In September 2016, the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork were commissioned by the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership to undertake a community-based archaeological investigation at a site known as ‘Retreat Castle’ in the uplands close to Cushendall, County Antrim.
Retreat Castle survives as a complex of ruinous buildings on a flat upland plateau, with a ‘U’ shaped arrangement of buildings surrounding a roughly rectangular courtyard. The buildings date to the late 18th century and were constructed by Captain George Ewing. This enterprise can be viewed as part of a programme of ‘Improvement’ that took place in Ireland and Britain during the 18th century, but the venture at Retreat was one which failed, with Ewing having to sell off all his possessions in 1780 following successful legal action by his mother-in-law. The site would appear to have then fallen into ruin to the extent that the Ordnance Survey of 1832 assigned the complex an ancient designation despite it being a mere sixty years old.
Six trenches were excavated to improve our understanding of the site and revealed a great deal of information regarding the appearance and layout of the complex. A finely laid cobbled surface with a stone-lined drain was uncovered in Trench 2. In Trenches 3, 4 and 6, architectural details of the house were revealed including a blocked-up doorways, internal divisions and hearths. While in Trench 5 the probable remains of a lime kiln were uncovered.
This was a community-based investigation, with 338 school children and 71 adult volunteers taking part in fieldwork over a three-week period, and with the feedback from the schools being exclusively positive. The excavation was also featured on BBCNI’s Radio Ulster ‘Your Place and Mine’ Saturday morning magazine show.