The Ferrycarrig Research Project

Programs are delivered at the Ferrycarrig ringwork castle, within the confines of the Irish National Heritage Park (INHP) in Wexford, southeast Ireland. This ringwork is crucial to the earliest stages of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, being the first Norman fortification built in the country. Today a bank and ditch are all that remain above the ground of this hugely important fortification, but archaeological excavations undertaken in the 1980s showed that significant evidence of the site’s medieval history is preserved below the ground.

Research is focused on the excavation of the ringwork: originally constructed in 1169/70 CE by Sir Robert Fitzstephen, to command a strategic position on a promontory overlooking the River Slaney and Wexford Town. In medieval texts the site is recorded as consisting of a fosse, bank and a palisade of wood and sods – something that appears borne out by a phase of limited excavation in the archaeological record: this work (Bennett 1985) revealed tantalising evidence of a possible palisade crowning the bank (as well as a later wall revetting it).

The historical record also documents medieval stone buildings at the site, including a stone castle that was built sometime within 65 years of the site’s foundation. In 1857-58 AD/CE, a commemorative tower in ‘Early Christian’ style was constructed in the middle of the ringwork, as a memorial to those who died in the Crimean War (1854-1856). It is not known to what extent this building impacted on the stone castle. It may be that this memorial monument was constructed using the original stone form the medieval castle. Excavations in the 1980s also revealed evidence of another medieval stone building (thought to be 13th century in date) as well as a number of internal postholes, possibly associated to a gatehouse of the original ringwork.

Our current research focus aims to document the two main periods of site occupation:

  • a) the original ‘colonising’ ringwork established by Fitzstephen and
  • b) the later medieval stone castle (and associated structures) of ‘Carrick Castle’, which subsequently developed as the caput of the manor of Carrick.

Specifically, we are aiming to answer two main questions:

  1. How was the site originally constructed and defended? – how significant were the defences/palisade; when was the revetting wall constructed on the bank; was a gate tower constructed at the site; what archaeological artefacts survive from this period.
  2. How did the ‘castle’ subsequently develop? – is there medieval masonry/structure extant in the eastern portion of the site; what date is this structure; what is the structure’s form and date; what archaeological artefacts survive from this period.