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Main Street Duleek, Co. Meath 2006





The excavation by Judith Carroll and Company was carried out on a medieval site prior to the construction of an apartment complex and associated buildings at Main Street, Duleek in County Meath. Archaeological excavations took place between 22 August and 29 November 2006.

The excavations at Main Street, Duleek were carried out under an extension of a previous license (04E654) issued for the trial testing phase of the project which we carried out in 2004.

The site was located in the north-east corner of the medieval town of Duleek. The town itself had its beginnings as a pre-Norman monastic enclosure. The curvilinear shape of the outer enclosure can be traced in the curving line of Main St to the south and south-east, Larrix St to the north, and a disused lane and field boundary to the north-west.

The origin of Duleek's name also seems to support its monastic origins. It is derived from 'damh liac', meaning 'stone building'. This stone building is reported to have been built in the 5th century when St. Patrick established a bishopric, instating St. Cianan, who died in AD 489.





The building is said to be on the site of the present St. Cianan's church within the enclosure. From 783 onwards the Annals of Ulster record the names of the abbots of Duleek. The annals imply also that Duleek was a settlement at the time of the early monastery. Repeated entries record that Duleek was burnt or pillaged and that houses were destroyed and people killed. An entry in the annals for 1183 reports that Duleek was captured and that 80 houses were burned.

In 1172 Hugh de Lacy was granted the kingdom of Meath by Henry II. He established a monastery in Duleek for Canons Regular of St Augustine, a cell of Llanthony near Gloucester (Cuffe 1963, 29). The early 13th century saw Duleek becoming a borough under Walter de Lacy

An earthen motte was constructed around this time, and was most likely situated to the east of the proposed development site close to the junction of Main Street with Station Road. This area is referred to by locals as 'The Moate', and it appears that this is a derivative of the word 'Motte'. The motte is of significance to this excavation, as it was directly across the river tributary on the east side of the site. The site of the motte which is no longer standing was excavated by Kieran Campbell (licence no. E209) in 1981. Medieval and post medieval pottery as well as a horseshoe of medieval date was found on the site (Campbell 1981).

There are several references to 'The Moate' from the historical records. Local historian Peter Moss, in an article from a Duleek Parish Magazine from the 1970's noted that 'according to an old drawing of 1725, it stood about sixty feet high and on the top were five or six trees.' In an account of the area by antiquarian Austin Cooper (1759-1830), who visited Duleek in June 1783, and drew several of the local monuments, it was noted that: 'At the N. side of this town stands a large Danish Mount, wch. being composed of good gravel is very much cut away and will in a short time be all taken away.' (Wright 2001, 175). From present and past accounts a possible history of 'The Moate' can be pieced together. It is likely that the original structure was an Anglo-Norman motte (Fig. 3). The building of a motte was usually the initial phase of Norman conquest, composed of a large, flat-topped, earthen fortification, strategically located followed later by the establishment of a manor.





Further evidence to suggest this being the site of the motte comes from a botanical survey conducted by Donal Synnott (1980) on the area: Mallow (Malva sylvestris), a plant used to make a soothing gelatinous unction for throats and chest complaints, and black horehound (Ballota nigra), apparently used against the 'fomentations' of mad dogs, were both located near the site of 'The Moate', and do not occur anywhere else in Duleek (Synnott 1980, 18). It is likely that these plants were first introduced into Ireland by the Normans and they are frequently found near old Norman castles, mottes, and abbeys (ibid, 18). If this was indeed the site of the Anglo-Norman motte, then the excavations described herein were located in the centre of two separate phases of Duleek's past; ecclesiastical and Anglo-Norman.

In 1598, Duleek was listed as a market town, and in 1654 the Civil Survey records the presence of 51 houses, St. Cianan's church, a priory, a stone house called the 'colledge', a mill and two stone bridges.

Excavation at the site at Main Street, Duleek revealed four main phases of activity. Phase 1 consisted of a number of ditches and gullies located below the foundations of a structure. Phase 2, to which the main concentration of features was assigned, consisted of a structure, with an apparent yard created by a wall and cobbled surface, with a number of related ditches and pits. Phase 3 describes the continuous silting up of most of the site over time. This consistent silting process was due mainly to flooding from the nearby river (located to the east of the site) and continued from the time the Phase 2 structure at Main St. Duleek fell into disuse, until modern flood defences were erected in the 1990's. Phase 4 comprised a number of post-medieval features which were uncovered on the site. The majority of these features served drainage purposes and were constructed as the silting of the site continued, in order to alleviate the flooding in the area


Campbell, K. 1981. 'Commons, Duleek: archaeological excavation report'. Unpublished report lodged with The Heritage Service and the National Museum of Ireland.
Cuffe, P, 1963. 'The Priory of DuleekÓ. Riocht na Midhe, III, I, 29-32.
Synnott, D. 1980. 'A Common Green, Duleek; The Botany and History of a Meath Commonage' Duleek Historical Society
Wright, A. 2001. 'Moat or Mount?' in Duleek Heritage, The Parish of Duleek. 175-6.



Judith Carroll & Co Ltd
Archaeological Consultants
Ballybrack Road 
Dublin 18 

Tel: 01 6705067
Mobile: 087-9968819/ 087-3810933
Email: info@judithcarrollandco.ie
Website: www.judithcarrollandco.ie

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