Cork’s Buried Landscapes

At the locus of Cork…

See how the Lee valley at Cork changed from a river to an estuary, and then from an estuary to the land-claim of the medieval period (Beese 2012).  Then watch the same environments evolve at one location in the southeast quarter of medieval Cork (Beese 2014). Finally, view existing landscapes that model the former environments of Cork: river, estuary and land-claim.

Please note that recent research has meant that the maps, shown in the following slideshow, are in need of revision. A new series showing some seven stages of development in Cork is proposed. The series will begin with changes in the natural, prehistoric environment, move on to the medieval waterways, and end with a depiction of the city’s eighteenth century canals.  [portfolio_slideshow]

The story begins when a river system was established in the Lee valley soon after the last glaciation. This fluvial environment of the early and mid-Holocene persisted into the Late Mesolithic  or Early Neolithic, when it was overtaken by an estuary as the marine transgression arrived from the east.

The former estuary at Cork
The former estuary (Beese 2013).  Plan to be revised in the light of new information.

The wetland, shown right, then remained unmodified until the end of the 11th century, when Hiberno-Norse people began to manually fill the estuary with silt, firstly, at the fringing marshes, and then moving into the intertidal area of mudflat and tidal channels. They did this by engineering diversion canals, timber revetments and other structures. Eventually, an organised settlement was built on South Island. This style of land-claim was continued by the Anglo-Normans who extended the occupied area across the full width of the Lee valley, so forming the medieval core of the city.

At 36-48 South Main Street…

Reed marsh and intertidal mudflat, 36-48 South Main Street.
Reed marsh and intertidal mudflat, 36-48 South Main Street (graphics by Nick Hogan, Department of Archaeology, UCC).

High quality reconstructions of previous environments are possible when these are based on archaeological excavations, and when additional evidence is available from engineering boreholes. On-site logging of boreholes and recovered samples is recommended.


Beese Anthony. 2014. The medieval land-claim. In M. F. Hurley and C. Brett (eds.).  Archaeological excavations at South Main Street [Cork] 2003-2005, 13-26.  Cork City Council.

Note on the term land-claim

The new phrase, land-claim, is in some ways preferable to the familiar term, reclamation, because at Cork, the Hiberno-Norse people converted an estuary into dry, habitable land, rather than restoring dry land that had been invaded by the sea.  On the other hand, reclamation is now so well established that its usage has widened to cover both restoration and conversion. And so, are both terms appropriate?