Portlick Woodland Site, County Westmeath; Archaeological Report

2.15.1 Introduction Location
This site is located approximately 10km north of Athlone town on the eastern shore of Lough Ree, Co. Westmeath (Figure 50). This forest site is located within both a 'Special Area of Conservation' (SAC) and a 'Natural Heritage Area' (NHA).

2.15.2 Receiving Environment Placenames
County Westmeath or in Irish "An Iarmhí".

Whinning; Portlick; meaning "part of the flagstone surface" (Joyce 1856, 53).

Kilkenny West; "Kilkenny" or in Irish "Cill-Chainnigh" , F.M., 'the church of St. Cainneach, or Canice', who died in the year A.D. 598 (Joyce 1856, 52). Kilkenny West was also commonly called "Tubberdone" and "Ciuncneach" (Walsh Rev. P. 1915, 4). The barony of Kilkenny was originally the name of a church erected by or dedicated to St. Canice, the patron saint of Ciannacht in the county of Derry and of "Achadh Bó" and "Cill Chiannigh" in Ossory but it was afterwards extended to the townland and parish and afterwards again to a castle of the Dillons which gave name to the barony. The word "West" is added to distinguish this from the great Kilkenny in Ossory (ibid).

Bunowen; in Irish "Bun Abhann" meaning "mouth of the river" (Flanaghan & Flanaghan 1994, 185). The name was originally given to the townland in which an old church is situated, from its position at the mouth of a small river, Glassan River which rises in Lough Makeegan, near Mr. Hogan's residence in Sunfield. The parish was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Walsh 1915, 4), as appears from a holy well, "Tobar Mhuire", or "Lady Well" situated close to the north-west of the old church at which statues were placed and mass said on September 8th. This is now the patron day of Bunowen and the other parish which is united to it (Walsh 1915, 4). Topography
The topography of the site comprises:
(i) relatively flat to gently rolling peninsula on the shores of the Lough. Cartographic Sources
An analysis of Ordnance Survey maps from the early nineteenth century to date gives a picture of the development of the townland over time.

The Down Survey map c.1656 shows the barony of Kilkenny West and the parish of 'Bun owen' (Figure 52). The peninsula of Whinning is well noted but no features are marked within the area. Portlick Castle is annotated on the map to the east of the forest site. 'Logh Ree' is denoted to the west surrounding the peninsula.

The 1st edition Ordnance Survey map (1837-38) shows the area denoted by the forest site as unforested (Figure 53). The forest site comprises a strip of land which arcs around a peninsula of land in the townland of Whinning, county Westmeath. The forest site borders Lough Ree on three sides, to the north, west and south. In addition 'Portlick Bay' borders the forest site to the north and north-west and 'Rinardoo Bay' borders the forest site to the south. The townland of Portlick borders the forest site to the east with 'Portlick Castle' a notable feature within the townland bordering Whinning townland. A portion of the forest site to the north-west runs into Portlick townland where it curves around Portlick Bay.

Whinning Bay comprises 239 acres 1 rood and 14 perches on the 1st edition map (1837-38). The townland is well laid out in rectilinear field plots with the land on the west around the shores of Lough Ree appearing wet or marshy in nature. SMR WM022:002 (enclosure) well denoted in the centre of the townland. The forest site is not forested at this time and no part of the townland of Whinning appears covered by woodland. The area to the south comprising the forest site which borders Rinardoo Bay is 'Liable to Floods' in 1837-38.

The townland of Portlick to the east contains 373 acres 32 roods and 14 perches and is well laid out. The majority of the townland comprises Portlick Demesne. The townland is divided into four main quadrants with linear roads in the form of a 'cross' running north-west south-east and north-east south-west. These roads are tree-lined. Areas in the north and south of the townland are partially wooded. Portlick Castle shows well laid out formal gardens to the south of the house and wooded land to the north surrounding the castle. An area called 'Church Park' is located to the south of Portlick Castle and forms the western boundary with the forest site. Within 'Church Park' are a 'Grave Yard and Tomb' with SMR WM022:014 and SMR WM022:015 clearly denoted. Another area called 'Togher' is denoted north of Portlick Castle within the forest site bordering 'Portlick Bay'.

