27 July 2014

Viewing the cross at Balrath and
the ruins at Mellifont before
lunch by the beach in Bettystown

A table for two on the terrace outside Relish in Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Conerford

Despite the light rain that descended on the east coas late today, four of us went for a brief walk on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon.

As the rain eased and the tide continued to recede, it was possible to see as far north as the Mountains of Mourne on the Co Down coast, while out only a short distance to the east a cluster of small trawlers were working away in the shallow waters off the coast.

We had a late lunch in Relish, and even in the rain enjoyed the views out over the sandbank, down onto the beach and out to the Irish Sea.

Earlier in the morning, I was celebrating the Eucharist and preaching in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge.

The east face of Balrath Cross is carved with a Pieta and inscriptions in Latin and English (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later we drove north and stopped at Balrath to see Balrath Cross, a 16th century Wayside Cross, now located in Ballymagarvey Cemetery , close to the grounds of Ballymagarvey House.

The cross was moved to its present location several years ago because of road widening around the corner at Balrath Cross.

The east face of the cross is carved with a Pieta or image of a steaed, weeping Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ resting in her lap. Below this image is a Latin inscription asking for prayers for the soul of John Broin, and below that again is a later inscription in English saying the Cross was “beautified” in 1727 by Sir John Aylmer and his wife Catherine. This may be Sir John Aylmer, 3rd Baronet, of Balrath, who died in 1714.

The west face of Balrath Cross, is carved with a crucifixion and small knot carvings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On the west face of the cross, a crucifixion is carved on the upper portion, with small knot carvings beneath. At the ends of both arms there are carvings of two masks, and there are several other smaller carvings on the cross.

The graveyard surrounds the ruins of Ballymagarvey Church, which dates back to 1658. Ballymagarvey Cemetery is probably much older and may have been more extensive before it was enclosed within its present walls.

Local lore says Ballymagarvey takes its name from a mediaeval bishop named Magarvey or McGarvey. Beside the cross, cemetery and ruined church is Ballymagarvey House, built in the early 19th century for a Mrs Osbourne who had been granted 444 acres. The nearby Somerville Estate extended to 8,000 acres.

The Aylmer family came to live in Ballymagarvey House in the mid-19th century, when they built a Corn and Flax Mill village, with a pond, millrace and the beautiful cut-stone buildings which once housed the granaries. Today, the house is a popular wedding venue.

Romanesque arches the octagonal lavabo in Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From Ballymagarvey, we drove onto Johnstown, near Navan, and then through Navan, Slane and along the banks of the River Boyne before turning off to Tullyallen for Mellifont and the ruins of the largest and oldest Cistercian abbey in Ireland.

Mellifont Abbey, on the banks of the River Mattock and 10 km north-west of Drogheda, was founded in 1142 at the suggestion of Saint Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh.

Four years after Saint Malachy died, the Synod of Kells held some of its sittings in Mellifont in 1152, and was attended by bishops, kings and the papal legate, John Paparo.

By 1170, there were 100 monks and 300 lay brothers at Mellifont. The abbey was a model for other Cistercian abbeys in Ireland, and remained the principle abbey in Ireland until the Reformation and the suppression of the monasteries in 1539.

Little of the original abbey survives, apart from the octagonal 13th-century lavabo, where the monks washed their hands before praying and before eating, some Romanesque arches and the 14th-century chapter house where the monks met.

From Mellifont, we drove south through Drogheda to Bettystown for our late lunch in Bettystown. They were celebrating the seventh birthday of Relish, with balloons and a birthday cake. As usual, there was a warm welcome from the staff, the food was wonderful, and it was the perfect way to end the weekend ahead of what looks like being a busy week.

Walking on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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