The builders of most Irish castles used wicker arches on which to lay mortar and stone. Like an upside-down basket, the structure is flexible but very strong. In our tower vault ceiling the remains of many wicker pieces remained. Originally we thought we could do dendrochronology to date the wicker, but were told that is only for oak. However we learned of a Irish Tower Dating project in progress by Dr. Rory Sherlock that used the wicker...
In early 2017 we applied for a small projects grant to date the castle. The Castle Studies Group generously funded a study to date the tower. There were seven steps to the study and grant terms, which ended recently with us sending in the report to the CSG group. The total grant and cost was about equivalent at about 1300 Euros. The steps for the grant were:
Catherine McLoughlin, of Stafford-McLoughlin Archeology, applied for relevant permissions and then took two samples: one from the tower vault ceiling, and one from the 2nd floor embrasure and sent them in to have the species identified. We were with her in April 2017 when the samples were taken. It was really interesting to look at the wicker - it looked like any dead twig in the woods! Amazing to think it was hundreds of years old...
Dr. Ellen O'Carroll provided the species identification.
The first surprise: the wicker for both samples was gorse! That lovely bush with yellow flowers that smell like coconut and deadly long thorns – in times past this was used for many purposes including fuel, feed for animals, and now obviously as a building material. We will experiment next year with “all things gorse”.
See this wonderful write-up about gorse in Irish Mythology.
For dating, the sarun through two tests – first the carbon dating in the Queens University Belfast lab. Two samples had ranges of 1471 to late 1600s.
The data from the report was then fed into Rory Sherlock’s Bayesian Analysis study that he is doing on other Irish Tower Houses. This indicates a most probably date of construction on 1521 – 1592, with a smaller chance of it being built after 1620.
Initially we were slightly disappointed in the dates being later than we expected. Our experience as medieval re-enactors seems to have a bias of wanting dates to be pre-1500s, or "renaissance" as we think of it throughout Europe.
These results have motivated us to understand more about Irish history, especially what was going on in the Wexford "Pale" region in the early 1500s, We would like to find the link to the particular Siggins members who built the tower. We will research mentions of "Sigginstown Castle” versus only “Sigginstown” alone. The results also will help us consider what buildings may have preceded the tower on the land, if any. The place name Sigginstown seems to go back much earlier than the tower date, although we must pin down exactly how early. More research awaits! See the complete report here...