Seagrange Excavations

Grassroots Archaeology is a Community based project which aims to bring together professional expertise and local involvement to unearth the story of a forgotten monument.

The Register of Monuments and Places, a record of all known archaeological sites in Ireland, contains hundreds of entries which have been swallowed up by housing developments built at a time before strong heritage legislation was in place in this State. In many instances, these registered monuments have been identified post-development through the analysis of cartographic sources and aerial photography. What information, if any, can be resurrected from this considerable portion of the nation’s archaeological resource?

That is the central question driving the Grassroots Archaeology Project which is targeting one such monument in a suburban estate in Baldoyle, North Dublin. The registered monument in question, DU015-018, consists of a rectangular cropmark identified from the Cambridge series aerial photo 1970-CUCAP AIG 95-c which was taken just prior to the construction of the housing estate in 1973.


DU015-018 exhibits several features consistent with those of a medieval moated site, namely the size and shape of the enclosure in addition to its situation on low lying, marshy ground. The presence of a well-defined leat like feature leading into the north east corner of the enclosure would seem to substantiate this appraisal. By correcting the oblique angle of the original aerial photograph and geo-referencing fixed points in the photo and in the current landscape, it was possible to transpose the crop mark over a 1:1000 map of the area.



In addition to the evidence from the aerial photograph, two small sherds of what has been initially identified as Leinster Cooking Ware (fig. 2) have been retrieved from topsoil in the garden of 75 Seagrange Rd. Not only do these finds further support the interpretation of DU015-018 as a possible moated site, but the retrieval of medieval pottery in the topsoil is an encouraging sign that some archaeological material may survive below the modern housing estate.

Fig. 2 Sherds of Leinster Cooking Ware

The Grassroots Archaeology Project aims to unearth the story of this forgotten monument through historical and cartographic research and through targeted excavations in some of the gardens and greenspaces of Seagrange, Baldoyle.

It is hoped that the project will not only add to the archaeological knowledge of the area but will also contribute to the sense of identity and community for residents of this constructed sub-urban landscape.

The History of the Grassroots Project

It all started when, as a young fresh-faced undergraduate back in the naughties, I went browsing the Register of Monuments and Places for my locality. This is a record of all the known archaeological sites throughout the country overlain onto A1 maps which has since been made available online (

Naturally enough, my attention was drawn to Baldoyle in North Dublin where I grew up. Scanning the map, I was surprised to discover a small dot labelled DU015-018 which represented a registered monument close to my family home in the Seagrange housing estate.

Having spent no small part of my childhood out and about covering every inch of the terrain, including all of those corners of the neighbourhood that adults generally cede to children (the swamp, the back field, the wally jungle, etc.), I was fairly confident that no archaeological monuments were hiding in the Seagrange area.

To settle the issue, I made an appointment to consult the SMR file for the monument which would contain all known information about DU015-018. The SMR at that time was housed in a big ostentatious building on St. Stephen’s Green. Inside, a manila file waited on a hardwood table beside a slip of paper marked with my name. I sat down and allowed the moment the gravitas it deserved before opening the file. I was confronted with a compelling piece of information: a black and white aerial photograph.

The photo showed an area of open fields; an area which is now covered with houses of the Seagrange estate. After a moment puzzling out the strange angle, familiar features began to emerge from the image:

i)                 The coast road with a sliver of Dublin Bay in the background

ii)                The ruins of Kilbarrack Church surrounded by its graveyard

iii)               The train line running from Howth junction to Howth in the middle ground

iv)               Marian Park housing estate in the foreground (built 1954)

A clear shape could be seen in the centre of the image composed of dark crop marks defining a rectangular enclosure. Cropmarks such as these indicate where the earth has been disturbed in the past, usually through the digging of ditches or pits. This cropmark suggested that a defended enclosure of some kind once existed on this spot.


Taking in the identifiable features in the landscape, it became clear that the enclosure was located almost exactly on the spot of my parents’ house!!

For a young, fledging archaeologist, this was momentous. I had answered the original question and, in doing so, had posed a hundred more.

What is this enclosure?

When does it date from?

What survives beneath the modern housing estate?

Etc. etc.

