograph below shows four of the whetstones recovered from the site. Whetstones were indispensable items for anyone using the tools of the period, such as axes, knives and other blades. Indeed many whetstones are pendant stones, perforated at one end and designed to be suspended either on a waist-belt or around the neck. The smallest whetstone in the photograph is one such pendant stone which measures approximately 8cm in length. All of the stones show visible signs of use-wear such as vertical striations and grooves. The fact that whetstones were considered such important personal items is reflected in the fact that they are sometimes found in Viking burials such as that at Woodstown, Co. Waterford, where a burial was accompanied by a sword, shield, spearhead, knife and perforated whetstone (Harrison, 2014, 91).

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The whetstones shown were recovered from one of only two Viking-Age sites excavated to date within Wexford town. Our site was at 84-86 South Main Street, where Wexford Insurances is presently situated. The other site was 50m to the south at the corner of South Main Street and Bride Street, where Colman Doyle’s is today. That site was excavated by Edward Bourke in the 1980’s and I’m sure many local Wexford people will remember the excavation.

The photograph below shows our site under excavation. There was a deep build-up of archaeological stratigraphy, or layers, reflecting a successive number of occupation deposits built up over time. The remains of a structure was excavated, defined by a row of posts. Other features included hearths, pits and stakeholes.

Site during excavation
Site during excavation

At the Bride Street excavation a deep build-up of stratigraphic deposits revealed the remains of successive houses dating from the late Viking to the medieval periods. I will do a more detailed blog post on both of these excavations in the near future. In the meantime I hope you like the whetstones as much as I do.

Reference
Harrison, S.H. 2014. ‘Discussion of the Viking Burial’ in Russell, I., Hurley, M.F., & Eogan, J. (eds) 2014 Woodstown, A Viking-Age Settlement in Co. Waterford. Four Courts Press, Dublin.