Blackfriary architecture & conservation

IAFS architectural heritage recorder Aislinn Collins, along with project principal investigator, Fin O’Carroll, spent a day at Blackfriary with the project conservation architect and consultant, James Howley:

Armed with a camera to record the exposed stonework, James toured the site in the company of Fin and Aislinn; he was particularly interested in the sections of the friary that have been exposed during field seasons (Season 1, 2009 & Season 2, 2010) including the cloister wall and the church tower.

Blackfriary Cutting 1 Collapsed stone arch at the church tower

He carefully examined the remains of the collapsed tower and commented on the quality of the medieval masonry, confirming opinions already held by Fin, and architectural heritage expert Kevin O’Brien! The strength of the mortars used in the C15th tower’s construction is also of interest; the mortar has survived for over 500 years, and the deliberate removal of stone from the site for re-purposing elsewhere in Trim town.  Analysis of this mortar may be undertaken to determine its composition, and to compare this with mortars at other sites from this period.

Some medieval mortar still present on an architectural fragments

The slate roof tiles, uncovered beside the cloister wall in Season 2, were also examined and James is going to compare them to his own collection to see if he can work out whether these have come from an Irish quarry or whether they were imported from overseas for use on the friary buildings.

Towards the end of the visit James concentrated on the collection of dressed architectural fragments, including sections of the columns and arches from the cloister, which have been uncovered from site during the Season 2 excavations.  The stone used has been identified as Purbeck Marble, not a true marble but a limestone which can be finely polished to look like a marble.  The stone comes from the Purbeck peninsula of Dorset, England and has been used in medieval church architecture extensively throughout the south of England.  Evidence from other sites in Ireland show that Purbeck stone was imported into the country during the medieval period, for use in decorative architecture.

Detail of the Purbeck stone: a limestone that, when polished, resembles marble

James, was invited on board the Blackfriary project to provide practical conservation advice to the field school.  James’ practice combines expertise in the fields of contemporary design and conservation.  He has been involved in a wide variety of conservation projects on buildings ranging from medieval to modern date including Rahan Church, Co. Offaly, the Town Walls of Athenry, Co. Galway, and his ongoing work at Lambay Castle, Lambay Island, Co. Dublin. James remit is to advise on conservation strategies for the architectural fragments that have been recovered from the site so far, and to further the research on the architecture of the Blackfriary.

He is on hand during the upcoming field season in order to view the excavation in progress, and the recovery of architectural fragments. We might even try to convince him to “Be an Archaeologist for a Day”….


Athenry Town Walls Project (Co. Galway):
Rahan Church Conservation Plan (Co. Offaly):

Post by Aislinn Collins MA PGDip EIS Mgt MIAI




About Irish Archaeology Field School

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. Our archaeological and heritage programs include research projects in a number of locations in Ireland, including in Co. Wexford and Co. Offaly (with satellite schools frequently undertaken elsewhere). We provide credited and uncredited programs (and internships) for novice and experienced students, and also specialise in the preparation of purpose-built faculty led programs incorporating excavation, historical research, remote sensing, non-invasive survey, ground investigation, landscape assessment etc. Whilst our programs are excavation-centered and aimed primarily at students of archaeology, anthropology and history, courses are open to all, and are guaranteed to give you an enriching and thoroughly worthwhile study abroad adventure.
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