16 March 2014
An old abbey and good food in Co Meath
and walks on the beach in Bettystown
It was good to be back in Christ Church Cathedral this morning [16 March 2014] after an absence of a few weeks: I had spent a weekend in Wexford, there was a family bereavement, and then a residential weekend with distance-learning, part-time students.
After coffee in the crypt, and a drive out to Navan Co Meath, four of us went through through the countryside of Co Meath before going for a walk on the beach in Bettystown. The after a late lunch in Relish, we returned to our drive along the Gold Coast of Co Meath and through the countryside, before returning through Navan and on to south Dublin.
Our first stop this afternoon was in Duleek, which I had last visited a year ago [18 March 2013].
Duleek was an appropriate Patrician site to visit on Saint Patrick’s holiday weekend. In 1989, the town celebrated 1,500 years of the Christian faith in Duleek, for Saint Patrick is said to have established a bishopric in Duleek, and that Saint Cianán became the first Bishop of Duleek in 489.
Next month, the town has another anniversary to mark for it is said that the bodies of Brian Ború and his son lay in state in Duleek Abbey in April 1014, on their way from the Battle of Clontarf to their burial Armagh in April 1014.
In the grounds of the abbey, we stopped to look at the massive square tower, towering above the 13th century church, marked by the scars where it once joined the earlier round tower.
We also looked at the remains of the two high crosses in Duleek, the North Cross and the South Cross.
The North Cross is the older of the two and dates from the 9th century, with elements of different Celtic themes, such as knots, spirals, mazes, figure sculptures, including scenes of the crucifixion, from the early life of the Virgin Mary, of the Holy Family, and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. On the same face, the top panel depicts an event from the history of the monastery, when the monk Adamnan visited the tomb of Saint Cianán. The south side of the cross contains a winged creature, while the east face and the sides of the cross have interesting geometrical designs. The centre of the cross has seven raised spirals representing 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 remains 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.
We also looked at tombs inside the ruined abbey commemorating the Bellow, Taaffe, Preston, Plunkett, and St Lawrence families, including the tomb of Lord Bellew, who was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691, the east window (1587), commemorating Sir John Bellew and his wife Dame Ismay Nugent, and the fragments of the tomb of James Cusack, Bishop of Meath (1679-1688).
Beside the abbey ruins stands Saint Kienan’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church, which was closed and deconsecrated some years ago and turned into a restaurant named ‘The Spire.’
After visiting Duleek on Saint Patrick’s weekend last year, I wrote that the restaurant had been closed, the windows were blocked up and boarded, the door was covered in graffiti and the outside lights had been pulled out of their fittings.
Today, however, I was delighted to hear that Aogán Dunne reopened the restaurant last August. There was a warm welcome from the new management in The Spire this afternoon, I was invited to photograph inside, and the menu was tantalising and tempting enough to want a return visit.
From Duleek, we drove across the Meath countryside to Julianstown, and then north on the road towards Drogheda, stopped briefly in Piltown, and then went for a walk on the beach in Bettystown.
Although the tide was out, the beach was still wet, and sea water remained in the ripples on the sand. Despite the arrival of Spring, the beach was covered in cloud, and it was difficult to pick out the Cooley Peninsula and the Mourne Mountains to the north or Laytown to the south. Yet there were chinks of blue in the sky and above the grey there was an expanse of what Louise MacNeice once called “white Tintoretto clouds.”
We had booked a table for four at 4, and once again received a warm welcome from the team in Relish Café.
This restaurant was opened by Denise Walsh in 2007 after she sold her café in Drogheda where she had been in business for 10 years. Today Relish has three branches, including two in Drogheda, but this remains a firm favourite, with its warm welcome, generous, good food, and its stunning location on sandbanks looking over the long sandy beach Bettystown and out to the Irish Sea.
Despite the cloud and the light rain that was now coming down, I could not resist a second walk on the beach before heading south to Laytown to show my friends the architecturally innovative Church of the Sacred Heart, which also stands on the sandbanks above the beach, looking out to the sea.
From Laytown, we went back to Julianstown and then further south to Gormanston, where I showed them the castle and the unique yew walks at my old school.
Dusk was now enveloping the Meath countryside, but we stopped briefly to look in wonder at the expansive field of daffodils outside Gormanston, before making our way back to Navan and from there to south Dublin.