Medieval coin is ‘earliest find’ at castle excavation

The medieval penny found at Carrick Castle.  INCT 14-721-CON
The medieval penny found at Carrick Castle. INCT 14-721-CON

Archaeologists digging at Carrickfergus Castle have displayed their most exciting find yet with the discovery of a medieval silver coin.

The English short cross penny was uncovered in one of the excavation trenches last week as the eight-strong team nears the completion of the dig period.

The work is being undertaken by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) at Queen’s University on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Speaking to the Times last week, excavation director Ruairi O’Baoill said: “The coin dates from some time between 1200 to 1250, around the time of Henry II, Richard, John or Henry III. It’s the earliest artefact we’ve found so far.

“As it’s made from silver, I imagine the person who dropped it would have been annoyed to find they’d lost it!

“We quite often find coins like this on their own that have been dropped and, with no street cleaning or refuse collection at the time, have simply got pressed down into the earth.

“We also found a Victorian halfpenny from 1887. Since we’ve found both Victorian and medieval structures and now coins from both periods, it’s nice to have that symmetry in that we’ve uncovered material from both sides of the garrison period.”

A large number of domestic artefacts have previously been unearthed during excavations, including roof slate, floor tiles and shards of pottery.

“Carrickfergus would have been a busy port, so we’re getting a great selection of pottery from all over Europe, including north Devon and France,” Ruairi said.

In mid-March, the team began to uncover a significant amount of 17th century gun flint, reflecting the castle’s past as a military garrison.

More recent finds include a 17th or 18th century thimble made of copper alloy. “We are finding a lot of items like this from the time of Arthur Chichester,” Ruairi added.

With a recent BBC report having revealed that hundreds of unclassified artefacts from Northern Ireland sites are being stored in warehouses in the Republic of Ireland, Ruairi emphasized that all material uncovered at Carrick Castle will be fully processed and archived by NIEA.

The team are also continuing to uncover a Victorian munitions rail and tunnel at the site, along with the remains of a medieval wall in the castle’s inner ward.

Following the success of the excavation project, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced a period of free entry to the castle from March 22-30. An open day on Saturday 22 saw over 1350 visitors visit the medieval stronghold - thought to be 10 times the usual number for that time of year.

With the original dig period of three weeks having been granted a number of extensions, it is expected that excavation work at the site will be drawing to a close at the end of this week.