Historic find in Co Clare

Archaeologists in County Clare believe they have discovered Ireland’s earliest surviving example of a timber framed house.

Dendrochronological analysis is expected to conclude that the timber structure at Chapel Lane, Parnell Street, Ennis, dates back to the late 16th century.

Ms. Irene Clune’s house, known as McParland’s, is long understood to have been the oldest inhabited house in the Clare County capital. The building’s triple diamond stone Jacobean chimney has been an icon of medieval Ennis for centuries.

The house was first inspected in 2008 by Clare County Council’s Conservation Officer, who recommended that the property undergo structural repair work. Following detailed technical analyses by the National Monuments Service and officials from Ennis Town Council and Consulting Conservation Engineers, it was concluded that the structure was unstable and represented a danger to the general public.

Ennis Town Council, using its statutory powers to deal with dangerous buildings, commenced a €170,000 project to make the building safe and to protect and restore the historic fabric of the structure. A grant of €85,000 was procured under the “Structures at Risk Scheme” from the Department of the Environment towards the restoration project.

During October 2011, the gable and chimney were carefully recorded, taken down and stored. At present the historic gable is being re-built using the original stones bedded in an authentic hydraulic-lime mortar, the floor of the house having been archaeologically excavated prior to this.

In recent weeks, archaeologists have discovered an oak frame structure which they have described as “potentially one of the most exciting urban archaeological discoveries in Ireland in recent years”.

Frank Coyne, Consultant Archaeologist from Aegis Archaeology Ltd, explained that the limited archaeological excavation has revealed a wealth of information.

“The existence of a foundation cut in the interior of the house indicates an earlier structure on the site, which is also borne out by the presence of large oak beams in the walls of the house. It is hugely significant that these beams are oak, which will enable us to use tree ring dating. If these prove to be of medieval date, which we believe is the case, then this means that this house is the only structure of its type in the county”, explained Mr. Coyne.

Commenting on the restoration project, Mayor of Ennis, Councillor Michael Guilfoyle, stated: “The works to McParland’s, when completed, will yield invaluable information on the traditional skills and construction techniques of Late Medieval Ennis. This work makes the building safe and protects a major piece of the history and character of Ennis. I have no doubt that the building will continue to be of tremendous interest to all those who have an appreciation of the importance of our heritage and the very fine examples of medieval architecture in the town.”

According to HTF Member David Humphreys of ACP Consultant Conservation Engineers, “Although built originally using crude rubble stone and weak mortar, the fact that this building has stayed intact up to the present is a tribute to the skills of the medieval masons, who possessed a great knowledge of their materials and confidence in their designs”.

Conservation Officer Dick Cronin noted that the present discoveries at McParland’s further enhance Ennis’ status as the most intact medieval town in Ireland.

Restoration work at McParland’s, Parnell Street, Ennis, Co Clare, is scheduled for completion in February 2012.