Day 3 “You can’t always get what you want…” The immortal words of Mick Jagger were ringing through my head all last night as I grumpily accepted the reality that the deposition of the 1970s rubble that we uncovered in trenches 2, 4 and 5 had effectively erased any earlier archaeology that might have been present in those locations.
By the end of Wednesday, we were forced to abandon our careful method of sieving every trowelful of soil out of those three units in favour of a more expedient strategy to get through the remarkably thick jumble of concrete, tar macadam, plastic wrappers, rotting cardboard, broken floor tiles and, in trench 2, what looked to be a large rusting piece of car engine (!) in the vain hope that below this deposit might survive the old ground surface. But alas, that seems not to be the case. Sarah’s rubble is still continuing at a depth of c. 70cm below the ground surface, while Ruth’s unit rapidly filled with water when she reached a depth of a half metre. It seems likely that her unit lies within the original footprint of the fish pond, given its depth and wetness.
But on to the sad story of my trench 5, which as you may recall I picked especially because we encountered resistance when hammering in the grid nails… After removing what seemed like several hundred weight of concrete and asphalt, I reached a very large piece of conglomerate concrete laying at a 30 degree angle covering nearly the entire unit. In a failed effort to make me feel better, Nick described this particular unit thus: ‘I can’t imagine a more futile test trench…’ I bade goodbye to this trench just before lunch, after taking photographs and drawing the western section.
Meanwhile, Emily’s trench 7 was blissfully free of 1970’s landscaping fill, but sadly also appeared devoid of any archaeological soils below a depth of 10 cm. Fortunately, her next trench, a one metre square unit also situated in an area that the geophysical prospecting detected some type of anomaly, is looking far more productive. Phewww. All is not lost!
Inevitably, every archaeological excavation brings its surprises, some good, some not so good. No matter how carefully you try to anticipate what may lay buried beneath the ground surface, and however carefully you devise an appropriate sampling strategy, reality usually intrudes and forces a rethink.
I certainly expected to find some evidence of park landscaping activity as well as traces of the houses around the site that we knew had been demolished in the mid-twentieth century, but I didn’t expect quite so much disturbance! But to be honest, it is the capacity of the archaeological record to constantly surprise that keeps us going back to the field. If we knew what we were going to find, there would be little point in digging!
So, now that we know the general location of the landscaping fill, Ruth and I have started excavating two new one-metre square units situated on the margins of our defined grid. One of these may bring us closer to the possible location of Thomas Phillips’ manor house, which according to the 1622 Raven illustration was a sizable masonry structure featuring an ornate projecting first floor window with leaded lights, entered through an ornate arched doorway.
There remains some ambiguity about the relationship between the castle and the manor house in terms of Phillips’ occupation. Phillips clearly re-edified the castle, but his own survey of 1622 suggests he had built and was residing not in the castle, but in the manor house. Perhaps he viewed the castle, which had certainly provided ample habitation space and comfort for the O’Cahans, as somehow old fashioned – even though English servitors like himself were residing in tower houses elsewhere in Ulster.
Of course we can’t forget that the only record of the manor house comes from the 1622 survey produced by Phillips himself and recorded pictorially by Thomas Raven - working for Thomas Phillips.
It will take archaeology to determine the actual existence and appearance of the manor house. The tests units may give us our first clue as to the nature of the structure, although evaluating the manor house is not a primary goal of this particular project.
I am still very keen on finding evidence for Thomas Phillips’ brewhouse, which judging from Raven’s map, should be in the vicinity of Ruth’s new test units, Trench 10. More on why Phillips had a brewhouse and why it may be important to understanding the relations between the English and the Irish in the early 17th century another day…19af