County Clare Archives in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland - Objects from the Parish of O’Brien's Bridge

Sliabh Aughty, Journal No 12, 2005 Edition

By John Rattigan, Curator, Clare Museum and Tomás Mac Conmara, Staff Member

INTRODUCTION
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. A detailed description of the catalogue is recorded in Journal 11, 2003 and is omitted here due to space restrictions.

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 O’Brien’s Bridge as an example.

ARACHEOLOGICAL FINDS FROM THE PARISH OF O’BRIEN'S BRIDGE
The following eleven objects are listed in Volume 1 of the catalogue. They come from just three townlands (Clonboy, O’Briens Bridge and Ross) in the Parish of O’Brien’s Bridge, and are an example of the type of information available to the researcher.

The information recorded in the various fields include the object type, dimensions and a description, but as will be seen, sometimes only the object type is given. Of these eleven objects, one, the slate spearhead, is on display at Clare Museum.

1. Townland: Clonboy

Parish Map: townland number 10

Find: Rotary Quern stone (upper stone)
Dimensions: Max Diameter = 9.7cm Max Thickness = at edge 6.5cm Centre 3 and ¾”.
Description: “Rotary Quernstone, upper stone. Circular stone of roughly “D” shaped cross-section, the convex surface being uppermost, the flat surface having been the grinding surface. The thickness of the stone bears two holes which have been drilled through it”.

2. Townland: Ross

Parish Map: townland number 28

Find: Decorated Quern Disc
Dimensions: Diameter (original) = 50cm Max Thickness = 2.9cm
Description:
“Irregular fragments of upper stone of rotary quern. Convex upper, concave lower surface. The upper surface is equipped with a sub-cylindrical handle socket, not hole. About one third of the central perforation survives – it was cylindrical”.

Object nos.1 and 2 are well described in the archives and consequently the catalogue reflects this useful information.

Quern stones were used for grinding cereals down to make flour. The earliest type was the saddle quern developed in the Neolithic, where the grain was placed on the large stone, and crushed using a smaller stone held in the hand.

The rotary quern was a later development where both stones were circular with matching surfaces between them. The grain is poured through a hole in the centre of the top stone and as the top stone is rotated, the grain is crushed between the stones and the finished flour trickles out around the edges of the quern. They were used in Ireland until the 19th Century and were sometimes decorated.

3. Townland: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Axehead polished stone
Dimensions: Max Length = 10.8cm Width (cutting edge) = 6.5cm Max Thickness = 2.8cm
Description:“ Irregular in outline, oval in cross-section. The butt end is missing due to severe damage in antiquity. The cutting-edge is convex and asymmetrical. A substantial portion of one long side survives it is convex in section and in outline”.

4. Townland - O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Stone Axehead
Dimensions: Length = 10cm Width = 4.1cm Thickness = 1.4cm
Description:“ 1.1cm in width at the butt. The cutting edge is bevelled an it is fairly sharp; at a few points along the edge it is daraged and chipped”.

5. Townland - O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Stone Axehead
Dimensions: Max Length = 7.7cm Max Width = 8.7cm Max T = 2.3cm
Description: “ A polished stone axehead of which the butt and central portion are broken off and missing. The cutting edge I bevelled and it is fairly sharp”.

6. Townland: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Stone Axehead
Dimensions: Length = 7cm Width = 4.7cm Thickness = 1.2cm.
Description:“ One wide face is rather flat, the other is slightly convex. The cutting edge is bevelled and it is fairly sharp; it is damaged near one side”

Object nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6 are well described in the archives. Nos. 4, 5 and 6 were found together while no. 3 was found separately.

Stone axes are one of the most common artifacts from County Clare. Experiments carried out by archaeologists in Scandanavia have shown that these tools were very effective in the felling of trees. The first farmers used these tools during the Neolithic to clear the landscape of trees for farming and cultivation.

7. Town land: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Bones

No details recorded

8. Townland O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: pottery vessel

No details recorded

9. Townland: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Cremated Bones

No details recorded

Cremation appears to have been the predominant burial rite in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age time periods. (c.3000-1500BC) Although sometimes found accompanied by unburned corpses, cremation became the principal burial custom with deposits of human bone often placed in cists or in pits either below ground or in burial mounds. Examples of this custom were found in Poulawack burial cairn in the Burren.

Recovered bones often represent just part of the entire skeleton.

10. Townland: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Pottery Sherds

The archives contain very limited information on objects 7, 8, 9, and 10, there are no descriptions or measurements and this reflected in the catalogue. It is not clear if no.7 is human or animal bone, while no. 9 is probably a collection of cremated human bones from a burial. The entry for object nos.8 and 10 provides no information on the condition, dimensions or type of pottery referred too.

11. Townland: O’Brien’s Bridge

Parish Map: townland number 27

Find: Spearhead, Slate

No further information is contained in the catalogue for object no. 11.

This slate spearhead dates from the Mesolithic (7,000-4,000 bc). Although the earliest evidence for the extensive peopling of Clare dates from a later period, this spearhead shows that Mesolithic Clare was inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers.

It is not surprising that this artifact was recovered in a townland adjacent to the River Shannon, as this would have been a rich source of food for Clare’s earliest inhabitants.

This catalogue of Clare artifacts is unique to Clare Museum. This important educational and research resource is available for viewing by appointment to students, local historians and archaeologists.

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

Rattigan, J., Mac Conmara, T., (2003) County Clare Archives in the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland Objects from the Parish of Tuamgraney, Sliabh Aughty, Vol 11 pp 44.

Ryan, M., (2001) Irish Archaeology Illustrated, Dublin, Country House.

Querns/Grindstones

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
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 Slate Spearhead appears courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland, while the map of the Parish of O’Briensbridge appears courtesy of Clare County Library.

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