Treasure trove of artifacts found under Cork street

Archaeologists at work in Buttevant.

An archaeology dig in Buttevant, Co Cork, by a team of archaeologists during a €5m makeover of what was dubbed the worst main street in Ireland, has uncovered 2,788 artifacts.

It was always envisaged that archaeologists would be busy during the revamp of the main street in Buttevant, Co Cork, but the scale of the town’s history resulted in 16 of them being employed on the project, along with support staff.

Construction on the new road surface and footpaths got underway in February 2015, but its completion was delayed due to the scale of the archaeology uncovered.

Discoveries included a suspected northern gate tower and associated town wall opposite the convent, building foundations and layers of cobbled street surfaces. In addition, archaeologists also uncovered animal bones, pottery, tiles, bone combs, numerous coins, buttons, buckles, pins and clay wig curlers.

One of the layers contained a gold posy ring inscribed with the date of 1713.

Gold posy rings, some dating from 1713, were found during excavations
Gold posy rings, some dating from 1713, were found during excavations

Buttevant was a defensive walled town in medieval times. Historians believe it was originally built around 1208 by William de Barry.

It was initially populated by craftspeople, artisans, and other suppliers around a site to the north of the castle and church.

In 1234 David de Barry, William’s son, was granted permission to hold a weekly market and a yearly fair at his ‘Manor of Botavant’.

Archaeologists think the formal town pattern was designed in the 1230s, but only fully completed in the late 1250s or early 1260s.

The street was excavated as part of a €5m makeover.
The street was excavated as part of a €5m makeover.

In 1317 a grant was released to the town “to enclose it with walls”, although it is not known to what extent, if any, the town was walled prior to that.

Another grant, in 1375, makes reference to a “north gate”, remains of which may have been unearthed during the archaeological excavations. It was during the 16th century that Lombard’s Castle, on Richmond St, was constructed and it is recorded there had been several other small “castles” in Buttevant, although of what age is unknown.

A horseshoe found in excavations
A horseshoe found in excavations

The town was sacked in 1569 and more devastatingly in 1691. It remained in a state of stagnation through much of the 18th century, and it was not until the actions of John Anderson (who acquired Buttevant Castle from Richard Barry) and later his son, James Caleb Anderson, that the fortunes of the town were revived.

The €5m revamp was funded by Cork County Council and Transport Initiative Ireland. The project included reconstruction of the main road, drainage works, new footpaths, public lighting, and the ducting of cables underground.

Finds included this ceramic wig curler.
Finds included this ceramic wig curler.

Councillors in the Kanturk/ Mallow municipal district and representatives from the voluntary and business sectors in Buttevant set up a town partnership in 2015. They worked together identifying issues and solutions to develop and progress the social, environmental and economic development of the town.

To date, with the assistance of Cork County Council’s town development fund, the entrance roadway to the Muintir Na Tire hall has been resurfaced, the installation of CCTV for the town is under way, and there are many projects at development stages.

This copper alloy buckle was found during works
This copper alloy buckle was found during works

The population of today’s town value their history, but also value getting their street back after such a long wait and are planning to mark it with a big event today.Cork County Council is aiding Buttevant Community Council’s ‘Christmas Celebration Party,’ which will take place from 3pm to 6pm. The street will be packed with market stalls for the afternoon. Music will also be laid on and there will be fireworks in the evening.


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