The 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map (1912-1914) shows the forest site as partially wooded in the south-west and north-west corners (Figure 54). The townland of Whinning contains 258 acres 3 roods and 8 perches. The majority of the land is poor quality at this time. There is little change in the layout of the townland or the adjacent townland of Portlick. The recorded archaeological sites noted on the 1st edition are similarly noted on this map. A 'Landing Place' is noted on the northern portion of the forest site bordering 'Portlick Bay'. This area is also noted as 'Liable to Floods'. Portlick Castle is well defined with surrounding woodland and tree-lined avenues. History
"The ancient territory of Westmeath also called "Machaire Chuircne". This territory still retains its name and was formed into the barony of Kilkenny West but it appears from references to St. Munis that the church of Forgnaidhe was in Cuircne, from which it may safely be inferred that it extended northwards as afar as the Inny. On viewing the localities we shall find that it was bounded by natural meres. It was bounded on the west by the Shannon where it expands itself into Lough Ree; on the north by the Inny; on the north-east and east by the River Inneóin, now called Dungolman river and on the south by a stream now called Athbreen which takes its rise in the bog of Shurock and flows through the townlands of Dunlom, Ballycloghdoo,

Ballysallagh, Killeenatoor under the hill of Bruidhean da choga, Ballyboran, Coolunck, Twyford, Annaghgortagh and so on to Lough Ree in to which it falls a short distance to the south-east of Friar's Island. On the shores of Lough Ree many battles between the Danes and the Irish were fought.

This stream according to tradition divides Cuircne from Calraighe Meig Amhalghadha and Breaghmhaine. From this it appears that the territory of Breaghmhaine did not extend further to the north than does the present barony. Another evidence of its extent in the eastern direction can be derived from the situation of Calraighe presently.

The territory of Cuircne was first the inheritance of O' Tolairg but that family becoming extinct or feeble, it fell into hands of Mac Carrghamhna; this family was in turn dispossessed by the Dillons who were likewise dispossessed by Cromwell. The barony of Kilkenny West was granted to the Dillon family in the twelfth century. The modern family is descended from Henry de Lion who arrived in Ireland in 1185 at the behest of King John. He built his house and chapel at Drumraney and in the centuries that followed the Dillions founded a number of castles and tower houses in the barony of Kilkenny West. Most of them are no longer extant except for Portlick Castle" (Walsh 1915, 86).

"In the barony of Kilkenny West, the ruins of Cainneach's oratory are still pointed out in the townland of Kilkenny as also the remains of the castle. Near the ruins of Cainneach's chapel still springs a well called Tobar Chainnigh, which is fast losing its sanctity. There are also some ruins of a monastery in the same townland which Sir Henry Piers states to have been an establishment of the Knights Templars and which was founded according to Lodge, Peerage i. 145 by Thomas, great, great, grandson of Sir Henry Dillon. He came to Ireland in 1185, a priest and was buried therein. The monastery includes the abbey walls which were torn down and the old church was uprooted to make way for the present protestant house of worship DM. i 526. In this parish are also the ruins of the castles of Ballynakill, Littletown and Ballynacliffy and the nunnery of Bethelem" (Walsh 1915, 10).

"In the parish of Bunowen, in the townland of Portlick, there was a castle, said to have been built by the Dillions and repairs by a Mr. Smyth who occupies it at present. "Port Lice" which means "Bank of the Flags" is said to have received its name from a flag on the bank of the lough on which women used to beetle clothes. The people here remember that the ancient name of the barony of Kilkenny west was "Cuircneach" and that it was the county of the Dillions, the ruins of whose castles are pointed out at Ballynacliffy, Littleton, Ballynakill and Portlick"(Walsh 1915, 4).