….The seed for Grassroots had been planted

Paul Duffy March 2013

Moats and Monasteries

The Seagrange monument displays many features consistent with what is known as a Medieval Moated Site. With medieval pottery found in the vicinity of the monument and the evidence from the magnetometry survey, this interpretation of the site seems all the more plausible.

What is a moated site?

The general definition is: a 13th-14th century rectangular enclosure defined by a ditch often filled with water (hence moat) and surrounded by an internal bank. The bank would have been surmounted by a palisade and the entranceway usually protected with a gatehouse, thereby protecting the space within the moat from attack or raiding.


The traditional interpretation suggests that moated sites represent a second wave of Anglo-Norman settlement into border territories on the fringes of Norman control. This would explain the frequent occurrence of moated sites in the south and west of the country. These areas, known from the contemporary sources as ‘the land of war’ would have been exposed to attack from the Gaelic Irish. In these contexts, moated sites are believed to be the fortified homesteads of minor barons or wealthy farmers.

Within the relatively secure hinterland of Dublin, or the ‘land of peace’, moated sites are rare. Recent publications have identified 4 moated sites in the county: Lambay, Drimnagh, Tallaght and Corkagh Demense with possible examples at Newtowncorduff, Kilmahuddrick (Murphy & Potterton 2010) and Golden Lane (Simpson 2011).

Significantly, the Seagrange Monument would increase this count to 5 definite moated sites within County Dublin.

Who constructed the monument?

Records exist for two Norman families who had stakes in the Baldoyle area during the 12th-13th centuries. Following the Norman takeover of Dublin, Stronbow granted Vivan de Cursun the lordship of Raheny. De Cursun, a minor baron presumably without the means to construct an earth and timber castle such as that constructed at this time by St. Laurence at Howth, might be just the candidate for the construction of a fortified dwelling in the Baldoyle area. De Cursum was one of the very few barons established in North Dublin who was not appointed by Hugh de Lacy. It seems that a John de Cursun ‘Lord of Rathenny and Kilbarrock’, probable son of Vivian, was murdered by Hugh II de Lacy soon before 1210 (O’Donovan AFM 1856, p.140n).

As late as 1655 The Down Survey maps show the Baldoyle area as occurring within ‘Raheny Parish’ while the Seagrange monument lies approx. 300m north of the townland of Kilbarrack Lower. The Seagrange monument therefore fits within a geographical area which could have fallen under the control of the de Cursuns.


Another candidate is one Richard de Feypo. The records show that de Feypo, who was granted the nearby lordship of Santry by Hugh de Lacy, made grants concerning Baldoyle in 1236. It seems that descendants of Adam de Feypo held land in this area well into the 17thcentury (Hickey 1994) and it is possible that Richard, or some other family member may have built a moated site to consolidate a claim on the land.

It has however,  long been recognised, especially in Britain, that moated sites can be associated with Monastic Grange Farms.

What is a Grange?

The word grange comes from the old French word for a barn which ultimately finds its roots in the latin granum. The word grange is therefore connected to the modern words grain andgranary. During the medieval period, a grange was an outlying farm often associated with a monastic order.

Even before the beginning of the Anglo-Norman takeover of Ireland in 1169, it was a common practice for lords to grant lands to religious establishments.

It was the Cistercians who first began to order their possessions into structured farmsteads arranged according to strict guidelines. The Cistercian grange soon inspired its imitators and the Benedictines, Cluniacs and Augustinians began to order their possessions in much the same way (Platt 1969).



Baldoyle was granted to by the Augustinian Priors of All Hallows by Dermot MacMurrough in 1169 and held by them until the Dissolution. Although the ruined church known as Grange Abbey in Donaghmede has long been associated with the grange through local tradition, no contemporary sources can prove this. Excavations carried out at Grange Abbey did not unearth any clear evidence of a grange farm at this location. The Seagrange monument, occurring in a townland with strong associations with the Augustinians, is a potential candidate for the original Monastic Grange of Baldoyle.




