Monday, 18 March 2013
A visit to Duleek Abbey and a late lunch in Skerries
The holiday weekend marking Saint Patrick’s Day extended into another day today [18 March 2013]. After I had preached at the Festival Eucharist on Saint Patrick’s Day in Christ Church Cathedral, a small group of us climbed one of the cathedral towers to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.
This afternoon, we drove out to Co Meath to see if the daffodils had yet come to full bloom in a large field at Gormanston.
From Gormanston, we drove west up the gently climbing hills to Bellewstown, which stands on the Hill of Crockafotha, with sweeping views to the north to Drogheda, the Boyne and as far as the Mourne Mountains, and out to the Irish Sea to the east.
The Bellewstown Races here were first recorded in the Dublin Gazette and the Weekly Courier in August 1726. In 1780, George Tandy, a former Mayor of Drogheda and brother of James Napper Tandy, persuaded King George III to sponsor a race at Bellewstown – His Majesty’s Plate was worth £100.
From Bellewstown, we drove on to Duleek, to visit the churchyard of Saint Kienan’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church, and the site of an early monastery. In 1989, Duleek celebrated 1,500 years of the Christian faith in Duleek.
Duleek takes its name from the Irish daimh liag, a house of stones, probably referring to Saint Cianán’s Church, said to have been the first stone-built church in Ireland.
It is said Saint Patrick established a bishopric in Duleek ca 450 AD, and Saint Cianán became the first bishop in 489. A monastery was built on the site, but it was sacked several times by the Vikings between 830 and 1149. In between those raids, the bodies of Brian Ború and his son lay in state in Duleek in April 1014, on their way from the Battle of Clontarf to their burial Armagh.
Duleek was pillaged once again by the Normans in 1171. Soon after, however, Duleek Monastery was reconstituted as Saint Mary’s Abbey ca 1180, when Hugh de Lacy, the Anglo-Norman Lord of Meath, granted Saint Cianán’s Church, along with lands around Duleek, to the Augustinians. At the same time, he built a manor and a motte castle at Duleek.
Inside the ruined abbey church are some early cross-slabs, a Romanesque pilaster-capital, and the base and head of the South Cross.
Two tombs inside the abbey church commemorate the Bellew family, who gave their name to neighbouring Bellewstown, which we had visited earlier. One is a mensa-slab, supported by tomb-surrounds, bearing the arms of the Bellew (Bellewstown), Plunkett, Preston (Gormanston) and St Lawrence (Howth) families. The other is the tomb of Lord Bellew, who was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.
Above these tombs, the east window, a 1587 post-Gothic replacement, with the arms of Sir John Bellew and his wife Dame Ismay Nugent beneath.
Nearby, tilted on its side, is part of the tomb of James Cusack, Bishop of Meath 1679-1688.
A massive square tower, towering above the 13th century church, was built beside the earlier round tower in the 16th century. Although the round tower no longer stands, the scar where the towers were joined can be seen clearly visible on the northern face of the square tower.
The abbey site has are two high crosses, the oldest of which is the short High Cross, known as the North Cross and probably dating from the 9th century. The North Cross includes elements of many different Celtic themes, such as knots, spirals, mazes. The west face has a number of figure sculptures, including a crucifixion scene and scenes depicting the early life of the Virgin Mary. Another scene may represent the Holy Family, perhaps the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
On the same face, the top panel depicts an event from the history of the monastery. Adamnan, a monk, visited the tomb of Saint Cianán, and – despite warnings – he touched the saint’s body, and subsequently lost an eye. Adamnan fasted in penance and miraculously his eye was restored.
The south side of the cross contains a winged creature, while the east face and the sides of the cross have some interesting geometrical designs.
The centre of the cross has seven raised spirals believed to represent the dance of heavenly bodies around the sun, centuries before Copernicus developed his theory of the earth revolving around the sun.
A portion of the South Cross can be seen inside the ruins of the abbey church. This sandstone cross head is mounted on a base – not the original – and measures are 90 cm high x 1.05 m arms span x 20 cm thick. There is roll moulding at the edges, a flat cross panel at the centre of the cross head, and four flat bosses at the ends of the arms.
The ruins of Saint Cianán’s Church are to the north-west of the ruined abbey, across a narrow lane. It is claimed locally that this was the first stone church built in Ireland. The earliest recorded stone church in Ireland was built on this site, and is first mentioned in 724.
In the 17th century, Duleek had a significant colony of Huguenots who had fled persecution of Protestants in France. About 250 Huguenot families were engaged in the weaving industry in Duleek prior to the advent of steam looms, selling their cloth nearby in the Linen Hall in Drogheda.
When Saint Kienan’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, was closed and deconsecrated, it was turned into a restaurant named ‘The Spire.’ Today, the windows are blocked and boarded, the door is covered in graffiti and the outside lights have been pulled out of their fittings.
From Duleek, we drove east to Julianstown, stopped briefly at Laytown, and then drove back through Julianstown, Gormanston and Balbriggan to Skerries, where the rain prevented a walk on the beach.
But we had a late lunch in Divino Italian Tapas Restaurant on Church Street. Although Divino recently celebrated its first birthday, the building is much older – a plaque on the side wall recalls that this was Skerries National School in 1834.