US archaeologists unearth Inishbofin village

Short-lived settlement may have been wiped out by early 19th century famine

US archaeologists have excavated part of a “lost” village on the Galway island of Inishbofin which may have been wiped out by an early 19th century famine.

The team of 10 archaeologists from University of Notre Dame in Indiana have spent the last month working on the island, focusing on the remains of 14 houses on the southeast corner.

The settlement known as “Poirtins”, named after a little port, was well known to islanders.

However, it is new to archaeology, according to Connemara historian and archaeologist Michael Gibbons, who paid tribute to the US team's work.


It is believed that up to 100 people may have lived in the village, which comprised large, long single-storey thatched houses

Porcelain was found on the site, and the structure of the buildings was such that these were "successful residents" for the time, according to Dr Ian Kuijt, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who led the project with his wife Meredith Chesson.

"The monumental type of architecture was unusual, and the settlement was not marked on the 1776 map of Inishbofin which shows houses further to the north," Mr Gibbons notes.

The university team believes the settlement could have survived only 20 to 30 years before its demise.

Dr Kuijt believes it might have been affected by a downturn in fishing, or the tenant farmers may have been moved on by their landlord.

Another theory is that its population was struck by a famine in 1822 on the island.

A memorial slab in the island’s graveyard is dedicated to a priest who ministered to people dying of starvation and fever at that time.

Stone from the buildings in the village was then taken for road building and other relief works elsewhere.

The US team has been conducting works on Inishbofin and Inishark since 2006 as part of a project on cultural landscapes on the Irish coast.

Artefacts unearthed during their work have been exhibited in the island’s community centre. Some 21 of the island’s schoolchildren participated in the dig.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times