Monday, 1 July 2013

Excavation completed at Derrywoone

Well the excavation finished last week and all that was really left to do on the last day was to pack up the archive and back fill all the trenches.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the school children, teachers, volunteers and interested parties who visited the dig over the past five weeks and made this project such a success.

We would also like to thank Baronscourt Estate managers Robert and Matt and the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn for their hospitality and for kindly granting permission for the excavation.

As post-excavation analyses and research continues we will keep the blog updated with any important findings! 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Year Two - Derrywoone Open Day

We had our on site open day  last Saturday 22 June and it was very successful, despite the poor weather conditions. 

Tour of site on Open Day
David and Niamh from Claíomh - Irish Living History & Military Heritage put on an impressive display of weaponry, dress and domestic items of the period. Unfortunately we had to have this indoors as there were frequent downpours throughout the day. For more information about Claíomh and their work visit their website ( or their facebook page ( 

David and Niamh from Claíomh


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Our last school group had a special treat – since the trees were cleared we were able to allow this group into the castle for their tour! They loved it. 
School group inside the castle

Digging and sieving was the highlight for nearly all the school visits – at the end of the day everyone just wanted to get mucky..
Sieving for finds!

On the archaeology front we were able to open a few more small cuttings around the castle.  One of these new cuttings revealed cobbles at the western end of the castle extending right round to its eastern end. So anyone approaching the front door of the castle would have walked over a fine cobbled yard!    
Cobbled surface outside castle

Monday, 24 June 2013

Week 4 - excavations within the castle ruins

The trees were cleared from the inside of the castle and it gives a whole added dimension to the internal area – it looks even more impressive! – here you can see clearly the fireplaces at each level of the building. 

This picture (below) is certainly proof that the castle building was roofed with slate – this is a fragment of perforated slate integrated as part of the wall construction, jammed between the stones!

We found this curious possible metal object today which has left us stumped if anyone has any ideas - answers on a post-card (or blog comment might be better)….;-)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Week 4 and the sun is shining!

The sun is back and pieces of the archaeological jig-saw are finally falling into place.

We are now certain that the large walls to the west of the castle are the foundations of the bawn wall and not an extension of the main building. Also the cobbles in this area represent the yard surface in the bawn. We have also confirmed that there is no cellar at Derrywoone; a feature which would not be uncommon in such a castle. The southern sections of the bawn wall remain elusive but we will keep trying! Interestingly we have discovered some earlier features under the old ground surface at the west of the castle which may be evidence of previous occupation at the site, which, given its fantastic setting, would not be surprising (hopefully radiocarbon dating will confirm this…)

Some other interesting finds so far this week… we found a curious pit (see below) immediately outside of the bawn wall containing animal bone and a dump of lime mortar at its base. This could be tantalising evidence of the construction phase of the castle – it could be a pit used for mixing/preparing the mortar during the construction of the bawn wall with the animal bones perhaps the rubbish from the workman’s lunch!

Pit outside of bawn wall
We also found the base of what looks like a small cup from the same feature (IMG320) – Agnieszka is our hand model for the day.

We also had our fourth school visit today. We were impressed by the children’s almost perfect trowelling line while Stephen showed the children Timo’s ground floor plan of the castle (something he is very proud of! – it is quite good actually).

School group try their hand at excavation
Group get a tour of the castle by Stephen

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Rainy days...

Despite a few very heavy downpours our third school visit went off well although everyone did get rather wet! 

School visit in the rain!

We also discovered the lower part of a broken quernstone in the topsoil just to the south of the castle! 

Quern stone fragment

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Week Three - Bawn wall

Well its week 3 already and things are moving on very quickly; aided in no small part by the unexpected fine weather of the last week

We're making good progress excavating and recording in the castle cuttings and think that we have identified the north-west corner of the castle!

Probable north-west corner of castle

We think that we may have identified the bawn wall to the south of the castle. The location of this matches almost perfectly the measurements detailed in the 1622 survey so the question remains as to the full western extent of the bawn?

We also started digging in earnest  inside the castle and through the entrance. We hope to uncover the nature of the entrance threshold and what the approach/path to the door would  have looked like whilst investigating the internal ground floor area – also hoping for lots of cool finds too ;-)

Cutting inside the castle

Friday, 7 June 2013

Investigating the castle and bawn

We have set out some cuttings adjacent to the western extent of the castle ruins in which we hope to be able to trace the line of the enclosing bawn wall and possibly identify some buildings which may have been located between the wall and the castle. This wall would have surrounded the castle and defended it from attack. We have some detail about the bawn from an account in 1622 which describes the work at Derrywoone as a fair stone howse, 4 stories high, which is almost finished, and a bawne of stone and lyme, 90 foot long, 70 foot broad and 14 foot high. The house takes up almost the full bawne. As soon as it is finished, he [Hamilton] intends to dwell there himself’

We're finding small sherds of pottery, roof slate and animal bone in these cuttings and hopefully  analysis of these finds will provide evidence for the activities undertaken in this part of the castle. 

