"Extremely lucky" archaeologists find evidence of 15th century settlement near Northern Irish castle

By Ben Miller | 14 January 2015

Scientific dating leads archaeologists to "extremely exciting" early settlement near ruined 13th century castle

A photo of a man digging a square brown archaeological pit in front of a greenfield castle
A post-excavation shot of the late 15th or early 16th century structure found near Dunluce Castle, showing the doorway in the corner© DOE/NIEA
Archaeologists searching for a lost 17th century town say the remains of a fireplace, found in a field near a medieval Irish coastal castle, was part of a previously unknown settlement which could have been established 200 years earlier.

Radiocarbon dating from the clay floor of a structure, discovered by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, suggests an earlier community could have lived in Dunluce during the late 15th and 16th centuries.

A photo of a man digging a field
Organisers are hoping to win Heritage Lottery Fund support for a fuller investigation© DOE/NIEA
“This area was targeted for excavation as it was expected that remains of the 17th century town survived there,” says Mark H Durkan, the Environment Minister for Northern Ireland.

“The archaeologists found the remains of a stone-built structure that had a doorway at the corner, which is quite different to the 17th century buildings revealed to date.

“A fireplace in the building has been scientifically dated to the late 15th century. This leads archaeologists to suspect an earlier phase of settlement.

“Up to now we knew there was a substantial 17th century settlement in the fields around Dunluce.

“What we are now beginning to uncover are traces of earlier and extensive late medieval settlement activity which are equally as important as the remains of the 17th century Dunluce Town.”

As the 13th century Lords of the Route, the McQuillan family built a stronghold at the now-ruined castle around 500 years ago. Pottery from the late medieval period was also found.

“Traces of buildings were unearthed close to the cliffs upon which the castle was built,” says Durkan.

“This is a tremendously exciting historical development.

“These buildings most likely formed a small settlement just outside the original castle gate.

“They pre-date the later expansion of the castle complex and development of 17th century Dunluce Town.

“Very few 15th century buildings, other than those built entirely from stone, have survived in Ulster and normally there would be few traces, if any, for archaeologists to investigate.

“We are extremely lucky to make this exciting discovery.”

Organisers are now planning a major project to reveal more buried remains from the town and the castle gardens.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a large ancient silver coin
A 17th century merchant's seal matrix found during the excavation© DOE/NIEA
A photo of a hand carrying a piece of ancient pottery in front of a green grass field
Late medieval Ulster coarse ware pottery© DOE/NIEA
A photo of two people digging up stones in a muddy brown field archaeology pit
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency dig centred on part of a fireplace© DOE/NIEA
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Latest comment: >Make a comment
If what I have read about Ireland's history ,archaeologists have only scratched the surface. About 5% of what is still down there. I am a descendant of the Hamilton Family of Killyleagh Castle. I live in Nova Scotia, but I love Irish History. Keep digging. Kind Regards from Canada, Bob G, U.E.L.
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