Drizzle, turf, and hand-knitted socks: Keem Bay open day 2017

Drizzle, turf, and hand-knitted socks: Keem Bay open day 2017

Over fifty visitors young and old braved the damp weather to participate in our open day at Keem Bay this afternoon. The open day is a chance for people from Achill and further afield to come and see our excavation in action, and to learn and talk about life in Mayo before the Famine.

Achill Archaeological Field School has been excavating at Keem since 2009. Our work is focused on the site of a village that stood in the valley from c.1750 to c.1850. This season we are excavating one of the small single-room byre dwellings that made up the village. It is the third house that we have excavated so far.

We showed visitors around our open excavation trench before welcoming them up to one of our previously excavated houses where we had a small turf fire and replica artefacts on display relating to different aspects of life at Keem. We also had a selection of real artefacts from our excavations for visitors to see, including pottery, amethyst and part of a quern stone.

Huge thanks to all who came to see us today, for all the insightful chats and stories told around our little turf fire. Thanks also to our wonderful students for their enthusiasm in the face of the glorious June drizzle!

Photos by Laura Hurst.

Kiva in the role of Bean an Tí. She’s holding a pair of socks to represent women’s domestic textile work, and a pipe to represent the clay pipe stems found during our excavation. Women’s sock knitting was reportedly used to pay the rent in 18th and 19th century Achill.


The fire is traditionally a great gathering spot. Today our small turf fire was lit in a metal tray over the spot where the original hearth was found in this house. The original fire was located in the centre of the house, directly on the ground. The houses at Keem had no chimneys -smoke would have exited through a smoke hole or through the door.


Rye, potatoes, buttermilk and tobacco. We brought a selection of food stuffs that would have been consumed at Keem in the 18th and 19th centuries. While potatoes formed the main part of the diet rye was also grown and eaten. We found a hand quern during our dig this year indicating that the grain was ground and probably made into small cakes that were toasted on the fire. Potatoes were commonly eaten off a common basket or skib perched on the iron pot.


Brigit displays some of our finds from the site: refined earthenwares, coarse earthenware, amethyst and a quern stone.


Eve examining some of the finds with one of the Achill Scouts.


Exploring the excavation.


Damp weather but good spirits!


Our site is looking good! You can see the thick walls and rounded corners in this picture.


Not a bad view. The houses at Keem probably lacked windows though, so in the 19th century we would have had to go outside to appreciate it.