Ballinskelligs Castle, Ballinskelligs
Tower house
Ballinskelligs Castle, a poorly preserved tower house, occupies the tip of a low, narrow promontory on the western shore of Ballinskelligs Bay. The promontory is subject to severe coastal erosion. Following a series of storms during the winter of 1987-1988, a number of archaeological features were revealed immediately outside the south-eastern side of the castle. An excavation was undertaken to investigate this, and over a four week period during March and April 1988 a total of 60m2 was excavated. The work was funded by FAS (Tralee).

The castle, locally associated with McCarthy Mór, is of rectangular plan (l0.OSm x 7.85m, external measurements). The surviving evidence suggests that no more than three floors, including the ground floor, existed. The walls average 2m in basal thickness. A doorway occurs at the south eastern side of the building, within which, on the right, is an intra-mural chamber.

Excavation concentrated on three areas: (1) the area under threat from erosion at the south-eastern side of the castle; (2) a cutting in the castle's interior, the upper levels of which had been previously 'dug-out' without licence; (3) a cutting underneath a garderobe chute-ope in the north-western side of the castle.

Area 1
Excavation of this area revealed the badly eroded remains of two external buildings, one on either side of the castle doorway. The eastern example was better preserved. It had estimated overall dimensions of 4m x 3m and most of its floor area was neatly cobbled. A number of post-pits at its southern and eastern sides suggested that the building was of timber construction. Evidence for the second building survived only as a small area of a stone wall 1.5m by 0.55m. The recovered stratigraphy of this area, combined with the pottery finds from the floor levels of the buildings, indicate that both were of post-medieval date.

A trench, irregular in section, was found 1.5m south west of the tower house wall running parallel with it. It averaged 1m wide at the top, narrowing to an average of 0.6m at the bottom, and was c. 0.5m in depth. This feature, 2.5m of which was exposed, appeared to continue north-westwards. Its south-eastern limits had been eroded away. Finds from its fill consisted mainly of post-medieval pottery.

Approximately 0.25m below the levels of the two buildings at the south-eastern side of the castle, the foundation trench of the tower house was found. Between these two levels were some layers of sterile sand and a layer, averaging 0.1mm thickness, of black organic material containing some bone and pottery. The foundation trench was sharply cut, averaging 1.1m in width by 0.55m in depth, and was interrupted in a number of places where bedrock rose above the ground surface. Here the castle was constructed directly on the bedrock. Two trenches, 3.8m apart, were offset from the foundation trench. These averaged 0.9m in length by 0.4m in width, and may possibly be interpreted as sleeper trenches for a narrow, timber, porchlike structure, or, alternatively, as trenches dug to accommodate the basal supports for timber scaffolding during the construction of the castle.

Area 2
Approximately 0.5m of the upper fill of the castle's interior was found to have been removed without licence some years ago. For this reason it was decided to open a 2m wide cutting at its north eastern end and to excavate the small intra-mural chamber. Both areas contained 0.45m-0.55m depth of deposits, much of which consisted of intrusive water rolled stones. The original floor of the castle was formed by a series of large stone flags set in a mortar base. Finds at this level consisted mainly of iron nails, post-medieval pottery and early wine bottles.

Area 3
This consisted of a 4m x 2m cutting underneath a garderobe ope-chute. This revealed a shallow, broad pit, 2.7m in maximum width and 0.4m in maximum depth, containing a highly organic deposit including quantities of post-medieval pottery, bones and shells. Above this was a layer, averaging 0.3-0.4m in thickness, which contained much stone collapse and post-medieval pottery.

The bulk of the artefacts recovered during the excavation consisted of post-medieval pottery. Gravel tempered ware was by far the predominant type, with stoneware, combed slipware, sgraffito, Westerwald, brownware, mottled ware and Beauvais also being represented.
John Sheehan, South West Kerry Archaeological Survey, Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry.

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