16th century Chinese porcelain discovered on Sherkin Island

November 7th, 2018 11:50 AM

By Southern Star Team

Some of the exotic pottery (above) discovered during the excavations at the Franciscan Friary on Sherkin Island, off the coast at Baltimore, West Cork, including early Chinese porcelain. (Photo: National Monuments Service)

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Exotic Chinese porcelain dating back to the 16th century was discovered in an excavation of a friary on Sherkin Island.

EXOTIC Chinese porcelain dating back to the 16th century was discovered in an excavation of a friary on Sherkin Island.

Details of this discovery are shared in the most recent volume of the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society which was launched this week. 

William O’Brien, Professor of Archaeology at University College Cork, well known for his research, excavations and books on prehistoric sites in Cork, officially launched the journal and an additional online resource.

The journal was first published in 1892, and this year marks the first time the annual journal will have been produced fully in colour. Articles in this year’s journal include: ‘Benedictine monks from Rosscarbery in Würzburg,’ ‘Insurance Fire Brigades in Nineteenth-Century Cork,’ ‘Life in a West Cork Clachan’ and ‘John Walsh, Nineteenth-Century Cork anti-Newtonian’. 

However, a significant portion of this year’s journal is the first published account by archaeologist Ann Lynch of the excavations that took place at the Franciscan Friary on Sherkin Island from 1987 to 1990 under the auspices of the National Monuments Service. The article details important information about the construction of the Friary, which is one of the best know monuments in the county. 

The most remarkable findings from the excavations was the quantity and range of exotic pottery from the site. These ceramics, mostly of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century date include high status table wares, as well as more utilitarian vessels, such as olive jars. 

The range of wares includes vessels from China, Italy, the Iberian peninsula, France, the Rhineland and the Low Countries. They largely belong to a period when the building had gone out of use as a friary and they may be explained by the importance of Baltimore Harbour as a major centre for trade, fishing and pirate activity at the time. 

Dr Griffin Murray, president of CHAS, said: ‘Really, it is not surprising to find such exotic pottery on Sherkin Island. While it may seem remote from a modern perspective, one must remember that the sea was the highway in the past and that Baltimore Harbour was one of the major ports of Ireland.’ 

Dr Ann Lynch, who led the excavations at Sherkin Friary for the National Monuments Service, added: ‘Baltimore Harbour was one of the most vibrant maritime ports on the south-west coast in the late medieval and early post-medieval period and by the early seventeenth century when Thomas Crooke had leased the town of Baltimore from Fineen O’Driscoll, the trade with pirates had resulted in a marked expansion of the town.’ 

In fact, this part of the south-west coast with its indented coastline and many sheltered bays was known as ‘the nursery and storehouse of pirates’ and in 1610, it had been reported to the king that pirates were receiving constant ‘relief from the people of Baltimore and Inisherkin.’ 

• To access the back catalogue of journals from 1892-2008 see


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