"At the outbreak of the rebellion of 1641 the townland of Bunowen was the property of Pierce Dillon and Thomas Dillon. In a patent of the year 1669 we find granted to certain persons named Goodwin "The castle, towne and all the forfeited lands of Bunowen" AG. 184. Bunowen included the subdivision of Tullimore ["Tulach mór" or "great hill"] with a mill, Bogganboy ["Bogán buidhe" or "yellow soft ground"] and Agghacurra [perhaps "Achadh coradh" or "field of the weir", as it was situated by the river side]" (Walsh 1915, 4).

The Dillon family fought on the side of the Irish in the 1641 rebellion and suffered during the Cromwellian settlement when they were transplanted to Connaught. The family supported King James in the Williamite and Jacobite wars after which many of them fled to Europe with the Wild Geese. After the Restoration in 1663, Thomas Viscount Dillon, Leader of the Mayo branch of the family recovered it. His successor Theobald Dillon was killed at the battle of Aughrim. The Smyth family got possession of the place early in the eighteenth century.

Bence-Jones describes Portlick Castle as follows:
"An old keep with a battlemented later wing. In the nineteenth century, the seat of Robert Ralph Smyth and then of his nephew, Robert Wolfe Smyth" (Bence-Jones 1988, 233).

"Portlick Castle; 3.5km north-west. Late medieval tower house built by the Dillions and occupied by them until 1696, when Garret Dillon was attained under the articles of Limerick. Portlick was then granted to Thomas Keightly, a member of King William's privy council of Ireland, who sold his interest to William Palmer of Dublin. The indenture reciting the property for sale to William Palmer included: "The lands of Portlick, Whinning and Cartron one third past of the great island (Inchmore), the houses, edifices, orchards, gardens, mills, mill seates, water, water courses, boggs, loughs, mountains, heaths and fishing wyers". William Palmer held the property for seven years but by 1703 Keightley's grant was repudiated and the property, which reverted to the Crown, was sold to Robert Smyth, a descendant of the Smyths of Barbavilla and Drumcree. On the death of Robert Ralph Smyth the property passed into the hands of his son Michael. In 1756 Ralph Smyth inherited his fathers property. By 1763 the property was up for rent and by 1773, for sale. After his death in 1782 the property was to fall to his sister Jane Rogerson. At this time there were fourteen claimants to the estate from other branches of the family. However, a local woman named Maggie Gerity came forward with a son Robert Smyth, born in 1776, claiming he was the son of Ralph Smyth and heir to Portlick. Maggie Gerity produced her father-in-laws will granting the castle to his male heir and son Robert Smyth who then became owner (O' Brien 1990, 34).

The last Smyth of Portlick was a Robert Smyth who married Agnes Glesson of Athlone and they had one daughter Harriet. It was intended that the house would fall to her stepson but he was killed in the 1939-1945 war. Her husband Norman Wallard Simpson died in 1955 and the castle was sold the following year (O' Brien 1990, 35).

"The back of the Portlick Castle shows the Dillon tower house as a severe rectangular block adjoined by a plain Georgian range, two storeys by seven bays. The tower, probably fifteenth century, is of impressive bulk. Four storeys high, it incorporates within a regular plan four projected corner towers. These appear on the exterior only as the thinnest of loops with small first and second floor mullion windows in the central block, giving a harsh defensive character to the castle. The Georgian wing added by the Smyths is gabled and rough-cast, with sash windows on both floors and a centrally placed staircase. About 1860 further changes were made to the castle by Robert Ralph Smyth, who added a large castellated block across the front of the Georgian wing. Portlick's entrance front now reads as two towers joined by a low two bay Georgian link.

