Men buried under Cork pub met 'violent and gruesome' end

The first skeletal remains were unearthed at the site of Nancy Spain's pub on October 7, 2021 with the remains of five other males being located at the site on Barrack Street in the immediate aftermath.
Men buried under Cork pub met 'violent and gruesome' end

View of excavated section through the ditch with fills visible, facing west (© John Cronin & Associates)

THE six males whose skeletal remains dating back centuries were found in a shallow grave last year under Nancy Spain’s Public House met a ‘violent and gruesome end’, archaeological investigations have determined.

The first skeletal remains were unearthed at the site of Nancy Spain's pub on October 7, 2021 with the remains of five other males being located at the site on Barrack Street in the immediate aftermath.

Archaeologists say that the men were aged between 18 to 25 and had their hands tied behind their backs.

Four were buried together in a mass grave and the individuals had been buried in a head to toe manner. This information has enabled experts to conclude they met a violent and gruesome end.

Ms Niamh Daly, the osteo-archaeologist, said the six individuals were not treated in a ‘respectful manner’. “The context of the burials and the way they were placed in the burial pit indicates that they were not treated in a respectful manner. It was evident that all four individuals were buried in a manner which suggests that the hands/wrists were bound behind the backs, and it is likely that the feet/ankles were also bound.” The estimated sex, age and the nature and position of burial points to a military connection for the revealed remains.

The period of death indicated by the radiocarbon dating was a turbulent and violent time in Irish history, with Munster and Cork the focus of several significant events.

 View of excavated section through the ditch with fills visible, facing west (© John Cronin & Associates)
View of excavated section through the ditch with fills visible, facing west (© John Cronin & Associates)

Such events included the first Desmond Rebellion (1569 – 1573), the second Desmond Rebellion (1579 – 1583), the Nine Years War (1593 – 1603) which culminated with the Battle of Kinsale, and a revolt in Cork City in 1603.

Small fragments of bone taken from two of the skeletons to facilitate radiocarbon dating have returned dates from the period between AD 1447 and 1636. It is hoped that ongoing post-excavation work will provide greater clarity and accuracy on burial date of the revealed individuals.

Archaeologists also discovered a defensive ditch about 80m away on the same site which has been dated, through radiocarbon dating, to the period between the early 11th and mid-12th century, a time when the city was being developed by the Hiberno-Scandinavians – descendants of the Vikings who had intermixed with native Irish people The archaeological excavation revealed a section of a ditch measuring 24m in length (northwest to southeast), up to 9.6m wide and up to 2.9m deep.

Overhead view of the skeletons revealed within the mass burial pit (© John Cronin & Associates)
Overhead view of the skeletons revealed within the mass burial pit (© John Cronin & Associates)

City Archaeologist Ciara Brett said the uncovering of the ditch at the site is a ‘highly significant’ archaeological discovery for Cork city. “This area formed part of the suburbs of the medieval city and is therefore of important historical and archaeological significance. The ditch was not known about prior to excavation. There is no record in the historical sources, neither documentary nor cartographic, of the existence of such a substantial feature in this part of the city.” 

Mr David Murphy, the archaeologist who excavated the site, said: “The Barrack Street ditch discovery raises new questions on the extent of the late 11th / early 12th century Hiberno-Scandinavian settlement in Cork. The presence of this defensive ditch feature, some 300 metres upslope and to the southwest of the accepted area of settlement, may suggest that the settlement was more extensive than previously thought.”

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