Council workers carrying out roadworks in Athenry, Co Galway, have made an important medieval discovery. The workers, who were preparing the ground for a new roundabout on the main Galway road, uncovered a portion of the town’s main entrance gate. It was excavated by archaeologist Ronan Jones, working on behalf of Galway County Council and Hickey Homes, who are building a housing development nearby. The gate, in an area known locally as Swan’s Gate, is believed to date from the early 14th century.
Most of the original town wall of Athenry, which is surrounded by a moat, is still standing, and it has five out of its six towers. However, only the north gate, one of its five gates, remains, and until now nothing of the other four had been discovered. The approximate site of Swan’s Gate, originally called the Lorro Gate, was known, but its exact position was uncertain. The find is 7 metres in length, 2 metres thick at its base and 2 feet high. It is part of the eastern wall of the gate tower, which would have formed an arch over the main roadway into the town.
According to Etienne Rynne, emeritus professor of archaeology at NUI Galway, it is a significant find. “Though only the lower courses of the wall remain, they are important in showing the actual site and the thickness of the eastern wall of the gate tower, and undoubtedly it ranks as one of the most important late medieval military architectural discoveries in Ireland within several years,” he said. The wall is currently being prepared for recording and a local group, the Athenry Town Wall Committee, hopes that it can be preserved in situ and displayed. “Athenry town walls are in an exceptional state and this discovery is the most interesting we have had in many years,” Dr Rynne said. “If they do not widen the road quite so much, it could be preserved visibly as it is.” He said that the committee was planning to hold a special meeting to further its aim.
Athenry began its existence with the erection of a castle by Meyler de Bermingham, second baron of Athenry, in 1238. The medieval town received a grant from the king in 1310 to collect money to build a protective wall, and this was reputedly raised from the loot collected after the Battle of Athenry in 1316, in which the Anglo-Norman army of Richard de Burgo and Meyler de Bermingham defeated the Irish forces led by Felim O’Connor. Tomorrow, the town will celebrate Irish Walled Towns Day along with other walled towns around the country, including Derry and Cork. Its programme of events will include a re-enactment of military, social and economic scenes of early medieval life, as well as falconry, stone-cutting and archery demonstrations.
Written by Fiona Gartland
Published here 13 Feb 2021 and originally published 25th August 2007
Page 018 of Medieval Athenry
Loro Gate, Swangate, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland
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