The new "tower" is a two storey rubble block with stepped battlements and large mullioned windows divided into the traditional late Georgian proportions of a Wyatt window. The original tower has a machicolation chute projecting above the original entrance and many small mullioned windows which appear to have been added during the Victorian rebuild" (Casey and Rowan 1985, 303).

In 1841 the townland of Portlick had forty-five houses and a total population of 220. Ten years later these figures had dropped to six houses with a population of thirty-two.

There are a number of notable houses in the vicinity of the forest including Portlick Castle to the south-east; Whinning House within the forest site on the south-west; Lough Ree Lodge to the south-east and Killeenmore House to the north-east. No information was gleaned on these houses except for Portlick Castle discussed above. Folklore
There was no material revealed during an examination of the Department of Irish Folklore archive in UCD.

2.15.3 Field Inspection This is a large forest site comprising 40 hectares and covering a peninsula jutting into Lough Ree with extensive lakeshore frontage (Plate 50). It is currently covered by several species of trees, mostly deciduous of varying ages and some mature conifers. There are a number of field walls criss-crossing the study area (Plate 51), all of which are marked on the Ordnance Survey maps.

Near the tip of the peninsula in a glade of mature beech trees and the derelict remains of a large house (Plate 52), marked on the map as Whinning House. It is a large two storey plus attic house built from loose and cut stone with red/yellow brick repair and window surrounds, all originally covered with mortar and now peeling. It has no roof, internal floors or other fittings remaining in evidence. It has clearly been the subject of vandalism and is covered in graffiti and strewn with rubbish (Plate 53).

Located less than a mile from the study area is a substantial, multi-phased Medieval complex, Portlick Castle (Plate 54). This building has a long history and is currently still in use as a private residence. New Sites
There were no new archaeological sites identified as part of the forest survey.

2.15.4 Desk Study The Recorded Monuments (Figure 51)
The Sites and Monuments record (SMR) of Dúchas-The Heritage Service, Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands refers to the following sites within and in the environs of Portlick Woodland, County Westmeath.

From the 6" Ordnance Survey maps, a list of the archaeological sites and their proximity to the woodland site was compiled.

SMR No. Distance to Portlick Woodland Site Type
WM022:002 80m N to southern portion Ringfort (Rath/Cashel)
WM022:003 150m NE to southern portion Cross-Slab
WM022:014 200m E to southern portion Graveyard
WM022:015 210m E to southern portion Motte
WM022:016 300m E to southern portion Bullaun Stone
WM022:017 350m E to southern portion Cross

There are no recorded archaeological sites within Portlick Woodland.

Within the environs of Portlick Woodland the following SMR sites are recorded:

SMR No. WM022:002
Townland Whinning
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Ringfort (Rath/Cashel)
NGR 20558/24923
Height O.D. 100'-200'
Description A large sub-circular ringfort outlined by remains of a low earthen bank set on a very low scarp with remains of a very shallow fosse at its foot. The interior slopes gently from WNW-ESE. It is sited on a slight rise on a gentle ESE slope. The diameter NNE-SSW is 47m.
Classification C
Area of Interest 30m
Distance 80m N (to southern portion of forest)

SMR No. WM022:003
Townland Portlick/Whinning
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Cross-Slab
NGR 20585/24923
Height O.D. Not indicated
Description Cross Slab, now missing. A small sandstone slab now inserted in to the outer wall of the garden attached to Portlick Castle. The slab contains a small Greek cross with expanded terminals which ties the double banded circle enclosing the cross. The slab measures 0.35m long by 0.26m wide and the encircling cross has a diameter of 16.50cm. The groove on the cross is very shallow and slightly deep in the circle. It could be a consecration or dedication cross.
Classification C
Area of Interest N/A
Distance 150m NE (to southern portion of forest)

SMR No. WM022:014
Townland Portlick
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Graveyard
NGR 20599/24904
Height O.D. Not indicated
Description Very old graveyard and it is circa three chains wide by 330 links. In it stands a tomb. No other details in file.
Classification C
Area of Interest 100m
Distance 200m E (to southern portion of forest)

