Spade 287.1967

Length 125.7 cm, Width 19.5 cm, Depth 2.7 cm

Ballinderry River, 1:5000, Historic 6" Map 1842  .  © Ordnance Survey Ireland, 2017

Ballinderry River, 1:5000, Historic 6" Map 1842. © Ordnance Survey Ireland, 2017

Multi-spectral imaging of spade 287.1967 © National Museums NI

Find Location

While the exact find location of this spade from the collection of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is unknown, it is believed to have been found in the Ballinderry River. This river rises in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains and twists its way through Kildress and Cookstown, before finding its way down to the Lough Neagh basin, along the border between counties Tyrone and Derry. 

The Irish translation of Ballinderry is Baile an Doire, which translates as 'townland of the oak wood', is consistent with the historical location of one of Ulsters largest medieval woods, Glenconkyne. At one time, the woods covered a large area from the western bank of Lough Neagh, running northwest through present day Moneymore, Draperstown, and into Dungiven. The woods were heavily exploited for the production of barrel staves throughout the 17th century (Foster and Chesney 1998: 144, Everett 2015: 96, 97), and as is apparent from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1842, left, are now lost. 

References in the Literature

The spade is reported in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol.31 1968, as follows:

"Iron shod wooden spade, of which the shaft and wooden blade have been cut from a single piece of timber. There is a handle at the end of the shaft, cut from the solid. One side of this has been broken, but assuming it to have been symmetrical, it can be estimated as having been 9.0cm. long. Including the handle, and measured to the shoulder level of the wooden blade, the total length of the shaft is 91.0cm. It is 4.5cm. wide and 3.0cm. thick near the junction with the wooden blade, tapering to 3.0cm. wide and 1.5cm. thick at the other end. The right shoulder of the wooden blade is longer than that on the opposite side; the maximum width of the wooden blade, across the shoulders, is 18.5cm. The wooden blade is semi elliptical in shape, of maximum length 22.0cm. Its extremity fits into a socket 2.0cm. deep in the top of the iron shoe, and the depth of the shoe, in the middle and measured from the top of the socket to the mouth, is 15.0cm. The sides of the shoe are almost straight, but the junctions with the ends of the mouth are pronouncedly rounded. The mouth has been formed of a second piece of metal welded to the remainder of the shoe. Both faces of both wooden blade and iron shoe are flat, except for a thickening along the edges at each side of the shoe. The sides of the shoe extend upwards as straps along the sides of the wooden blade, and these continue across the shoulders, and along the sides of the shaft for a distance of some 8.0 cm. Each strap was secured by three nails, one in the side of the blade, one in the shoulder and one in the side of the shaft.
Additional security was provided by means of small lugs- semi-elliptical expansions from the base of the straps- extending on to the back and front faces of the wooden blade. These effectively constituted expanded ends to the socket in the top of the shoe. If the fact of the mouth of the shoe being formed from
a second piece of metal indicates renewal of the blade, then from the shape of this new mouth and taking into account the fact that the right shoulder is 1.5 cm longer than the left one, it may reasonably be assumed that the implement was used by an individual who placed his right foot on the spade"(Gailey 1968: 81)

Technical Analysis

Multi-spectral imaging of spade 287.1967 confirmed a previous conservation or restoration treatment identified during inspection of the object, but not noted in Gailey's  (1968: 81) description. The infra-red image, left,  indicates that the wood used for the lower portion of the blade absorbs infra-red differently to that used on the upper portion, and is likely of another type. Ultra-violet imaging indicates an adhesive residue (which fluoresces under UV light) along the joint between the two wood types . 


Gailey, A. (1968) Irish Iron-Shod Wooden Spades. Ulster Journal of Archaeology 31  77-86.

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