[Ancient structure dug out of Drumkelin bog]

Artist(s) : John Barrow (Draughtsman)

Plans of a structure found in 1833 in Drumkelin or Drumkeelan bog, Inver, Co. Donegal, showing front and side elevations, floor, details of construction and implements of quartz and basalt. Based on an account given by Captain Mudge which was read to the Royal Society of Antiquaries in November 1833, and published in 1836.

Inscribed in Image

  • Text within boundaries of image – [from left to right and top to bottom, six individual images] [1] Side Elevation. Width 12 feet. Height 9 feet. Sea Sand. Bog Section [2] Front Elevation. Front Roof. Upper, or 2nd Floor. Ground Floor. Sea Sand. Bog Section [3] Floor. Front and Ground View of the Floor. [4] Wedge of Quartz. [5] Ends of a Floor on side of the Drain. Ends of a Floor on side of the Drain. Sleeper for Door-post. Sleeper for Door-post. Pavement of Shingle Stones. The shingle stones and sand the same as on the shore of Donegal Bay. Freestone slabs. [6] Chisel of Basalt.

Image Details

Genre Scientific or Technical illustration
Subject(s) Antiquities and archaeological sites, Architecture
Geographical Location
  • Drumkeelan - Townland - Drumkelin, or Drumkeelan on OS maps, near Mountcharles, Co. Donegal
  • Donegal - County
  • Ulster - Province
Keywords(s) Antiquities, Archaeological sites, Construction, Tools
Colour Monochrome
Published / created 1835 - 1836

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account A Tour round Ireland [Barrow]
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy p. 295
Source copy National Library of Ireland Ir 9141 b 3

Related text from travel account

But the most extraordinary discovery yet made, in digging deep into a bog, is that (which I alluded to in a former letter) of an ancient structure of wood dug out of Drumkelin bog, in the parish of Inver, on the northern coast of Donegal Bay; so ancient, indeed, as to lead to the conclusion that, at the date of erecting the building, the use of iron was unknown to the natives. The discovery was made in June, 1833, by James Kilpatrick, when searching for bog-timber. This process is performed by probing the bog with long iron rods, varying in length from eight to fifteen feet. The description is given by Captain Mudge, of the royal navy, who is employed in surveying that part of the coast, and who was an eye-witness of all that he describes, the details of which were sent to the Society of Antiquaries, and will, I presume, be published in the "Archaeologia."
The upper part of the house was only four feet below the present surface of the bog; but as successive layers of peat had been taken off for forty [p. 291] years, and comparing it with the neighbouring surface which had not been removed, Captain Mudge thinks that the depth of the roof may be taken at sixteen feet. The whole frame-work was so firmly put together, that it required the use of a crow-bar to tear it asunder. The roof was quite flat, composed of broad oak planks, from one and a half to three inches thick, which had evidently been split with wedges from solid blocks, the fibres being torn, and remaining as rough as common laths. The edges bore the round form of the tree, being untrimmed in any manner. The seams appeared to be filled up with a cement of grease and fine sea-sand, which was the case with the seams of the planking of the floor. The house was twelve feet square by nine feet high, formed of rough blocks and planks. It was divided into two apartments by a second floor, at about the half-way of its height, each room being four feet high in the clear. The fabric rested on a bed or layer of fine sand, thickly spread on the surface of the bog, which continues to the depth of fifteen feet below the foundation of the structure, as was ascertained by probing with an iron rod.
The frame-work was made of oak logs, the main sleepers, resting on the sand, were of a whole tree split in two, and the round part upwards; when put together they measured twenty-three inches in diameter, and supposing the four from the same tree, as they appeared to be, were twenty-four feet [p. 292] long. Into these the upright posts of the frame were mortised. These mortices were rudely cut, or rather bruised, with some kind of blunt instrument; and there seemed to be little doubt that a stone chisel, found on the floor of the house, was the identical tool with which the mortices were made. Captain Mudge says, "By comparing the chisel with the cuts and marks of the tool used in forming the mortices and grooves, I found it to correspond exactly with them, even to the slight curved surface of the chisel. A second stone, larger than the former, was also found on the floor, which being ground at one end to an edge, was probably used as a wedge for splitting the timber. It is said to be of quartz." I have seen this chisel, which appears to be of fine, close-grained black basalt. The outside planks, which formed the sides, were laid edgewise on each other, the lowest one being inserted in a groove of the sleepers. One whole side, supposed to be the front of the house, was left entirely open.
Some ingenuity appears to have been displayed in putting this rude fabric together, by means of mortices and stone-wedges, to keep them tight and prevent shaking. The floor alone was unmortised, but each plank being from four to six inches thick, split out of solid trees, their own weight was almost sufficient to keep them steady; and they were, besides, jammed into the frame. Besides the two stones above-mentioned, there was a flat freestone [p. 293] slab, three feet by one, and two inches thick, having a hollow in the middle, about three-quarters of an inch deep. It was presumed to be a sort of deposit for nuts, a large quantity of whole and broken ones being found on the spot; and several round shingle stones strewed about, were supposed to have been used to crack them.
On digging a drain to carry off the water, which soon supplied the vacant space occasioned by the removal of the house, a paved road, or pathway, was opened out to the distance of fourteen yards, at the end of which was a hearthstone, composed of flat freestone slabs, and about three feet square, covered with ashes and charcoal, and nut-shells in great quantities, most of them broken, and some of them charred. There were also several blocks of wood and pieces of bog-turf, partly burned.
By sinking the drain about six feet, a course of stones was found, like a pavement, resting on a bed of birch and hazel-wood bushes, the interstices of the stones filled up with fine sea-sand, such as is now seen in Donegal Bay, about two miles from the spot, from whence also the shingle-stones had been brought; and the freestone slabs were exactly such as are quarried at this day within a mile of the place. The bark of the birch and hazel appeared as fresh as if the trees had but just been cut down; and the colour of the wood was unchanged, but it [p. 294] was as soft as a cabbage-stalk. All the oak was as sound as that which is every day dug out of the neighbouring bogs.
On a subsequent visit, Captain Mudge discovered two thick oak planks, with a mortice in each, which he thinks were for the uprights if a doorway leading to the passage; and form the number of ends of large oak logs seen in the sides of the section of the drain, he is of opinion that they belong to some other building, and that the one uncovered was only for a sleeping-place. When we consider that stumps of trees were standing and that their roots exposed on the same level of the bog on which the foundation of the house rests, similar in all respects to the timbers thereof, and that the bog has been probed to the depth of fifteen feet, we are carried back to a period of time to which the memory of man—we may perhaps say the history of man—does not extend; and the conjecture of Captain Mudge is not improbable, "that some sudden and overwhelming calamity had buried all in one ruin." May not that calamity have been occasioned by the flowing of some neighbouring bog over that on which the house was built?
The annexed rough sketch will convey a general idea of this ancient structure. [pp. 290-294]
Ancient structure dug out of Drumkelin bog