Medieval market town revealed in County Kilkenny

A large mill complex was discovered in the south-east corner, on the banks of the River Nore.

A recent project has revealed the remains of Newtown Jerpoint, a long-vanished market town in Co. Kilkenny, without putting a trowel to the soil.

IMAGE: Daniel O’Mahony

Newtown Jerpoint was first incorporated as a borough in the early 13th century, and was abandoned at least by the early 18th century. As it is marked in the historic Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) 6-inch maps of the country, which were published in 1842, though, this suggests that at least some of its structures remained at that time. Today, however, its land is used for agriculture, with nothing visible above the surface apart from the walls of the parish church of St Nicholas and some earthworks. To see what might survive beneath the fields, Daniel O’Mahony, a Teagasc Walsh Scholar funded by the Heritage Council of Ireland at the UCD School of Archaeology, carried out magnetic gradiometry imaging of the site in 2021 and 2022. He combined his findings with those of a 2007 LiDAR survey, finding that many of the town’s features are preserved underground (above).

In particular, the main road running through the town is clearly seen in both surveys, with the fainter outline of individual houses, facing the road, apparent, along with their associated long gardens. A large mill complex was discovered in the south-east corner, on the banks of the River Nore. LiDAR picked up the main building of the mill, but the magnetometer imagery showed more anomalies further south, indicating that it was only a part of a fairly widespread complex.

The latest magnetometry survey, which was carried out last October, revealed further anomalies, including a series of faint boundary lines to the south, organising a large area into strips, which were possibly used for gardens and orchards. This may have been intended to accommodate the future expansion of the village, which never materialised. Additionally, an enclosure with large internal features appears to be truncated by the foundations of the town’s medieval bridge in the north-east corner, and therefore might pre-date its Norman origins. With a nod to the site’s modern use, the surveys also picked up evidence of medieval farming, including ridge and furrow.