Annals of the Four Masters 1856 (ed.) O’Donovan, J. London

Hickey, E. 1994 “Skryne and the Early Normans”, MAHS

Murphy, M., Potterton, M. 2010 The Dublin Region in the Middle Ages Dublin

Platt, C. 1969 The Monastic Grange in Medieval England London

Simpson, L. 2011 “Forty Years a Digging” in Medieval Dublin XI Dublin


A Brief History of Baldoyle – The Town of The Dark Stranger – Baile Dubhghaill


The year 898 and the Vikings made their first recorded sortie to what is now known as Baldoyle.  It is, however, unlikely that this was the first incursion here by the Ostmen as some writers note their presence her as early as 852.  Their settlement was probably not in the location that we today regard as Baldoyle.  The raiders almost certainly sailed their boats up into the Maine River as far as the area around what we know as Stapolin House (the name Stapolin is the Norse for the title Steach Poilín, the house of Polin).  The Danish (Baldoyle) group settled down and did not live up to their reputation as marauding raiders.  Recent study shows that the native Irish were four times more likely to attack Irish settlements than were the Danes.


In 1166 Dermot McMurrough (brother-in-law of St. Laurence O’Toole) endowed the Priory of All Hallows with the lands of Baldoyle to build a monastery here.  The monks built a farmyard, and any home farm owned by a monastery was known as a grange or granary.

The ruin of Grange Abbey set in ploughed land around 1980. (Late WB Walsh)

The ruin of Grange Abbey set in ploughed land around 1980. (Late WB Walsh)

The last Prior of All Hallows, Walter Hankoke surrendered the abbey and its property to the royal commissioners in 1539.  We have no report on how the people practiced their religion for the next fifty years but we do know that with the advent of Queen Elizabeth I to the throne of England the parish here contained an entirely Catholic population.  The people dared not use the church which had fallen into ruin.  However, in 1609 the church was repaired by the tenant (“tithe farmer”) of the Grange, Thomas Fitzsimons, with the assistance of the local people.  Although the church was repaired, it cannot have been used for long as Archbishop Bulkeley’s report of 1630 stated it to be “altogether ruinous”.


All Hallows which was situated on the site now occupied by Trinity College, Dublin, had extensive land possessions (including Baldoyle) in North County Dublin, and all of these were now bestowed on Dublin Corporation  for “their loyalty in opposing and suffering the rebellion of the Geraldines”.    A man named Nugent seized 4 messuages, 5 cottages, 200 acres of arable land, 12 acres of meadow, 12 acres of woodland, and 12 acres of pasture from Prior Hankoke.  In the subsequent division of these lands, the Grange of Baldoyle and over 220 acres of good arable land were granted to Sir Edward Fitzsimons.  The Corporation were expected to pay the crown treasury the sum of £4.4.0¾ rental per annum forever.  This area was probably the medieval village of Baldoyle.

Thus it was that the lands and dwellings of Baldoyle remained in the hands of Dublin Corporation until modern times while the lands of the surrounding townlands were owned by the Howth Castle family.

Tommy Feely thatching his cottage on Grange Road around 1960 (Ian Elliott)

Tommy Feely thatching his cottage on Grange Road around 1960 (Ian Elliott)

Baldoyle and the adjacent townlands were predominantly farming lands with some of the villagers in the coastal area employed in fishing.  This was the forerunner of the modern village and up to one hundred men were employed fishing out of the estuary here until the advent of Howth Harbour in 1820.

Harvesting grain with a three-horse reaper at Donaghmede about 1958 (Ian Elliott)

Harvesting grain with a three-horse reaper at Donaghmede about 1958 (Ian Elliott)

Baldoyle will best be remembered for its horse racing course which was established in 1852 and closed in 1972. The most important races in Baldoyle were The Baldoyle Derby and the Baldoyle Steeplechase.

The Finish of the Baldoyle Hurdle August Monday 1901 (MJH collection)

The finish of The Baldoyle Hurdle on August Monday 1901 (MJH collection)

Many will remember the name of Baldoyle as the home of the famous Little Willie Hospital and as a Novitiate for the Irish Christian Brothers.

From the early 1960s the ever stretching limits of Dublin city clutched at huge tracts of farmland and we saw the disappearance of farming as a way of life here.   Today Baldoyle is a major suburb of the city but it does still mark the northern fringe of the city.

by Michael Hurley March 2013