Wednesday 20 February 2019

Excavating Clohamon's links to the New World

Historians believe that the founder of two major settlements across the Atlantic moved there from Clohamon. A new archaeological dig in the village by the Slaney may shed light on that connection. David Medcalf visited the site.

THE ROOTS OF the original European settlement of Maryland in the United States and of Newfoundland in Canada have been traced back to Clohamon, near Bunclody. Now archaeologists from the far side of the Atlantic have made the trip back east to dig in a field that was once the home of leading colonialist George Calvert. And last week they gave local schoolchildren under teacher Aisling Whitty a fascinating look at what they have been doing in a field that produced a crop of spring barley earlier this year.

Where farmer Barty O'Connor cut corn in August, the team from Memorial University in Newfoundland discovered evidence of an old castle along with a haul of old pottery and iron hardware. They linked their finds to George Calvert, a wealthy English Catholic with an Irish peerage.

As Lord Baltimore, he was the man who gave his name to the bestknown city in Maryland. However, his last-known address in Ireland was not at Baltimore in County Longford, nor at the better known Baltimore on the coast of Cork. Historians believe he lived in a manor house at Clohamon instead.

From there he ventured to the chilly vastness of Newfoundland. However, after a particularly hard winter ther, he and his family opted for the milder climate of Maryland, further south along the caost. The town of St. Mary's, founded by the Calverts in the 1630s, was the fourth such colony in what is now the USA to be approved by the English monarchy. Only Jamestown (1607), Plymouth (1620) and Boston (1628) have older claims.

Clohamon remained in the hands of the Calvert family until the mid-18th century, their ownership surviving a visit by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. However, the castle and the manor house had long since disappeared from view – until the arrival of James Lyttleton and his colleagues from Memorial University.

During more than a month at the site, they have plotted the indicators of past human settlement on the farm of Barty and Margaret O'Connor. Canada-based archaeologist James hails originally from Carlow town and he led the team to uncover the base of an old fortified tower under gorse bushes in one corner of the field.

'I was not aware of Lord Baltimore until James approached me,' confessed Barty. 'However, this was always called the castle field.' The 24-acre site has been affected over the years by quarrying, which may have erased some of the historic material that was present.

However, using tools ranging from old-style shovels to satellite GIS imagery, the visitors have nevertheless found plenty of material for their studies. After a rain-sodden start they were blessed with weeks of dry weather ideal for their mission, while staying at Moss Cottage in Bunclody.

'I see this as an opportunity to research relations between Ireland and North America,' explained the Carlow man. 'Ireland was used as a stepping stone for the settlement of North America.

'I would love to have found the manor house but that could be for the future – I think there is an awful lot more to find here in Clohamon.' The efforts of his team were praised by Henry Miller, director of research at St. Mary's city, founded by the Calvert family and the original capital of the state of Maryland.

'It has not been recognised but this is a really significant location,' commented Dr. Miller last week. Meanwhile, the schoolchildren from the parish primary enjoyed a chance to escape from the classroom for a few hours.

'We brought the whole school,' said teacher Aisling Whitty. 'It has given us the basis for a month's history and geography lessons.' The dig was undertaken with the support of the Royal Irish Academy, the archaeology department at Memorial University in Newfoundland, the governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, and UCC in Cork.