The McCarthy Excavation ‘Backstory’


Research by the academics from Maryland University, Professor Stephen Brighton and his PhD student Drew Webster, tells us that two families lived in the ‘McCarthy homestead’ near Baltimore where the archaeology dig has been taking place. The McCarthy family, who built the structure, lived there from c. 1860 to 1911, and the Lordan family who subsequently occupied it from 1911-1915.

The interior of the McCarthy house before excavation

Folklore in the McCarthy family held that the family were forcibly evicted from their home and the archaeological evidence seemed to support this supposition but this may well not be the case. The McCarthy family seem to have moved to nearby Creagh sometime between 1909-1911 and this could possibly have been an involuntary move.

The excavation begins in 2018

Land records show that a man called Cornelius Lordan, then aged 42, obtained the property previously held by the McCarthys in June 1911. He and his family, wife Ellen and son Patrick John (aged 10), were from Drishanebeg, some distance east of the Baltimore site, so they had no local connections in their new neighbourhood. It seems that regular disputes with their new neighbours began to happen soon after their arrival in the area.  

The artefacts discovered during the 2018 and 2019 excavations were the normal everyday items used and discarded by the men, women and children who once lived there, and some of these items are particularly poignant reminders of these individuals, including these figurine heads from a child’s toy found in the cabin interior

Court records from 1913 show that Cornelius Lordan was accused of trespassing on his neighbour’s land on several occasions, causing damage to his neighbour’s potato crop. The Lordans were also in financial difficulties as they did not pay the half-yearly annuity due on the land as a condition of the Land Act Purchase and the land was advertised for sale by the bank in 1914.

The auction took place in January 1915 and records show that the purchaser was the son of the neighbour who had sued Lordan for trespass some years before. This neighbouring family had a long association with the McCarthy family going back generations, with intermarriage between both families. However, the Lordans refused to move out and Cornelius seems to have abandoned his family too at this point, leaving Ellen facing eviction from her home as a single mother.

Grafán found on the property
Evidence of fire was found throughout the cabin interior.

Things came to a head on the 8th of September 1915 when, according to a newspaper report: ‘Lordan was evicted on an equity suit, and his wife took forcible possession, and was arrested, and while she was before the Court somebody went and burned the house down so that she could not go in again’ (Cork County Eagle and Munster Advertiser, 18 Sept.) The remains of this fire exist to this day in the archaeological evidence from the site.

Most of the cabin’s floor was covered by a layer of burned organic material. The material was comprised of the remains of the roof’s thatching, wood rafters, the large beam comprising the kitchen hearth mantel, and perhaps furniture remains like the kitchen hutch or dresser. This layer represents the collapsed roof during the fire, falling and sealing the objects and personal belongings of the Lordan family atop the flagstone floor and directly underneath the organic burn layer.

When the fire destroyed the cabin and deposited the artefacts, the house was set up as it would normally be on any given day, therefore providing archaeologists a rare glimpse into how space was defined and used.

Ceramic sherds relating to table and teaware were found in the area of the ‘dresser’ and were mendable to form vessels, demonstrating the sudden abandonment of the property.
Broken ware found near the former location of the ‘dresser’.
Directly above the hearth was a large wooden mantel or clevy, the remains of which were partially recovered archaeologically as burnt wood in front of the hearth. Here, Ellen Lordan displayed various objects of significance, including a candlestick, a porcelain figurine, rosary beads and religious medals. The religious items would have been part of a holy shelf or shine, and could have been placed directly on the clevy or on a separate shelf nearby.

The third year of the Maryland excavation of the ‘McCarthy site’ is currently underway and we look forward to sharing more of this story with you.

Staff and students from Maryland University being welcomed to Skibbereen in June 2023.
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