In May 2013 the county Architectural Conservation Officer, Risteard UaCróinín recently discovered the remains of a 16th century tower house across the river from the Rowan Tree Hostel, while surveying the area of phase two of the Ennis Flood Relief Scheme.
This little castle, which protected the town and Friary complex from the river, had been mentioned in numerous documents since the late 17th century. He requested the OPW to employ an archaeologist to investigate any sub-surface works on this and other recorded sites on the route of the scheme between Ennis and Clarecastle and a conservation engineer to advise on works to walls and built structures along the route.
Frank Coyne and Elaine Lynch of Aegis Archaeology Ltd. and John Britton and Associates were appointed in June and work has progressed steadily, helped by the phenomenal warm and dry weather.
Not only has the scheme been designed to protect the town from the horrendous floods experienced in the past but also to improve the quality of the historic built environment of the town.
The former “mix and match” river wall at Abbey Street car park has been rebuilt using a waterproof concrete barrier, faced on both sides in stone and lime. This will be capped with large, bevelled, limestone capstones, as was the system used by public works schemes during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The impressive, ashlar wall on Newbridge Road and outside the garda station, built in 1835, has been cleared of vegetation, repaired where necessary and re-pointed with hydraulic lime mortar. In areas where a masonry wall didn’t exist a re-enforced earthen bank will be raised and strengthened.
The archaeological excavations to date have yielded numerous architectural fragments and artefacts from the late medieval period and subsurface walls which will help fill in the blanks in the historic jigsaw of Ennis through eight centuries of occupation.
A comprehensive report will be published towards the end of the year.
According to Mr UaCróinín “These types of major infrastructural schemes often cause necessary interference with the archaeology and historic fabric of a town, but I believe we in Ennis have managed successfully to use it to the advantage of our rich archaeological and architectural heritage by careful advance planning, liaising with contractors, consultants, Government agencies and all who have an interest in protecting our unique Gaelic, medieval market town from damage and defacement.
“This policy of protecting and enhancing historic structures, supported by Ennis Town and Clare County Councils is beginning to and will continue to reap commercial rewards for the business people and residents of Ennis, into the future.”