Mannan Castle excavation

MANNAN CASTLE, DONAGHMOYNE Anglo-Norman motte, baileys and stone castle remains SMR 28:118 99E0044 The site of Mannan Castle is on
the south-facing slope of a limestone drumlin ridge c. 2 miles to
the north-east of the town of Carrickmacross and commands a panoramic
view of the surrounding countryside. The site is composed of a motte
and inner bailey connected by a causeway with an accompanying bank/ditch
formation and an outer bailey without any bank/ditch. The stone
ruins of a castle are on top of the motte, inner bailey and causeway.

The earliest archaeological survey of the site was carried out
by Henry Morris and published in the County Louth Archaeological
and Historical Journal in 1910. This survey was somewhat incomplete,
and Morris stated in his report that ‘the place is so overgrown
with nettles, briars, and other kinds of brushwood that it is almost
impossible to make perfectly accurate measurements, but the ones
given in this article are as careful as I could make them’ (Morris
1910, 263). There are brief descriptions of the site of Mannan Castle
in Orpen 1908, 265; McKenna 1920, 398-400; and Brindley 1982, 90.

In March 1994 Donaghmoyne Community Development Committee, with
the assistance of FÁS, initiated a Community Employment Scheme,
the objective being to clear the excess shrubs etc. from the site
of Mannan Castle in order that a full archaeological survey could
be carried out. Permission was sought from the National Monuments
and Historic Properties Division, then of the Office of Public Works,
for this clearance work to be carried out under the supervision
of a qualified archaeologist. Permission was granted, and in June
1994 this clearance work began. By June 1995 the site had been cleared.
Kieran O’Conor carried out the first detailed archaeological survey
of the site, while Kevin Barton, aided by Joseph Fenwick and Martina
McCarthy, carried out topographical, magnetic susceptibility, magnetic
gradiometry and resistivity surveys.

In conjunction with the archaeological and geophysical surveys,
the early and medieval history of the parish of Donaghmoyne was
researched. The results are contained in a report lodged with Dúchas
The Heritage Service in August 1998 (Moore 1998).

During the 1190s the Pipard family had gained a foothold in the
area of Donaghmoyne (Lawlor 1914-16, 314-23) and set about consolidating
their position by constructing a motte and bailey(s) (described
in the Annals of Loch Cé as a ‘caisleán’) in 1197, ‘Caisslen Domnaigh
Maighen’ (Hennessy 1871, vol. 1, 186).

Why was Donaghmoyne chosen as the location for the Pipard motte
and bailey(s)? Tom McNeill has argued that the locations of Anglo-Norman
mottes, baileys and stone castles in Leinster were not part of defensive
strategy against either external attack or internal revolt but rather
for reasons of social status (McNeill 1989-90, 63). This would seem
to be the case for the choice of the site of Mannan Castle. Within
the townland of Donaghmoyne are the remains of the Early Christian
foundation of Domnach Maigen (SMR 28:116), along with two ringforts
or earthworks that surround the site of Mannan Castle (SMR 28:117
and 119), while another earthwork is recorded as having existed
to the east of the site in the townland of Tullynacross (SMR 28:120).
Also, two holy wells are close to the site of the castle-one dedicated
to St Brigit in the townland of Donaghmoyne, and one dedicated to
St Lasair in the adjacent townland of Aghavilla (SMR 28:121 and
124). Indeed the name Aghavilla is derived from the old Irish Ached
Bile ‘the field of the sacred tree’ and would suggest that this
place was of particular significance to the early inhabitants of
Donaghmoyne. It can be concluded that the area within the vicinity
of the early church site of Donaghmoyne was one of religious, social
and political significance during the early historic period and
that this was the reason why Roger Pipard constructed his caisleán

During the early decades of the 13th century the Pipard family
experienced difficulty holding onto their lands in Donaghmoyne.
In 1227 the Pipard lands were entrusted to Ralph Fitz Nicholas.
He immediately set about rebuilding the motte and bailey(s). In
1228 Fitz Nicholas was granted the service of (the men of) Meath
and Louth for forty days to help fortify the defences. Two years
later the grant was repeated when the Irish burned the castle of
Donaghmoyne. Fitz Nicholas then proposed to build a stone castle
on the site (Smith 1999, 46). This plan eventually came to fruition
in 1244, when the caisleán, or motte and bailey(s), at Donaghmoyne
was encastellated in stone: ‘Caislean Dhomnaigh Mhaighen do chumdach
hoc anno’ (Hennessy and MacCarthy 1887-1901, vol. 2, 302).

