Clonmines is one of the most impressive examples of an abandoned medieval town in Ireland and Furlong’s 1968 description of it as ‘the town that died’ still resonates. Today, the upstanding and visible remains of the town consists of two churches, two castles (of a type known as tower houses), a bawn wall, gable wall of a house, town defences, a friary and a gatehouse. The preservation of Clonmines into the future is threatened by the impacts of climate change and has therefore been selected as a CHERISH project case study.

At the start of the 13th century, William Marshal established the town of Clonmines and the town thrived as an important trade and harbour town, due to its location on flat land at the head of Bannow Bay, where the Owenduff and Corock Rivers meet. In the 17th century, the town was abandoned and its remains today provide insight into medieval urban settlement and rural economy. The town of Clonmines has been held by the Codd family since 1850, the upstanding remains are located within a working farm, this site is not accessible to the public.

Aerial Image of Clonmines, Toby Driver, CHERISH project, 2017Aerial Image of Clonmines, Toby Driver, CHERISH project, 2017

The impressive Augustinian friary occupies a waterfront position in the town of Clonmines. It was founded by the Kavanaghs c. 1317, after its dissolution in 1539 the friary passed through a number of hands before its appropriation by the former Cistercian Tintern Abbey in 1622. Various construction phases show the friary was modified and enhanced s throughout its period of usage. Rising sea levels in combination with increased sedimentation of Bannow Bay are resulting in more frequent inundation and wave action acting on the Augustinian friary. This can lead to binding materials used in construction such as mortar to break down, which in turn undermines the structural integrity of the friary building causing separation and splitting causing “cracks” to become visible within the structure. The east wall of the friary was the subject of extensive restoration and repair work in 2015, funded by the Heritage Council. The deterioration of the east wall in comparison to the other cardinal walls of the friary can therefore be determined to be caused due to its exposed waterfront position.

Clonmines Abbey, Co. Wexford, copper engraved print published in Francis Grose's Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786Clonmines Abbey, Co. Wexford, copper engraved print published in Francis Grose's Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786

The silting of the bay caused the once prominent anchorage and waterway to become impassable by larger ships, impacting the trade network and economy of the town, contributing to the abandonment of the town. The silting of the bay is recorded since at least the 17th century, and is visible through the build-up of marshlands along the edge of the bay. All the buildings are impacted by increased rainfall leading to water retention within the structures along with the decomposition of mortar. During the 2016-2017 conservation program restoration work at Clonmines, a number of the structures including the tower house called Black Castle were pointed and capped with NHL lime mortar in order to prevent further destabilisation of the structures.

Summer sunset view of Clonmines from the west, Blacks Castle is located on the left foreground of the image, the bawn sits between the castle and the Friary, whilst the gable wall of the house is just to the west of the bawn, CHERISH project 2018   Summer sunset view of Clonmines from the west, Blacks Castle is located on the left foreground of the image, the bawn sits between the castle and the Friary, whilst the gable wall of the house is just to the west of the bawn, CHERISH project 2018 

Vegetation such as ivy undermines the structural integrity of the buildings in Clonmines and when combined with increased storminess, an impact of climate change it can lead to severe damage to upstanding structures. The rectangular enclosure or bawn suffered collapse during the severe winter of 2010-11, whilst a longer portion of the wall fell in 2012. A combination of weakening by vegetation, extreme cold weather and strong winds worked in combination to cause this loss of an important piece of architecture within this extremely significant site. A management and conservation plan (2015-2018) started a program of works to help preserve and safe guard this site for future generations, continuation of this programme of works will be crucial to the survival of the site.

20201127 CLONMINES 4Bawn wall with tower at north western extent, the area of collapse of the wall is visible, a tree can be seen in the area of collapse

The CHERISH team gather data on the environmental factors that threaten the future of this site as well as creating substantive records of the built heritage and buried archaeology on the site to further understanding and knowledge of the site and to inform future conservation projects.
The CHERISH team are building on from the extensive work of Paul Murphy (University of Stavanger) and Arnaud de Volder. CHERISH will continue this collaborative work in order to produce the most substantial datasets and records on Clonmines possible. The CHERISH team are very thankful to the Codd family for their hospitality and help during survey work, and for the wealth of knowledge they have shared with the team.

Furlong, N., 'The Town that Died' in Wex. Hist. Soc. Jn., i, (1968), pp 35-42.