Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Hamilton Graving Dock & Caisson

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Some time ago I wrote a piece about a Chapple Family trip to see the SS Nomadic in Belfast (short answer: Go! You’ll love it!). At the time I had wanted to mention a few other aspects of the site, but rather than shoehorn them in, I decided to leave them for another post.

The Hamilton Caisson in its cradle, awaiting restoration
I did mention that the SS Nomadic is now on display at the Hamilton Graving Dock, where she was most likely fitted out when she was first built during 1910 and 1911. However, what I did not mention was the apparently ugly, rusting … thing ... that shares the graving dock with Nomadic. I’d driven past here numerous times and had frequently noticed the rather grubby looking pile of metal at the north-eastern end of the dock. It looked like one of those medieval drawings – borderline caricatures – of ships that seem to have all the right parts, but in all the wrong proportions … and this was way too small to be a functioning ship. As we walked over towards it, we could see that the upper deck of decaying, moss-covered wood was home to a veritable tribe of pigeons. It was definitely very rusty, and partially splattered in tar. A sign on the side said ‘Harland & Wolff 1867’ and below it (which should have given it away) ‘Graving Dock Side’. I remained in my ignorance for a while longer until I got to see the information panels on the far side and found out that it was a caisson. After a number of increasingly extravagant attempts to pronounce the word ‘caisson’, I was eventually instructed by the SS Nomadic tour guide: thus.

The hull plate
In the oldest form of graving docks, entry was controlled via large hinged gates. While eminently practical, they did restrict the size of the vessel that could be accommodated. A caisson was essentially a form of gate to a graving dock that could be floated into position, and then flooded with water to sink it and close the dock. Once securely in place, the water in the graving dock could be pumped out, leaving a dry dock, and sufficient room to work on the exterior hull of a ship that would normally be submerged. Once the works were complete the graving dock was re-flooded and then the caisson was emptied and floated out of position. It was a simple, and extremely elegant solution to the problem!

The Alexandra Caisson in place (image borrowed from onsite signage)
The Hamilton is the oldest graving dock in Belfast and was named for Sir James Hamilton, JP (1815-1882) former Chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The excavation and building of the dock cost £40,000, and work began in early 1864. A further £1,200 was spent on the pumping equipment, purchased from the well-known firm B. Hick and Sons, based at the Soho Ironworks in Bolton. The work on the graving dock was completed by February 1867, and was flooded through the adjacent Abercorn Basin in May of that year.

The Hamilton Caisson and the SS Nomadic
Not surprisingly, Harland & Wolff fabricated the caisson, identifying it as hull No. 50 on the company's internal registers. The ‘keel’ – which fits into a dedicated groove at the mouth of the graving dock and provides the watertight fit – was constructed of Greenheart wood (Chlorocardium rodiei) from South America, and was chosen as it is remarkably resistant to marine boring organisms, fungal growth, and all forms of decay. The wooden top deck, today so weathered and covered in pigeon droppings, was constructed of stout oak planking. The caisson was finished in July 1867, though it would have been completed sooner if they did not have to wait on the delivery of brass control valves from England.

The Hamilton Caisson with the Titanic Belfast and the
Harland & Wolff drawing offices in the background
Quite apart from being a fantastic piece of marine engineering, this caisson is believed to be the single oldest surviving Harland and Wolff hull. True, its iron is rusty, its wood is rotting, and it’s probably well on the way to being Northern Ireland’s premier guano accumulation, but it’s still pretty amazing. For now it sits in its purpose built cradle awaiting restoration. Even in its current condition it’s well worth a visit as part of your trip to see the SS Nomadic. Did I mention that it’s a great day out? You should really go & see it!

Detail of the stonework on the Hamilton Graving Dock
If you have the need (and the cash) Harland and Wolff will still make you a caisson: brochure


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bronze Age Gold at the Ulster Museum [video]

I was hunting about today, trying to decide which of my diminishing backlog of unreleased pieces I'd publish next, when an email arrived from Greer Ramsey at the Ulster Museum [Facebook | Website]. He brought a short video to my attention about two pieces of Late Bronze Age gold work from Northern Ireland, purchased for the museum through the Treasure Act process. These are the Inch Bulla from near Downpatrick, Co. Down, and the Corrard Torc from Co. Fermanagh. Funding was made available from the Art Fund and The Headley Trust to help with the interpretation of material purchased by Museums under the Treasure Act. Take a look - whether you're a professional archaeologist or a non specialist there's much to enjoy here, from putting these beautiful pieces in their archaeological and cultural contexts, to just appreciating viewing them as fantastic examples of the goldsmith's art. Enjoy!

Anyone wanting to find out more about Irish Bronze Age gold work may be interested in my report on Greer's excellent lecture on the Corrard Torc, given to the Ulster Archaeology Society [here] or Aurélien Burlot's excellent report on the Ulster Museum's recent day-seminar on Ireland’s Bronze Age Gold [here].

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Building the ultimate Library of Irish archaeology and history. Part III: Early Irish Texts etc

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War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, Book of Leinster
Continuing our theme from the Irish Annals to The Calendar of State Papers, today we take a look at what core texts are available relating to Early Ireland.