SMR No. WM022:015
Townland Portlick
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Motte
NGR 20597/24899
Height O.D. 100'-200'
Description A circular steep sided mound, approximately 3m high with a wide flat top, the centre of which has been disturbed by quarrying, surrounded by a wide fosse and a low outer bank for short distances on the east, south-east, west and north-west. To the north of the motte and adjacent to its outer bank there is a large roughly triangular enclosure bounded by a wide bank of earth and stones. In the centre of this is a private nineteenth century walled burial ground. The top of the motte measures 14m WNW-ESE.
Classification C
Area of Interest 50m
Distance 210m E (to southern portion of forest)

SMR No. WM022:016
Townland Killinure North
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Bullaun Stone
NGR 20601/24890
Height O.D. Not Indicated
Description This is a spot height. It is situated on rising ground to the east of Lough Ree. The land slopes towards the lake to the west. It is located in good pasture land. The site is of no archaeological significance.
Classification N/A
Area of Interest N/A
Distance 300m E (to southern portion of forest)

SMR No. WM022:017
Townland Killinure North
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
Site Type Cross Base and Bullaun Stone
NGR 20603/24887
Height O.D. 100'-200'
Description A square limestone cross base with a central square socket and faint traces of lettering as ornament on one corner. Nearby is a fragment of a limestone cross shaft chamfered on all sides of medieval date probably part of the cross which stood on the socket. The base measures 0.60m by 0.60m by 0.32m. The socket measures 0.20m by 0.20m. The shaft fragment measures 0.30m long by 0.20m thick.

The bullaun stone is in a natural limestone boulder on the lake shore and is a possible double bullaun. The longer depression has a different worked appearance. The depression measures 0.30m by 0.30m by 0.03m deep.
Classification C
Area of Interest 10m
Distance 350m E (to southern portion of forest) Desk study revealed no recorded archaeological sites within Portlick forest and six recorded archaeological sites in the vicinity of the forest. Stray finds
The Topographical Files of the National Museum of Ireland were examined in which all stray finds are provenanced to townland. The following is a list of the townlands within and in the environs of Portlick forest.

Townland Proximity to Forest
Whinning Within
Portlick Adjacent to East

There is one stray find recorded from the adjacent townland of Portlick to the east of the forest site. This comprised a bronze seal matrix described below.

There are no stray finds recorded from other adjacent and surrounding townlands in the vicinity of Favour Royal forest site.

Townland Portlick
Barony Kilkenny West
Parish Bunowen
6" Co-Ordinates 42.3cm from W and 16.2cm from N
Registration No. 1982:87
Find(s) Seal Matrix, bronze
Acquisition Purchased from Mr. Noel Clarke, Woodside, Castletown, Geoghegan, Co. Westmeath

Description Seal matrix, bronze, bent out of shape. A loop is fixed along the edge at the back which is plain. The central consists of a fluere-de-lys and the inscript in lettering reads:

Probably the personal seal of a person with the surname Mac Rorgan. Diameter 3cm. Thickness 3mm. It was found while rotavating soil.

2.15.5 Predicted Impacts
The scale of works planned for this site will involve both clearfelling and planting. Both of these processes are inherently destructive with ground disturbances associated with the use of heavy machinery (for tree removal) and preparation of the land for planting (with the excavation of drainage ditches).

While the areas to be affected have been surveyed in an attempt at locating and identifying previously unknown archaeological sites, no new sites were revealed. However, it must be borne in mind that archaeological remains with little above ground surface expression may survive below the ground surface. Such features would only be revealed during earthmoving and ground preparation works where such archaeological sites would be directly compromised by these subsequent works. Please see the mitigations and recommendation section in volume 1 for suggested mitigations.

*Please note that it was not possible to reproduce figures for inclusion on the website version of the reports.