Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Castle of the Faerie Queene Volume 52 Number 2, March/April 1999
by Eric Klingelhofer

[image] Romantic view of the ruins of Kilcolman Castle drawn by William Bartlett in the 1830s. (Courtesy Eric Klingelhofer) [LARGER IMAGE]

From 1589 to 1598, the English poet Edmund Spenser lived in Kilcolman Castle in Ireland, and there he composed much of The Faerie Queene, the greatest epic poem of the Elizabethan age. This fairyland came to an end in October 1598, when Irish rebels burned the castle; the poet died in London the following year. Spenser's son rebuilt Kilcolman, but it burned again in 1622 and has stood in ruins ever since.

In 1993, I began excavating the castle's ruins, a few surviving stories of a late medieval tower-house (fortified residential block) with an adjacent bawn (walled courtyard). We spent the first season clearing bushes, ivy, and manure from the ruins; this was followed by topographic and geophysical surveys and limited excavations. We showed that Spenser and his son had added Elizabethan touches like new windows and rooms; recovered artifacts associated with Spenser (a tuning peg from a stringed instrument) and his son (a clay pipe bowl); and determined that organic remains were well preserved, suggesting that Kilcolman would be an excellent place to study the diet of English landowners in Ireland.

I have recommended that the Irish government further excavate and preserve Kilcolman and establish an on-site museum. Then one of the greatest poets of the English language would again have a home, and a story, beyond his cold memorial in Westminster Abbey and his words in print.

Eric Klingelhofer is an associate professor of history at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America