Michael (M.J.) Burke letter on eve of execution, January 1923

Regular readers will remember the chance discovery of Frank Cunnane’s letter on the eve of his execution in 1923 behind a dresser in a cottage in Headford. The posting of that letter has instigated a very rewarding section of this blog. We’ve received photosmass cards and letters from the period and have been very happy to facilitate the conversation which has arisen.

Recently Gerard Corry got in touch and forwarded a copy of a letter which was written on the Friday night of the 19th January 1923 and posted to his aunt Mary. The letter was written by one of the 11 men executed in January 1923 – Michael (M.J.) Burke from Caherlistrane, Co. Galway.  The other Anti-Treaty prisoners executed in Athlone were  Thomas Hughes (Athlone), who is referred to in the letter below; Stephen Joyce (Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway); Herbert Collins and Michael Walsh (from Derrymore, Caherlistrane, Co. Galway).

We’ve published a letter from Michael Burke previously -that one to his cousin Kathleen Greaney in Headford, also referred to in the letter below (Michael asks that Mary forward his watch to her). We’re delighted to be able to post the letter below and hope that by posting it we can continue to do some justice to the sacrifice these men made.

The Jack and Tom referred to are Gerard’s uncle and father respectively.

The scanned original below is followed by a transcript. We’ve also posted an image of the envelope with its unusual stamp (perhaps some kindly philatelist will let us know more about the stamp?).




back of envelope

The letter reads

Custom Bks
Friday Night

Dear Mary
I suppose you will be surprised to read this note. So don’t cry for me or Tom Hughes when you receive this I will be happy with the angels in heaven I will see you reading this note. Will you remember me to your father, Jack and Tom. I hope you will not think ill of me we fought so often but I was your trusted friend if you needed me. Say me to all the Boys for I done my best for all. Good bye and pray for the repose of our souls. You well deserve this note from me Mary But I hope we will meet another day

Good Bye from
M.J. Burke
Custom Bks

Will you send my watch to Miss Kathleen Greaney Ballinapark Caherlistrane
Co. Galway

Tell her for my Brother J Burke.

Unveiling of archaeological sign at Terryland



Brian Burke (Galway City Council), Declan Moore (Moore Group) and Jerry O’Sullivan (Galway County Council) attend the unveiling of a new archaeological sign at Terryland.

Galway City Council unveiled the sign commemorating the discovery of the skeletal remains adjacent to Terryland Castle which were excavated in 2013 by archaeologists from Moore Group. The remains were uncovered at the site when Galway City Council’s Transportation Unit began to install a pedestrian and cycle ramp off the Quincentennial Bridge down to the Dyke Road at Terryland in early 2013.

Moore Group, along with an osteo-archaeologist, Linda Lynch were engaged to investigate the finds. The Galway City Council’s heritage office and engineers, along with the National Roads Authority archaeologist worked in close conjunction with the site archaeologist and the licensing authorities in the National Monuments Service and National Museum of Ireland to facilitate the recovery of the finds.

Human skeletal remains of ten individuals – four men, three women and three juveniles – were discovered buried without coffins in shallow graves. All the burials were orientated east west – however three of the individuals, contrary to traditional practice, were interred with their heads to the east,indicating that they were buried without much care or ceremony. Analysis of the bones revealed no evidence of violent deaths and their profiles do not fit with combatants dying in a military action. What the bones do tell us is a general tale of hardship during these people’s short lives.

Some post-medieval pottery sherds, nails, glass and clay pipe fragments were found in the graves. These objects were not deliberately placed but would simply have been lying about the site and became mixed into the grave fills accidentally at the time of burial. The combined evidence of radiocarbon dating, early maps and artefacts indicates that most of the burials had a likely convergence in the 17th century, but a few of them may have been much older.

The nearby ruin, known as Terryland Castle, was once a fine 17th-century house. It probably replaced a much older, medieval tower house. The burial ground may originally have been associated with the tower house and was reused from time to time in later years for hurried, informal burials of poorer people who died in times of famine, plague or conflict.

Ireland in the 17th century was a dangerous place. From the Confederate Wars (1641-49), through the Cromwellian conquest (1649-53) and the Wars of the Two Kings (1689-1691), the civilian population endured a lasting tumult that decimated the population. Given the scale of the calamities endured by the population it is reasonable to conclude that many individuals deprived of their homes, ravaged by war, disease and hunger died prematurely, were buried often in haste, in unconsecrated ground and with little rite or ritual.

The unusual burial positions and the lack of coffins suggests that the burials in Terryland do not represent a traditional cemetery for the community, but rather served a more immediate function for the disposal of the dead in a period of stress that disrupted the normal functions of society. Rather than attempting to tie the demise of these individuals into a known historical event e.g. the 1691 skirmish at the nearby castle, it is more likely that their premature deaths were caused not by the swift violence of war but by the equally brutalising and fatal consequences of it.

For more information see our post here:



OXO knew their Prehistoric brewing techniques!

Just received delivery of Lynn Pearson’s ‘Built to Brew – The history and heritage of the brewery’, published by English Heritage.

IN her second chapter she references our experiments. The chapter is headed by an image from a 19th Century Trading Card produced by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company, the originators of OXO (image on bottom left of illustration below – the screenshot was scraped from a trading card collector website so apologies, the quality is not great). The wise marketeers at Liebig’s portray the earliest brewers using hot rocks to prepare their mash. Their brew site is near a stream. Their large pot is dug into a pit in the ground. All sounds very familiar….

There you go – even Oxo agree with us (and came up with the hot rock mashing theory far earlier)!

OXO trade card

Our ‘Day of Archaeology’

Being Irish, I find it very difficult to be optimistic and positive. I laugh at the motivational speakers, haven’t drank the Kool Aid of positive thinking and have always been a deep cynic. Pessimism seems to be our natural state as a people. Despite a slight economic upturn which appears to be reflected in the amount of archaeological work that’s out there, there’s a deep rooted cynicism within us which leads us to expect the worst.

But we did survive the famine, didn’t we (well, some of us did), and it’ll never be that bad again, surely?

This year Moore Group has been busier than any time in the past six years and we’re all feeling much more positive about the future. Maybe it’s just the fine weather which is infecting us with hope. Maybe it’ll all go wrong again tomorrow. Whatever happens, we woke up this morning feeling positive, with two gigs involving actual archaeology – so here’s our happy, happy, fun day of archaeology in tweets and video with some small explication.

Read the rest on the Day of Archaeology website here:

Day of Archaeology 2014


Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really get up to? Is it all just digging or is there a lot more to it? The Day of Archaeology project aims to provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world. The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate with us in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on this website. The resulting Day of Archaeology project demonstrates the wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe, and helps to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world.

For more see the website.