"Bloodsports and boozing" at Athlone barracks site?

Excavation works which have been taking place at the Athlone Garda Station site on Barrack Street have provided a revealing insight into the life of a 17th century soldier in the town.

The fascinating archaeological finds suggest that the soldiers' rowdy ways included drinking, smoking, and gambling on blood sports at the barracks site.

The first soldiers were stationed in Athlone during the foundation of Custume Barracks, formerly Victoria Barracks, around 1690.

This week, outgoing Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, announced several interesting finds unearthed during monitored excavation works by Angela Wallace, of Atlantic Archaeology, as part of the Athlone Garda Station redevelopment.

Several artifacts were discovered recently, amidst a perfectly-preserved cobbled area and courtyard surface.

The OPW said the items uncovered "ranged from coins to musket balls, to a thimble and a hair comb, and fragments of clay pipes and glassware, as well as military buttons, uniform buckles, and interesting animal bones."

These objects "suggest the soldiers had time away from the stresses of battle and controlling the colonies to indulge in drinking, smoking and gambling on blood sports."

Zoo-archaeologist Siobhan Duffy identified a lower leg-bone from a male chicken which had the characteristic spur sawn off at approximately mid-way along its length.

"This procedure would have been carried out during the bird's life, to facilitate the attachment of an artificial spur for the purposes of cockfighting,” Ms Duffy explained.

At that time, cockfighting was a potentially lucrative enterprise, regarded as a sport worthy of the powerful elite.

The OPW said the discovery of many clay pipe fragments, dating between 1640 and 1670, along with fragments of fine 17th century glassware, reinforced the theory that elite-status activities had been happening on Athlone the site.

Further evidence of this was seen in the excavation of a fine-toothed bone comb and clay curler, as many soldiers during the time wore their hair closely shaven, to avoid lice infestations, while more senior officers wore grand wigs.

The OPW has emphasised the significance of the Athlone finds.

"To date, there has been no other extensive excavation carried out on a military barracks in Ireland that has produced such a wide range of artifacts and ecofacts informing us of the social and domestic activities of soldiers during this period," it stated this week.