The remains of a small stone keep are still to be found on top
of the motte at Mannan Castle, while the remains of stone walls
still exist on top of the causeway and inner bailey.

At this stage it is necessary to ask what exactly was the nature
of the caisleán constructed in 1197. The fact that the annalist
of the Annals of Loch Cé states that the caisleán was covered in
stone in 1244 would suggest that before this no stone construction
was present on the site. It would be logical to assume, then, that
only an earthen and timber construction was built in 1197. Moreover,
from the archaeological remains it is clear that only the motte
and inner bailey were encastellated in stone in 1244. It could be
argued that the caisleán constructed in 1197 was made up of only
the motte and inner bailey and that in 1244, when the motte and
inner bailey were encastellated in stone, the outer bailey was constructed
to compensate for the loss of the area of the inner bailey. Of course
it must be admitted that this argument is primarily based on the
interpretation of the historical record and not on the evidence
of the archaeology of the site. It could also be the case that a
motte, inner bailey and outer bailey were all constructed in 1197
and that it was thought necessary or profitable only to fortify
the motte and inner bailey in 1244.

In conclusion, two of the major questions about the site of Mannan
Castle are, what was the nature and extent of the caisleán constructed
in 1197, and how did the encastellation of this caisleán in 1244
affect the pre-existing configuration of the site. It was with these
questions in mind that the present archaeological excavations at
the site took place.

The objectives of the 1999 excavations at the site of Mannan Castle
were to investigate that area at the southern extremity of the outer
bailey highlighted in the geophysical surveys as the possible location
for a perimeter ditch, to investigate the nature of ditch between
the inner and outer baileys, and to investigate the area immediately
to the south of the uppermost pond, to determine whether there was
a palisade on top of the exterior bank at the north-west of the

Eleven cuttings were excavated. Cuttings 1-6 were on the outer
bailey, Cuttings 7-10 were within and on the sides of the ditch
between the inner and outer baileys, and Cutting 11 was immediately
to the south of the pond at the north-west extremity of the site.

The outer bailey It is evident that the area of the outer bailey
had been ploughed to a depth of c. 0.5m. On account of this, all
of the uppermost layers in Cuttings 1-6 were disturbed. A total
of 366 artefacts were uncovered during the excavation of Cuttings
1-6. All of these must be interpreted as having been uncovered in
a disturbed environment. However, the huge amount of iron slag,
pottery and iron nails/ironworking tools found would suggest that
the southern part of the outer bailey was the location for intensive
industrial/ironworking activity. In support of this is the fact
that beneath the disturbed layers two working surfaces and a foundation
trench for a small structure/workshop were also uncovered in Cutting
1. A ditch feature that formed the western boundary of one of these
working surfaces was also revealed. Six sherds of medieval pottery
were found in the fill of this boundary ditch.

The uncovering of a very shallow perimeter ditch (c. 0.3m deep)
in Cutting 4 would suggest that the area of the outer bailey possessed
a surrounding ditch/palisade trench. The presence of this shallow
perimeter ditch feature had been indicated by the geophysical surveys.

The ditch between the inner and outer baileys The excavation in
the ditch area between the inner and outer baileys revealed that
the ditch was U-shaped and made up of a shallow, homogeneous fill.
This was a black, gritty silt and was c. 0.35m deep.

The most noteworthy feature uncovered in the area of ditch was
a stone-and-earthen foundation on top of the north-western perimeter
of the outer bailey. This was interpreted as the foundation for
a wooden structure that crossed the ditch. The existence of a crude
arrangement of stones on the berm-like structure in the ditch was
also noteworthy, as it may constitute the remains of a stone foundation
for the upright(s) for a wooden bridge connecting the inner and
outer baileys.

The lack of any medieval finds in the area of the ditch would suggest
that the north-western perimeter of the outer bailey was not an
area associated with any industrial/ironworking activity.

The area in the vicinity of the pond The limited excavation of
Cutting 11 did not reveal the existence of any palisade on top of
the outer ditch that surrounds the motte on its north-western extremity.

The excavation at Mannan Castle was funded by the National Monuments
and Historic Properties Service, Dúchas, on the recommendation of
the National Committee for Archaeology of the Royal Irish Academy.

Eoghan Moore, Prospect House, Dunsrim, Scotshouse, Co. Monaghan.