Galway
1990:055
Omey Island - Gooreen and Sturrakeen
Burial and domestic site
L562566
Omey Island is a large tidal island open to the Atlantic Ocean on its west and south sides. Erosion of the high ground flanking a small cove on the north side of the island exposed a sequence of domestic and burial activity: two phases of Christian burial, fragments of walling of various dates and unknown function, middens containing shells and animal bones, and the foundations of pre-1840 houses. Measured drawings were made of the archaeological material in the cliff-face, and an exploratory excavation was carried out in a small area on top of the cliff. The burials were so deeply stratified in the sand that the only feasible way of examining them was by careful cleaning of the cliff-face. The recording and removal was carried out under the supervision of Professor Brendan Coakley , Dept. of Anatomy, UCD.

Almost 2m of blown sand and midden deposits separated the two levels of burial. Only one skeleton was preserved reasonably intact in the upper level. The skeletons in the lower of the two levels lay in a matrix of fine sand on a firm surface which formed a shelf in the cliff-face. The bones of complete skeletons here were so thoroughly mixed together that interment was probably a single event, and this interpretation is consistent with the stratigraphical evidence that the bodies were not buried in individual pits but placed together on a surface, perhaps in a natural depression. At least 16 individuals, including four children and one infant, were represented in the skeletal material examined from

this level. The total number of individuals buried there originally is certainly many times greater; bones are known to have been falling out of the cliff for many decades, and there was no sign that the archaeological team had exhausted the deposit by the end of the season. The numbers of individuals represented and the approximate east-west orientation of the better-preserved skeletons indicate that this was a Christian mass burial. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

There is no archaeological evidence that can be used to accurately date any of the strata. The first edition of Ordnance Survey map and the presence elsewhere on the island of a mid 19th-century (Famine?) and later graveyard gives a terminus ante quem for most of the archaeological remains. About l00m to the south of the site is Templefeheen. An Early Christian church rebuilt in the late middle ages. The proximity of the burials to this building is no coincidence, but it has not yet been established to which period of the building's use the burials belong. A cross-section of a wall exposed directly above some of the skeletons in the lower level may belong to a medieval cemetery feature.

A shaped piece of mica-schist (part of a cross-slab?) and sherds of coarse pottery are the only significant finds. They were stratified in the two middens which preserved both shells and animal bones. The pottery was found at the lowest level in the cliff-face. It was probably made locally.
Tadhg O'Keeffe, 102 Palmerstown Drive, Dublin 20.





Copyright for the database resides with Wordwell Ltd in association with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland, and for the individual reports with the authors.
Site designed by Aisling Flood, Wordwell Ltd. Database software and hosting by HostIreland.

Duchas logoHeritage Council logo