26 Sept 2022

Portlaoise artefacts found in historic dig

Heritage of 16th century Laois fort uncovered by archaeologists

Portlaoise artefacts found in historic dig

By Lynda Kiernan @laoisnews

The first ever archaeological dig in Portlaoise was held this week at the base of the town's historic fort walls, uncovering fascinating items from the past.

Three archaeologists with Gort Archaeology carefully dug in the hot sun in the old Shaws carpark in Portlaoise all last week, in a weeklong 'test excavation' to discover more about the town's 16th century English fort walls.

In what excavation director Dr Eoin Sullivan described as “keyhole surgery”, the three dug a metre down and found not just a range of artefacts dating back to the 1500's, but a preserved path and gully built by the English army outside their fort.

“This little 5m by 1metre section has told us that the maps are right. What we didn't expect to find was that beside the wall was a walkway between the wall and a ditch, and in the ditch we have found a wooden gully. The wood survived because it was deep enough,” he said.

“We reckon after they built the fort, there was diffi culty with flooding, so they imported clay to make the raised path,” he said.

They have also found many pieces of glazed pottery from the mid 1500's, including one with a lovely raised wheel design.

“I am not sure if it is a piece of a tile or a bowl, but it is post medieval so it came from the time the fort was in full swing,” Dr Sullivan said.

There are also pieces of clay pipes, teacups, and from the 19th century, a donkey shoe and several horse shoes, when there was a smithy on the site. On Friday they uncovered a millstone.

“This is really about finding what activity went on here. Archaeology is about people not things,” said Dr Sharon Greene, senior supervisor on the site.

Portlaoise archaeologist Sean Murray, was thrilled with the dig.

“It's almost a dream come true, since I was a child I've walked past the fort and wondered about it. It's really interesting that we have found this road that people walked across in the 1500's,” said Sean, who works by day in Abbeyleix Heritage Centre, and runs the Laois Archeology facebook page.

“Hopefully the council keeps investing in heritage projects like this,” he said.

Many shopowners, residents and children from the Holy Family schools visited the excavation, welcomed by the archaeologists who happily explained their work.

The dig was funded by Laois County Council and Laois Heritage, and the site will soon become part of the town's new county library.

The Fort Protector was the first English garrison built in Ireland, still 75 percent intact, with some walls absorbed into town buildings.

It is now the subject of a conservation project by Laois Heritage Society, funded by the Heritage Council and Laois County Council.

The Old Fort Quarter Festival takes place in Portlaoise on June 2, 24 and 25.

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