Munster salt archaeology fieldwork

Just back from a trip through Munster from Clare to Cork. This province proved both promising and challenging. The south coast was heavily involved in transatlantic butter and meat exports, as well as complementary agricultural and processing activities (e.g. lime production and tanning). On the other hand, and in contrast to the other provinces, salt production was heavily concentrated in the towns and cities of Munster. This tends toward the impression that the industry was organised on a larger scale, took advantage of established market towns and ports, and serviced primarily the needs of tradesmen and farmers rather than fishermen.

The city of Cork in particular accommodated over 50 salt works in the 18th and 19th centuries, making it the preeminent Irish city for salt production. Many were located advantageously close to the cattle and butter markets on the north side of the city (e.g. Shandon). Like many urban environments the works have been removed or redeveloped – a substantial works once existed under the current Beamish Brewery. A rare example remains at 95, Clarence Street (now Gerald Griffin Street). The address features a two-storey building fronting the street with arched entrance to a cobbled yard. A dwelling house occupies part of the yard and there are also sheds which latterly housed a furniture business. The site is recorded as a salt and lime works belonging to R. Rice & Co. in 1884.

Rice & Co. salt and lime works in Gerald Griffin Street.

Rice & Co. salt and lime works in Gerald Griffin Street.

By the latter part of the 19th century Irish rock salt (from Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim) was available to Cork merchants, rather than the traditional north-west English sources. It continued to be dissolved in water and then evaporated off to the grade required. Although this project has been interested in the production of coastal salt utilising sea water, by the latter part of the 19th century butter makers in particular favoured fresh water. It is particularly notable in Munster that as well as being urban, many manufactuaries are some distance from the sea implying that the coastal location was chosen for the ease of rock salt imports, rather than augmenting the process with salt water.

What better survey lunch than a traditional Cork salted beef sandwich?!

What better survey lunch than a traditional Cork salted beef sandwich?!

Some rare shoreline salt sites in Munster will be the subject of future posts! Next week, its back to Ballycastle to complete the recording of the only known extant iron evaporation pans in Ireland.

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