English fort discovered during Castlecomer hotel development

17th-century fort in Co Kilkenny would have defended settlers from Catholic natives

The angled bastion with red and white poles

The angled bastion with red and white poles

 

Excavation work during the development of a new hotel has led to the discovery of part of a 17th-century fort that was a major defence point for English settlers in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, under siege from local Catholics.

The find is likely to lead to more archaeological work in the coming months and years around the town, which has been proven as a strategically important settlement.

Construction workers digging on the site of the new Avalon House Hotel came across ruins of the fort last month, and archaeologists were immediately called in to establish the provenance and importance of the remains.

“It wasn’t known about before, at all,” Philip Kenny of Kilkenny Archaeology said. “It was a complete surprise. It’s a 17th-century artillery fort, from about the late 1630s or early 1640s and built to protect the river crossing in Castlecomer and the town of Castlecomer. The town wasn’t long established at that stage.”

The ruins were found to be part of a bastion, or strengthened corner point, of the fort, which was likely to have been about 110m long.

The main part of the fort is probably buried under buildings in that area of Castlecomer, around The Square, while parts of its ruins may be visible around the town.

Hold the fort

“It was designed to hold a whole lot of troops,” Mr Kenny said. “We found one of the bastions of the fort. Looking back over some of the old maps, we figured out the general size of it ... The place was besieged in 1641 for three months. It was held by English settlers and a garrison of 300 soldiers, and attacked by the Catholic Confederate Army.

Drone shot of the Castlecomer fort discovery (bottom of picture). Photograph: Dan Lenihan
Drone shot of the Castlecomer fort discovery (bottom of picture). Photograph: Dan Lenihan

“Castlecomer is a very important place because it’s on the road between Kilkenny and Dublin, so this fort would have been guarding one of the main river crossings, but Castlecomer was also important because of the iron and coal [from the local mines].”

The owners of the existing Avalon Inn guest house “did everything they were meant to do” when the discovery was made during development of the new hotel, due to open later this year.

Much of the old fort was dismantled during subsequent centuries, Mr Kenny said, with the stone used on other sites. “Big buildings like this became, effectively, like quarries.”

Warren Byrne, manager of the Avalon House Hotel, said it was “just pot luck” that the fort was discovered during digging work. “It’s not affecting any part of our development, it’s well down at the end of the site ... It’s an added attraction for us.”

A survey is likely to be done of the wider area to establish what fort walls are left in Castlecomer, with the findings to be published at a later date.