Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site

Dublin hotel dig unearths 1,000-year-old burial site
A member of the archaeology team examines skeletal remains discovered during preparatory works for a new hotel in central Dublin

About 100 skeletal remains from the Middle Ages have been unearthed during excavations for a Northern Ireland firm’s new hotel in Dublin.  Burial sites dating back more than 1,000 years were found at Capel Street where an abbey, St Mary’s, once stood.

At least two of the remains are believed to date back to the early 11th Century. The excavations have been commissioned by Beannchor, which is building its new Bullitt Dublin hotel on the site.

The abbey used by the Savigniac and Cistercian orders opened in the 12th Century. Carbon dating of one of the discovered graves predates that by 100 years, indicating the presence of a Christian settlement on the site prior to St Mary’s being built.

The archaeological investigations at the site, which formerly housed Boland’s Bakery, also unearthed the foundations of buildings dating back to the 1600s.

Edmond O’Donovan, director of excavations for Courtney Deery Heritage Consultancy (CDHC), at the Capel Street site

The finds were discovered close to a former Presbyterian meeting house dating from 1667. Parts of a domestic house known as the ‘Dutch Billies’ have also been found.

It was constructed in about 1700 by settlers who came to Dublin after William of Orange ascended to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1689.

Incorporated into design

While the skeletal remains will be painstakingly excavated, cleaned and sent for further analysis, before ultimately being given to the National Monuments Services, the other structures found during the examination of the site are set to be incorporated into the design of the new hotel complex.

Beannchor Group, which runs high-profile hotels and bars in Northern Ireland, has undertaken similar restoration of historic buildings in the past, including Belfast’s Merchant Hotel, which was a former bank.

It said the Dublin project is by far its biggest and most complex project to date.

The 17th Century Presbyterian meeting house will be central to the development of a new bar and restaurant concept.

The ‘Dutch Billies’ house will also be preserved while a building with surviving ovens from the Boland’s Bakery dating from 1890 will be renovated and repurposed.

Edmond O’Donovan, director of excavations for Courtney Deery Heritage Consultancy (CDHC, said St Mary’s Abbey was Ireland’s largest and most wealthy medieval abbey in its day.

Archaeologists examine remains at the site of the medieval St Mary’s Abbey

“It was demolished after 1540 when the monastery was disbanded by Henry VIII and was later the site of a 17th Century Presbyterian meeting house.

“One of the things that was intriguing and exciting about the excavation is that we found an early burial or at least a number of burials that we suspect to be quite early.

“We have one that’s carbon dated to the 11th Century and we have a second burial that was found with a diagnostic stick pin from the 11th Century.

“And that suggests that there was an earlier Christian and potentially monastic foundation here which predates the Savigniac and Cistercian Abbey.”

Bill Wolsey, managing director of Beannchor, said it was impossible to have foreseen what the project would entail at its outset in 2017.

“As time went on, we began to understand just how complex this project may be,” he said.

Skeletal remains unearthed at the site of a new hotel being developed by Belfast-based Beannchor Group in Dublin

“Great care has been taken to preserve and incorporate elements of these early surviving buildings into the new development, on what we now know is one of the most significant heritage sites in the city.”

The new Bullitt Dublin hotel is expected to open in 2025.