Cormac's Glossary, is an early Irish glossary containing etymologies and explanations of over 1,400 Irish words, many of which are difficult or outdated. The shortest and earliest version of the work is ascribed to Cormac mac Cuilennáin (d. 908), king-bishop of Munster. It is an encyclopedic dictionary containing simple synonymous explanations in Irish or Latin of Irish words. In some cases he attempts to give the etymology of the words and in others he concentrates on an encyclopedic entry. It is held to be the first linguistic dictionary in any of the non-classical languages of Europe. Many of its entries are still frequently cited in Irish and Celtic scholarship (via Wikipedia). Whitley Stokes’ 1868 edition was published as:

In 1833 John O’Donovan published, at least, parts of Cormac’s Glossary in the Dublin Penny Journal. Unfortunately, so far I’ve only been able to find three, but I would be grateful if anyone with knowledge of other portions could enlighten me.

Sticking with Glossaries, you can get Stokes’ 1862 edition of:

John O’Donovan was one of Ireland’s foremost Irish scholars and in his relatively short life produced editions of a large number of important manuscripts. The Annals of the Four Masters have been mentioned previously, but other works include:

Volumes that were completed by others after his death include:

I’m just concentrating on books in these posts, but more of O’Donovan’s papers can be found here

Though now long superseded, the Ancient Laws of Ireland series is a good introduction to Early Irish Law

Ancient Laws of Ireland
Volume I (1865)
Volume II () (sorry, can’t find it!)
Volume III (1873)
Volume IV (1879)
Volume V (1901)
Volume VI (1901)(a glossary to Volumes I-V)

Geoffrey Keating’s Foras feasa ar Éirinn was published by D. Comyn and P. S. Dineen in four volumes from 1902 to 1914

Volume 1 (1902)
Volume 2 (1908)
Volume 3 (1908)
Volume 4 (1914)

There is also an earlier, single volume, translation by John O'Mahony, published in 1847 available here.

The Dindshenchas was an important piece of early Irish literature. Edward J. Gwynn published the Metrical Dindshenchas in four volumes of the Royal Irish Academy’s Todd Lecture Series … though I can only find two as downloadable PDFs:

Volume 2 (1906)
Volume 4 (1924)

There are also further links to editions of the text by the CELT project through the Wiki article

The historical works of Giraldus Cambrensis was published by Thomas Wright in 1905.

Finally … slightly out of tune with the rest of the contents of this post (but I didn’t know where else to put it!) is Thomas Aiskew Larcom’s 1851 volume The History of the Survey of Ireland, commonly called The Down Survey, by Doctor William Petty, A. D. 1655-6.

For anyone wanting to know more about Sir William Petty, I would direct you to Edmond Fitzmaurice’s 1895 The Life of Sir William Petty.

OK! That’s what I’ve got … but what have I missed? What should I have included? What do you think? Let me know in the comments & I’ll add them into the text!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Archaeology in Social Media | Chronicles 02

Following on from the popularity of my last trawl through the holdings of Irish archaeology (and other material that caught my interest), I though I'd put together another brief post with more reading suggestions. As always, if there's anything I've missed, or you'd like me to feature some of your writing, just let me know & I'll consider it for future posts.

In the meantime:

1) Set up a free account [here]
2) Follow me! [here]*
3) happy reading!

Here is my pick of the best out there:

Jessica Smyth: Tara in pieces — change and continuity at the turn of the 3rd millennium BC

Damian Shiels: The War of Independence Landscape of Knockraha (PowerPoint Presentation)

Damian Shiels: Exploring the Archaeological Opportunities of the Decade of Centenaries
(PowerPoint Presentation)

Ian Armit et al.: Death, Decapitation and Display? The Bronze and Iron Age Human Remains from the Sculptor’s Cave, Covesea, NE Scotland

Ian Armit & Philomena Grant: Gesture politics and the art of ambiguity: the Iron Age statue from Hirschlanden

Ian Armit et al.: The ins and outs of death in the Iron Age: complex funerary treatments at Broxmouth hillfort, East Lothian

Emily Murray et al.: The food economies of Atlantic Island monasteries: The documentary and archaeo-environmental evidence

Rick Schulting: Holocene environmental change and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in northwest Europe: revisiting two models

Rick Schulting et al.: Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis on human remains from the Early Mesolithic site of La Vergne (Charente-Maritime, France)

Rick Schulting & Michael P. Richards: Dogs, divers, deer and diet. Stable isotope results from Star Carr and a response to Dark

Ciaran McDonough: Learning Irish in Late-Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Belfast: the Antiquarian Influence

Spencer G Smith: Parks and Designed Landscapes in Medieval Wales

Ros Ó Maoldúin: Exchange in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) Ireland: Connecting people, objects and ideas

Lloyd Graham: Echoes of Antiquity in the Early Irish 'Song of Amergin' 

David Mennear: The Study of the Archaeological Site of Catcote in Hartlepool: From Late Iron Age to the Romano-British Settlements, with Reference to Regional Development

* This step is optional ... but you know you want to!