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Dick Cronin, Conservation Officer with Clare County Council, and Frank Coyne, Aegis archaeologist, looking at some of the iron furniture of an 18th century sluice gate found while work was underway in the Fergus Flood Relief Scheme in Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Sluice gates fittings a ‘major find’

THE discovery of iron fittings attached to old sluice gates in Ennis dating back to the mid-1800s has been described as significant find in the industrial heritage of the county town.
That’s the view of Clare County architectural conservation officer and archaeologist, Risteard UaCróinín after archaelogists from Limerick-based ÆGIS Archaeology Limited found a large volume of iron cogs, ratchets, bolts and other iron fitting totalling about a ton, which came from old sluice gates, near the Fish Pass on the Mill Road.
These ironworks are now in the possession of Ennis Town Council and may be exhibited at a future date.
Consulant archaeologist Frank Coyne, who was part of the team monitoring flood-relief works in the town since last March, agrees this find is very important in assessing the industrial heritage of the town.
“They were part of the sluice gates controlling the River Fergus dating to the mid-1800s. The sluice gates rotted and they fell into the river. The wood rotted away but the iron was so heavy it didn’t wash down the river.
“We were able to retrieve almost all of the iron furniture from the sluice gates. To find an entire assemblage of iron fittings is a major find. They were taken immediately out of the river and given to Ennis Town Council,” he said.
The archaeologists are not finished monitoring yet and will continue this work while the contractors are in place.
They also carried out extensive excavations near the Abbey Club Bridge, across from the Rowan Tree Hostel and discovered a portion of the quay wall was curved inwards, which suggests there was a quay or a landing place there.
There is quite a thick wall at the back of one of the buildings there and this was referenced in Brian O’Dalaigh’s Ireland’s Historic Towns atlas.
Mr UaCróinín also examined this location and Mr Coyne noted that the reference citing the Earl of Thomond’s house suggests there may have been some medieval activity at this location near the car park.
The archaeologists found a lot of post-medieval pottery and glass remains dating back to 18th to 19th century.
They also discovered the ground level was raised and the river was narrowed when the quay wall was built.
A lot of top soil was also dumped at this location, which isn’t believed to be associated with the medieval layers used at the time.
Other walls were also discovered and remains of buildings shown in maps at this location in the 1840s. This would suggest medieval activity in this area.
Following extensive work, Mr Coyne said they believe the medieval remains are probably located under the road between the car park and Ennis Friary.
It is believed that the River Fergus was a lot wider and slower moving before the quay wall was built.

About John Galvin

Motoring editor - The Clare Champion Former Chairman and voting member of Irish Motoring Writers' Association

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