Cuttings adjacent to the castle
Possible line of the bawn wall
Pitch cobbled area - possible yard or floor surface

Thursday, 6 June 2013

First School Visit

We had our first visit to site by a group of National School students the other day. The sun was shining and fun was had by all! Site director Fintan gave a tour of the castle and geophysical survey area and the eager group had plenty questions for him. Hopefully their curiosity was answered for one day and they went home with an interest in 17th century castles and history!

Site tour by director Fintan

Following the site tour the students took part in excavation activities. Some of the group got stuck in digging in one of the trenches while others tried sieving the soil to look for finds. The students got to talk to all of the archaeologists on site throughout the day and question them on their work. Some of the surveying techniques were also shown to the group. A very active, fun-filled, day for all!

Students try their hand at digging

Sieving soil for finds

Survey Techniques - using the level

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Derrywoone - Week One Progress

Well we're a week into our excavation at Derrywoone Castle and have been very lucky with the weather. Progress continues at a steady pace and the crew are keeping tabs on who can keep the tidiest sod stockpile  - Tony seems to be winning at the moment ;-)

Tony and his impressively neat stockpile!
We're already finding some nice features including a path in Cutting 1 and brick, mortor in Cutting 2. The path in Cutting 1 appears to represent that shown on the first edition six-inch OS map. While this may be an 18th demesne feature it is possible that this represents an older route associated with the castle occupation.

Cutting 1
Path in Cutting 1

The section of path appears to correspond to a north-south running path to the east of the castle on the first edition six-inch OS map.

First edition six-inch OS map showing Derrywoone Castle, annotated as 'Old Castle'.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Day One at Derrywoone Castle

We started our Year Two excavation at Derrywoone Castle on Tuesday; a bright sunny day (its always nicer in the north - or so Fintan says)! The setting of the castle is beautiful, surrounded by green park land.

We set about organising our cabins and our surveyor James set out the trench cuttings. The crew got busy removing the sod from the trenches.

Some of these trenches will investigate possible features shown on the geophysical survey which was undertaken by Joanna Leigh. We hope to find some evidence for tenant houses associated with the castle. The geophysical survey highlighted some linear features and blobs which could be of interest. We also set out Cuttings around the castle and we hope to start them next week - all very exciting!

We had some very nosy neighbours watching the proceedings with curiosity....... :-)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Year Two - Derrywoone Castle, Barons Court, Co. Tyrone

For the second year of the Ulster Scots Archaeological Project we will be looking at the site of Derrywoone Castle in Co. Tyrone.

The castle was built soon after 1619 by Sir George Hamilton of Greenlawe in Scotland as the successor to the O’ Neill 15th century tower on Island MacHugh in the nearby lake (shown below in the aerial image and first edition OS map). A typically Scottish feature present at Derrywoone is the finely carved corbelled-out staircase beside the doorway (shown in picture above). 

A survey, undertaken in 1622, records that, at Derrione (Derrywoone), Hamilton had begun to build a ‘fair stone howse, 4 stories high, which is almost finished, and a bawne of stone and lyme, 90 foot long, 70 foot broad and 14 foot high. The house takes up almost the full bawne. As soon as it is finished, he [Hamilton] intends to dwell there himself

A large number of British families are recorded as planted at ‘Derrione’ including two freeholders, 10 leaseholders and 6 cottagers. The survey records that between Derrione and Cloghogenall an additional 88 Irish families reside. One of the aims of the upcoming research excavation will be to try and identify this settlement. 

We hope to undertake test excavations in the area beginning next week and will keep the blog updated with our results. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

'Ulster Unearthed' features Servant's Hill!!

Well post-excavation analyses are well underway and we hope to have some results, including radiocarbon dates, in the coming weeks. The final report detailing the excavation results and interpretation of site will then be written by the director, Fintan Walsh. We will update the blog with any important results so remember to check back with us! 

The episode of  'Ulster Unearthed' focusing on our excavations at Servant's Hill was aired on Monday night at 8pm on UTV. It was a very interesting show and was very well put together as it highlighted all elements of the project - historical background research, excavation and community involvement. I hope some of the little diggers featured in the episode were excited with their TV appearance and i'm sure it will be remembered as a great day out! If you missed the show on Monday night it will be available for a short period on the UTV Player here. Hope you enjoyed watching as much as we did!

We hope to start work on the next research excavation in May! We will update the blog soon with more details!
Filming in progress on site in Bangor