Sword Injuries On A Skull From The Dominican Priory,

Neenagh, Co. Kildare

Laureen Buckley

32 Ard-Rí, Beamore Rd., Drogheda, Co. Louth


A small area of excavation in what would have been the grounds of the medieval Dominican Priory in Neenagh, Co. Kildare, revealed the skeletal remains of at least seven individuals. One of the 'in situ' burials was that of a male aged between 21 and 30 years of age at the time of death. Only the upper part of the skeleton was recovered. Although the skull cap was virtually complete it was in fragments and examination of these fragments revealed that the skull had been cut with a sharp instrument such as a sword. Reconstruction of the skull revealed that there were at least seven wounds, three of which appeared to have been hit with considerable force since they were associated with secondary fractures. A full description of the skull is provided in the forthcoming Journal of the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society.


There was a horizontal cut through the occipital bone which must have been delivered with some force as there is a secondary fracture running obliquely from the most lateral end of the cut to the mastoid process on the right side. In a typical battle position a person standing facing a right handed attacker would receive wounds to the top left side of the skull and this seems to have occurred here as there are four wounds on the left parietal bone.


All the wounds to the left side of the skull in this individual could have occurred in a combat situation, however, it is not probable that the victim remained standing and some of the blows could have been delivered while he was falling to his knees and then to the ground.


Two further cuts were observed which could have occurred after the victim had fallen. The left mastoid process had been cut cleanly through from back to front, and a cut through the zygomatic process, which had also occurred from the back to the front, was also evident. These cuts were probably delivered from the one blow and it is possible that the victim's ear was cut off as a result. Whether this was an accidental side effect of a frenzied attack or a deliberate removal as a trophy of war is speculative.


Although there have been numerous examples of decapitated skulls, and skulls with weapon wounds found in Ireland, particularly from areas around town walls or castles, these are more likely to be associated with executions and no large scale battle sites have been excavated. This individual from Neenagh had clearly been in a fight and his ear may have been removed as a trophy. I'm sure there have been other examples of this on skeletons from known battle sites but is it a common occurrence?