Gunmoney, Dragoons and Gideon of Dunmore
Billy has recently completed most of the post excavation work for the excavations in Dunmore, Co. Galway as part of the Dunmore Sewerage Scheme, financed by Galway County Council. The trench at Barrack Street impacted on an unrecorded cemetery associated with the nearby Augustinian Friary. The Friary in Abbeyland South is first mentioned in 1425 and is reputed to have been founded in that year by Walter de Bermingham. Of the monastery only the much-modified rectangular church survives comprising a nave with S aisle and a chancel and belltower. The human remains ran parallel to the Friary and were largely orientated east-west. Many of the graves were dug with little formality, later burials cutting earlier ones etc. In total, 278 individual skeletons were recovered from the excavations representing all sexes and ages from pre-natal infants to the elderly. It is clear from the excavation that this was a community graveyard dating from the foundation of the friary in the early fifteenth century and possibly in use up until the late eighteenth century when the graveyard was moved to Church Street. Typically the remains would have been interred in a shroud evidenced by a small number of corroded shroud pins found in association with the burials. The only other finds of note were 2 coins, both dating to the Jacobite wars. The coins were a James II half penny 1686 and a large shilling or piece of gunmoney dated 1689 (Gunmoney was so called because it was issued as a token coinage from metal obtained from old field cannons). These were struck in 1689 and 1690, bearing not only the year but also the month of manufacture. The coins were to be redeemed by King James’ followers with interest, when he re-took the throne from William of Orange. William invaded Ireland and defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. He seized the mint at Dublin, eventually demonetizing the token coinage in 1691. The mint at Limerick held out for James well into 1691, and continued to coin “Gunmoney” in its smaller forms until late that year. James fled to France, and died there in exile. With the advance of the Williamites across the country the coins, having no intrinsic value, were in many cases dumped. Indeed possession of the coins could be construed as treasonous. The coins found during the excavation were worthless to even the most ardent looter and their burial with the deceased is indicative of the turbulent times marking the passing of catholic aspirations for civil, religious and political liberty.
As to the Friars lands and buildings in Dunmore, the estate was first granted by Cromwell to Sir George St. George, a prominent parliamentarian, for services rendered during the war. The estate was later acquired by Lord Ross, a liberal minded nobleman who erected his manor in the town in the middle of the eighteenth century. This new residence was built on the site of what is now the old barracks. To provide an approach from the square Lord Ross ordered that part of the abbey and graveyard be levelled. This approach became modern day Barrack Street.
In the spring of 1791 a detachment of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards were quartered in Lord Ross’ manor house. It is recorded that the soldiers rented a room in the principal inn in the town square owned by a Mrs. Kennedy and, to the surprise of the locals, rather than spending their evenings roistering (there’s that word again – but this time in the context of an historical account – brilliant) the cavalrymen gathered regularly to attend prayer services. It was at one such meeting that Gideon Ouseley (1762-1839) was converted by one of the quartermasters stationed at the Barracks. Known as Methodism’s ‘apostle to the Irish’ Gideon Ouseley, was born into an Anglican gentry family in Dunmore. He spent much of his childhood in the cabins of peasant neighbours and during his youth lost an eye in a tavern brawl that left him with a frightening appearance. It is said that Ouseley would attend protestant services at the church in Barrack Street (formerly the friary) and interrupted the sermons to argue points of doctrine.
With the relaxation of the Penal Laws towards the end of the 18th century the local catholic population led by Fr. Nicholas Lovelock built a small church in Church street. Founded in 1771 the inscription over the door dedicated the church to St. Nicholas and thanked Lord Ross for generously donating the site. Only a graveyard and a small section of wall survive of this complex.
From the results of the excavations it is clear that the local, much put upon, Catholic population continued to use the Abbeylands cemetery long after the Augustinian Friars had been expelled up until at least the Jacobite war in the 1690’s. Despite the absence of a formal clerical presence in town the local Catholic community continued to practice their faith and bury their dead in what was still considered consecrated ground. Whether or not the graveyard was still in active use when Lord Ross decided to clear it away in the mid eighteenth century and build an approach road over it to access his new manor is open to conjecture. Based on his good relationship with Father Lovelock and his land grant for the building of the new Church in Church Street the presumptive evidence is that the Abbey graveyard had fallen into disuse some time previously.
For more information on this site contact Billy Quinn by email – firstname.lastname@example.org