Swords Castle, Bridge Street, Swords
31801 24673
Swords Castle, an episcopal castle with a large irregular pentagonal enclosure, is located at the north-east end of the modern village of Swords. The late Tom Fanning directed excavations to the east of the gatehouse in 1971. He pointed out the possibility that the castle may have been repaired and occupied by a constable from the 14th to the early 16th century (Fanning 1975, 57). References in the Carew manuscripts refer to the ‘quite spoiled old castle’, indicating its ruinous state. The castle was purchased by the Cobbe family when the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1870. In the 1930s the site was placed in the guardianship of the Office of Public Works. Dublin County Council purchased Swords Castle from the Cobbe family in 1985 with a view to its restoration.
The land to the west of the gatehouse abutting the curtain wall was selected by Fingal County Council for archaeological investigation following on from a ground resistivity survey carried out as part of the restoration programme for the castle. Excavation was originally carried out by Niall Gregory, and the licence was extended by the author to cover additional minimal excavation and recording between 29 January and 9 February 2001.
Area I, which measured 11.6m north–south by 9.5m, was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.95m (11.167m OD). A gently sloping old ground surface, consisting of large angular stones overlain in places by lime mortar, had been exposed in the northern portion of the cutting. Two parallel drains, with a north–south orientation, were exposed at the southern limit. A probable pathway had been exposed at the south-east, defined on its northern and southern sides by a linear setting of stones. The pathway comprised a compact even surface of small rounded cobbles which formed a bed for the mortar. Oriented east–west, it appears to have been cut on its western end by a later linear feature consisting of a matrix of sandy clay and stones of varying proportions which produced several fragments of animal bone. A spread of iron slag was located 2m to the west along the line of the pathway. Only a portion of the spread was exposed, which measured 0.8m north–south by 0.6m. The association between the pathway and the spread of iron slag cannot be ascertained without further excavation.
Area II, which measured 11.6m north–south by 9.5m, was excavated to a maximum depth of 0.8m at the southern end (11.622m OD). Several fragments of medieval floor tile were recovered during the removal of the overburden at the northern portion of the cutting (Phase I). The disturbed ground consisted of concentrations of shell and fish bone, which overlay a relatively level rough stone surface comprised of large angular stones (12.222m OD). An architectural fragment, a portion of a medieval window, formed part of the partially exposed old ground surface. The overburden produced sherds of medieval, post-medieval and modern ceramics. The date of this old ground surface is uncertain; however, owing to the presence of the architectural fragment, it would appear that the surface post-dates the original usage of the castle building.
The curtain wall was exposed at the southern end of the cutting. The garden soil had been removed as part of Phase I to a level of 11.622m OD. The exposed elevation of the curtain wall revealed a stone-free gap, 1.6m wide, consisting of sand and clay, which marked the position of the western extent of a barrel vault 4.6m in width, the spring of which is visible at the present western external wall of the gateway complex. The curtain wall elevation indicated a possible doorway, which was subsequently demolished, and a splayed window was inserted in the later construction.
A second irregularity in the wall construction, 0.6m wide, indicated the existence of a wall perpendicular to the curtain wall. A narrow slot-trench (0.3m wide) revealed the presence of a mortared surface overlying the bedrock, which measured 2m in width (east–west), and a small pit which measured 1.1m in width (east–west) produced two sherds of medieval pottery from the dark brown clay fill.
Area III involved the removal of overburden from the surface surrounding the later building abutting the northern side of the gateway complex. A stone footing was uncovered at a depth of c. 0.3m (12.252m OD) below the present ground surface. The footing is a mortared stone construction of large stones, which measured 1.15m by 1.15m; it extends under the present baulk.
A mortared surface with inclusions of mortar and red brick, 1.5m (east–west) by 1.6m, was exposed along the northern wall of the later building to the north of the gateway.
The ground along the line of the eastern wall of the later building was excavated. An area measuring 1.2m (north–south) had been excavated within recent years and the stone surface exposed. The overburden along this wall produced a mix of sherds of modern ceramics and glass. The exposed surface consisted of a roughened stone surface with isolated spreads of mortar and fragments of red brick. This surface was exposed and no further excavation took place.

Fanning, T. 1975 An Irish medieval tile pavement: recent excavations at Swords Castle, Co. Dublin. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 105, 47–82.
E. Eoin Sullivan, 39 Trees Road, Mount Merrion, Co. Dublin, for ADS, Windsor House, 11 Fairview Strand, Dublin 3.

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