Friday, August 26, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 5

In April of 1822 Hugh Cummiskey and his band of 30 laborers walked from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Lowell where they met Kirk Boott who hired them to widen and deepen the canals of the new mill city.

That is the way almost every biography that I have read (or written myself) of Hugh Cummiskey begins.  Though not complete, we might say that a new beginning is warranted.

In the year 1790, in the townland of Crossan in County Tyrone, a son was born.  The family lived in a cottage at the end of Crossan Road.  The home was simple, but efficient; the stones held together by clay and often white washed, the roof being thatched.  A cow was kept inside the family home against the outside wall.  The sheds in back of the house were used to keep chickens from which the family would be supplied eggs.  The garden in back of the house grew the family’s food supply, mostly consisting of potatoes.  The cows in the pasture provided the milk and butter, which along with the potatoes and eggs made up the greatest portion of the family diet.  They kept their homestead, which was average-sized for the period, extremely tidy with no refuse allowed to gather in the yard.  This was a proud family.  Just up the path from the house were the remains of an ancient ring fort, where on the little free time the children had they might go and play.  Situated on slight hill, the family home looked out on the fields and pastures of their neighbors marked off by ash trees and dry stone walls.  It is here Hugh Cummiskey began his life.

I like this a lot better.  It makes Hugh more human.  I am beginning to understand him more.  You don’t really feel you know someone until you’ve been invited to their home and got to see what their life is like.  I’m a little closer to Hugh now than I was a week ago.

Colm gave me a wonderful gift today, the best yet.  Time.  As the students did the final measurements and Colm did his paperwork I had almost a couple of hours to walk the area.  Sleep did not come easily last night.  I am drawn between home and here.  Yesterday the mood was a little somber.  I was sure today I’d be depressed.  So I spent my time walking the path to the house imagining Hugh and his siblings being told to do their chores.  I took time to listen to the sheep in the various meadows, the lowing of the cows, and the songs of the birds.  I examined the white wash flaking of the stone walls.  And then I met Hugh.  He was in the garden standing there with a spade.  He apologized for not having tea ready.  I asked what he thought of what we’re doing.  Being a humble man (at least by modern accounts he seems to have been that way) he merely smiled and gave a grin.  Farmers in Tyrone are not known for saying a lot.  Of course this visit did not really happen, but it’s better than saying the end.  Something tells me if Hugh was there he’d tip his hat and say, “Slan abhaile” (Safe home)

Something tells me we will meet again.

 We were pleased to have Brian Lambkin and his wife, Pat Fitzgerald and his two sons Owen and Conor visit the site today.  They are from the Ulster American Folk Park and authors of Migration in Irish History.  It's great to see they share interest in Hugh's story.

Our last in the series of a day in the life of an archaeologist comes from Sarah-
Trench 1 was opened to explore the relationship between the wall of the later part of the house and the ground surface.  It was located at a point where most of the wall had collapsed; therefore, it was hoped the excavation would uncover features of the wall which are now missing and details of the ground surface that are now covered. The area outside a window often collects domestic waste material, which can be indicative of the lifestyle of the period; for example, clay pipes, tin, glass or pottery.

A 1m x 2m trench, orientated North-South was opened. After removing the thin sod and topsoil, most of the collapsed wall was found; including machine cut red brick which suggested a feature such as a window. At the Northern extent of the trench large amounts of clear glass, wood and one nail were found depicting the location of the window: opposite the remaining window on the North wall of the house. Parts of burnt wood, from the house fire of 1979, brown glass and a button were also found in this context.

After removing the collapsed layer, a thin gravel layer or metalled surface was exposed. This was the yard contemporary with the older part of the house: the byre. It continued as a yard while the house was extended and when it was in use. There were no artefacts from this context which suggests it was kept clean; discarded material may have been brushed into the nearby shallow ditch.
This layer and the subsoil beneath were cut to make a gully between 10 -12cm from the wall of the house. This gave enough space for plinth stones to be inserted, and then the later part of the house was built. The subsoil was then re-deposited against the base of the supporting stones. The remainder of the gully filled later, as it was probably left open as a drain while the house was still in use.

This trench revealed, as predicted, the location of the window on the later part of the house and the association between the ground and the wall. The lack of finds is unusual as the yard was in use for many decades; further excavation may reveal a midden somewhere surrounding the yard.

Sarah Keer

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