County Clare Archives in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland – Objects from the Parish of Tuamgraney

Sliabh Aughty, Journal No 11, 2003 Edition
John Rattigan, Curator, Clare Museum and Tomás Mac Conmara, Staff Member

Clare Museum has in its possession a catalogue of archaeological artifacts from County Clare compiled from the archives of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland.

This vast catalogue was compiled by Erin Gibbons, Jackie Mac Dermott and Felim Gibbons in October 1999 and is presented in six volumes with the co-operation and support of the National Museum of Ireland.

The purpose of this article is to promote the catalogue as a valuable source of information and in this instance to highlight archaeological finds from Townlands in the Parish of Tuamgraney as an example.

Description of the Catalogue
The first two volumes of this six volume catalogue consist of an alphabetical listing of finds categorised under eighteen separate fields.

In Volume I there is an alphabetical listing of objects by Townland. This field is followed by additional information under the headings of Parish; Barony; Find; Registration Number; Description; Dimensions; Habitat; Irish Antiquities File Number; OS 6” sheet number; OS 6” sheet co-ordinates; Bog Find (if applicable); Excavation Find (if applicable) and Page reference to Volumes III – VI.

The second volume repeats the information contained in Volume I, except objects are listed by Find rather than by Townland.

Volume III contains the inventory of archaeological finds from County Clare. It is laid out chronologically from 1785-1999, and includes artifacts from the county held in private possession, and other objects from County Clare held by the Irish Folklife, the Art and Industrial, and Natural History Divisions of the National Museum of Ireland. Also included here is a catalogue of photographs from County Clare contained in the Irish Antiquities Division archive.

The fourth, fifth and sixth volumes contain a photocopied record of the card index of finds from County Clare located in the Irish Antiquities Division archive, with each card containing a description and illustration of the object.

Archaeological finds from the Parish of Tuamgraney

The following eight objects are listed for five of the townlands in the Parish of Tuamgraney in Volume I of the catalogue, and are an example of the type of information available to the researcher.

The information recorded in the various fields includes the object type, and also the dimensions and a description of the object, if given. Of these eight objects, two, the mace head from Raheen and the wooden boat rib from Teeroneer, are on display in Clare Museum.
Link to Map of Tuamgraney Parish

  1. The first of these objects is a wooden vessel found in a bog. Organic material only survives in the archaeological record under certain conditions, and in this case it is probable that this wooden object survived due to the anaerobic (or oxygen free) conditions provided by the bog.
    Townland: Ballymalone
    : Vessel, wood
    Dimensions: Length = 51cm Width = 51cm
    Description: “Lying flat on Mineral soil. Found with fibrous material “like Flax” on top of it. A blackthorn stick was also reported to have been found 8m away. This broke in two and was not kept. Found 45cm below surface of bog.”
    Parish Map: townland number 3

  2. This refers to a ground stone axe dating from the late Mesolithic period Experiments carried out by archaeologists in Scandanavia have shown that these tools were very effective in the felling of trees, and indicates human occupation in the Parish from earliest times.
    Townland: Drewsborough
    : Axehead, Stone
    Dimensions: Length = 13.7cm Width = 4cm
    : “Ground pebble axe in good condition. Most of the original surface of the pebble survives except for those areas, which have been ground down to form the cutting edge. The cross-section is approx. rectangular. ”
    Parish Map: townland number 13

  3. The careful choice of raw material and the effort expended in the manufacture of Mace Heads suggests that they had significance beyond utilitarian use. Most were deposited in graves, bogs, rivers and because so many were found broken in half, it seems likely that the act of breaking had a ritual significance. Their form shows strong links to the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
    Townland: Raheen

    : Mace-Head, Stone
    Dimensions: 4.1cm Min Diameter: 1.3cm
    Description: “Oval stone, oval in cross-section. Hour glass perforation through centre. V shaped sides of the perforation pecked and not smoothed done; narrowest portion of hole highly polished, possibly from use…”
    Parish Map: townland number 18

  4. This wooden boat rib was found buried in anaerobic conditions at Teeroneer, Tuamgraney. Although this entry refers to only one boat rib, there are two with this provenance on display at Clare Museum.
    Townland: Teeroneer (Island in Lough O’Grady)
    Find: Rib from Wooden Boat
    Dimensions: Max Length: 68.6cm, Max Length of Basal arm: 22.8cm
    Description: “Roughly L-shaped boat-rib of a single piece of wood consisting of short flat and perpendicularly perforated arm from which the longer arm is offset at the obtuse angle.”
    Parish Map: townland number 19

  5. Used in the process of distilling whiskey. It is not known exactly when whiskey first began to be distilled in Ireland, though it certainly originated over a thousand years ago. It was an important part of Irish life by the 16th century, and was considered to have powerful medicinal properties. Distilling went into decline in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Townland: Teeroneer (Island in Lough O’Grady)
    Still, Copper, (portion of)
    Dimensions: Height = 36cm. Max Diameter: 36cm
    Description: “Portion of a well-preserved copper still, consisting of a cauldron-like pot with spout attached and the “worm”, now in 11 parts. The entire still is made of thin copper sheeting held together by bending.”
    Parish Map: townland number 19

  6. The manufacture of Iron is associated with the Celts. In ancient times smiths were considered to be gifted people and there is evidence in folklore that the manufacture of iron had almost religious significance. Tradition holds that the church site at Tuamgraney dates back to the sixth century and it is possible that find relates to activities at this site during the early medieval period.
    Townland: Tuamgraney

    : Slag Iron (Furnace Bottom)
    Description: “Large lump of iron slag, which is roughly circular in plain and plano and plano-convex cross-section apparently a “furnace bottom”. Found on the surface of an ancient graveyard in Tuamgraney.”
    Parish Map: townland number 20

  7. This second mace head from the Parish contains no description in the catalogue.
    Townland: Tuamgraney

    Mace Head (probably a hammerstone)
    Parish Map: townland number 20

  8. Cross slabs were erected as grave markers in the early medieval period and often bore Christian symbols. These symbols included traditional Christian motifs such as the fish, but the most common was of course the cross. The styles of crosses vary but Maltese crosses and Swastikas can also be found carved on the surface. Some, like this one, also carried and inscription in memory of the deceased.
    Townland: Tuamgraney

    : Cross Slabs x 2
    Description: One has fragment of inscription
    Parish Map: townland number 20

This catalogue of Clare artifacts is unique to Clare Museum. It is intended in the future to place a limited version of the catalogue on the Clare Museum website for greater public access. In the meantime, this important educational and research resource is available for viewing by appointment to students, local historians and archaeologists.

Gibbons, E., Mc Dermott, J., Gibbons, F., (1999) County Clare Archives in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland. Unpublished catalogue

The authors would like to thank Erin Gibbons and Eamonn Kelly, Keeper of Irish Antiquities, National Museum of Ireland, for their advice and encouragement. The photograph of the Mace Head appears courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland, while the map of the Parish of Tuamgraney appears courtesy of Clare County Library.

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