‘Making a House a Home’: ordinary households in later medieval Ireland 1200 – 1600 AD
Paper by Karen Dempsey
Given at the RURALIA XIV conference in Viseu, Portugal, on September 14, 2021
Abstract: Ordinary medieval households and their things have not received due attention in Ireland. Previously, a lack of evidence impeded such research; however, large amounts of relevant archaeological data were recorded during Ireland’s recent economic boom that have not been fully explored. Interesting items such as the unusual find of a high-status bone needle case at a peasant house on the outskirts of the 13th-century borough of Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare (Murphy pers. comm.) or the deliberate deposition of horse-skulls sealed within 15th-century floor-levels at Portmarnock, Co. Dublin (Moriarity 2009) prompts consideration of the different things medieval people used to create a home. Sites very considerably in terms of material abundance; the cob-walled single-roomed dwellings of Monadreela, Co. Tipperary (Hughes 2011), revealed only a very small assemblage of charred grain and local pottery (Cashel ware). Yet these dwellings were occupied for almost one hundred years. Is such sparseness related to house-keeping practices or simply did occupants have fewer things?
Drawing together results from excavations of later medieval houses in Ireland, incorporating contemporary historical and literary sources, my current research project ‘Home is Where the Heart(h) is’ examines how different people in the past organised their houses and what shaped their decisions. It aims to reveal new understanding of medieval people and the things they used in order to ‘make a house a home’.
Top Image: 15th-century Ptolemaic map of Ireland by Francesco Berlinghieri