“Venice of Ireland” comes to “Life in Russia”

Life in Russia has a very special guest blogger today. He is the Ruin Hunter of Ireland, “Edward Mooney” aka Eddie. I’ve followed his blog Ed Mooney Photography almost as long as I’ve blogged. He is a gifted photographer who not only has a great eye but shares the history behind his photos. He combines this history with Old Ruins, Folklore & Mythology that will intrigue all those who love the mystery and romance of the old castles and ruins of Ireland. He claims that he was a late starter in his photography work but something tells me this talent was always there. Eddie lives in Monasterevin with his wife and three little assistant ruin hunters. His website is here. You can also follow him on Facebook, flickr, and twitter.

1 Monasterevin

Image courtesy of Monasterevin Heritage

“Build a bridge, and get over it”

My Father-in-law is notorious for using a certain phrase when dealing with the various problems that pop up in life and it goes a little something like this, ‘Build a bridge, and get over it’. Well for thousands of years the human race, have done just that. Especially in my hometown of Monasterevin (Mhainistir Eimhín). So much so that Monasterevin has also become known as ‘The Venice of Ireland’ due to the excessive amount of bridges for a town of its size. Back in prehistory the landscape of the area was shaped by glacial activity. The melt water from the retreating ice-sheet formed out-wash plains of gravel to the east and west which became the Curragh in Kildare and the Great Heath in Laois respectively. The land in between the two plains on which Monasterevin is situated consists mostly of limestone which provided a perfect path for the formation of the river Barrow (Baru) and its tributaries the Black and the Figile. Traces of Neolithic man in the area put the first settlements here between 4000-2500BC. The deforestation by these farmers caused the peat bogs to form. A Dolmen which was the only one left in Kildare, (sadly now collapsed), once marked the burial of an important tribal figure in the area. Literally hundreds of stone axe heads were discovered on the riverbed at the three major crossing points within the town.

Images courtesy of Monasterevin Heritage

The spirit of the Barrow

These finds show just how important Monasterevin was as a fording point. It is believed that the Neolithic travelers would have sacrificed these valuable axe heads to the spirit of the Barrow. For many years Monasterevin was just the sleepy rural town that you passed through on the main road from Dublin to Limerick, until in 2004 the town was bypassed with the construction of the M& motorway, which took large volumes of traffic and passing trade out of the town. What many don’t realize is that the town has a rich and eventful history that spans from the Neolithic right up to modern day. With tales of Neolithic crossroads, Bronze Age antiquities, Early Christian Settlements, Rebellion and industrial innovation, Monasterevin is a far cry from the sleepy rural town many think it to be. Evidence of several earthwork enclosures dating from the Bronze Age (2500–500 BC) suggests that there were a number of small farmers in the area during this period. One such earthwork which still exists at the top of the town where the river Figile meets the Barrow is known as the Aquafort.

Left: Drawbridge 1977 – Top Right: Moore Abbey from across the Barrow – Bottom right: Market Square
Images courtesy of Monasterevin Heritage

8 Draw BridgeDrawbridge 2013
© Ed Mooney Photography

The Age of hero’s

During its use the water levels are believed to have been far higher than today, which would have made it far harder to attack. This was the beginning of the age of hero’s in Ireland, where many famous Kings, Warriors, Druids and Bards inhabited a magical land. By the arrival of the Iron age (500 BC – 400 AD) the bog land which surrounds the town had been fully formed and fortified settlement of the area continued. Although travelling through the area was difficult, the importance of a ford on the Barrow meant that this problem would be overcome. Eventually the equivalent of an ancient motorway was constructed through the bog land. Known as the ‘Danes Road’, and constructed by placing large planks of wood on top of a foundation of brushwood. The base layer of brushwood evenly spread out the weight of the large planks, thus providing a stable platform for crossing the bog lands. Not bad for an ancient race of people whom many would consider to be far inferior to ourselves with our modern science and technology. This way of building roads was in fact so good that it was used by chariots. St. Brigid is said to have ordered the construction of a similar road. Also during this period we have what became known as the Monasterevin Type Disc’s. Said to date from 1st or 2nd century A.D. These Bronze disc’s which were unique to Ireland. Out of the several discs in existence only two were found in the Monasterevin area. The reason they are referred to as Monasterevin Type is because there is no record of where the other five were found. Little is known about these discs and most documentation only accounts for how they were made.

Left: Bell Harbour & Crow Bridge – Right: Barge passing under the Drawbridge

Images courtesy of Monasterevin Heritage

Left: River Barrow – Right: Bell Harbour now

Images courtesy of © Ed Mooney Photography

“Tripartite life of St. Patrick”

With the arrival of Christianity in Ireland circa (300-400AD) many change occurred all across Ireland. The ancient ways were absorbed into the new religion and a new culture took over. St Evin, from which Monasterevin takes its name, established his monastery here in the 6th century, on the banks of the Barrow after serving some time at Rosglas. Evin was said to have a good political mind and was responsible for achieving special status for Monasterevin which placed the area outside common law, in effect making it a place of sanctuary. His famous bell was said to have been used for swearing oaths and was much in demand by tribes of the region for guaranteeing peace treaties. St. Evin is also said to have had a hand in the writing of the “Tripartite life of St. Patrick”. Other writing by Evin survives including the “Cain Emhin”. The monastery is said to have died out by the time the Vikings began their raids in Ireland, but the importance of the site continued. In 903 AD the battle of Ballaghmoon was fought for the ownership of the church of Evin. It would be almost 500 years later before another major religious establishment would occupy the site of Evins monastery. This time it was a Cistercian Abbey founded by Diarmuid O Dempsey. O’Dempsey was the head of the clan whom controlled much of the surrounding area during the 12th century. During this time the importance of Monasterevin as a crossing point on the Barrow came into play.

Left: The Marquis of Drogheda – Top right: Rent Book from 1837 – Bottom right: Entrance to Moore Abbey

Images courtesy of Monasterevin Heritage

16 Railway BridgeRailway Bridge

Image courtesy of © Ed Mooney Photography

Crossing the bridge one final time

With the O’Mores to the west and the Norman Earls of Kildare in the east, Monasterevin ended up in the middle of a power struggle between the two opposing sides. The Abbots at Monasterevin whom held a seat in Parliament had to play a dangerous game of politics, whilst assisting the native clans in their fight against the English crown. By 1541 the Abbey was handed over to Henry VIII during the suppression of the monasteries. As was the case with many similar sites Henry would lease them to his Nobles. During the Elizabethan period there were several occupants including Sir Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex after whom Essex Bridge is named. Also known as the Pass Bridge after he passed over it on his way to a failed campaign against the native Irish clans in Munster. Nobody can be certain if this was the last time he used the bridge but some believe that he crossed the bridge one final time on his way back to England for a date with the headsman’s block at the Tower of London. In 1613 Sir Adam Loftus whom later became Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1619, was granted the Abbey and Demesne at Monasterevin, which in turn passed on to the Earls of Drogheda after they married into the Loftus family. It was the fourth Earl whom sold their estates at Mellifont and moved the family seat to Monasterevin.

To be continued…………..

8 thoughts on ““Venice of Ireland” comes to “Life in Russia”

  1. Reblogged this on EdMooneyPhotography and commented:
    One of my biggest endeavours to date, an exclusive two part series which takes you on a journey through time, from the ancient past right up to modern times, exploring the fascinating history of Monasterevin, the town my family calls home. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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