Monasterevin (Co. Kildare / West)
Monasterevin / Monasterevan / Monastereven (Monastir Eibhin) (pop. 3000) is situated close to the border of Co. Laois, where the Rivers Black and Figile feed the River Barrow as it bends south and is crossed by the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. (Photo – Nessa B / pancomido)
Once nicknamed “The Venice of Ireland”, Monasterevin currently boasts 25 bridges and suchlike structures (up to 12 visible from one point), including the C13th Ballagh / Pass Bridge, (officially named after the Earl of Essex, who crossed it in 1599 en route to his disastrous Munster campaign), the impressive Grand Canal aqueduct (1786), the bascule Drawbridge (1826), the Town Bridge (1832), the “metal bridge” railway viaduct (1847), and the elaborate Lifting Bridge on the Barrow Nevigation System.
Nowadays bypassed by the M7, Monasterevin was long an inconvenient bottleneck on the old main road linking DUBLIN and Limerick City, and has largely become a dormitory satellite of the capital.
Informed sources have variously described Monasterevin as a Neolithic Crossroads, a Sacred Site, a centre of industrial innovation, a stronghold of Orangeism, a hotbed of Nationalism, and an angler’s paradise; at the very least, it has an interesting past, diligently documented by the local History Society.
Monasterevin derives its name from an early C7th monastic community established by Saint Abban and entrusted to his protegé Saint Eimhin / Evin; the foundation, long known as Rosglas (green copse), lasted for several centuries until the Vikings destroyed it. The 903 AD Battle of Ballaghmoon was fought over ownership of the church.
The monastery was refounded in the late C12th by Dermot O’Dempsey, self-styled Prince of Offalia, as the prestigious Cistercian Abbey of Rosea Vallis (a name loosely adapted from Rosglas) dedicated to the BVM and (surprisingly) Saint Benedict; the first monks came from Baltinglass. The Abbots had episcopal powers and sat in the Irish House of Lords until the foundation was supressed under King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries. Although not even ruins have survived, a decorated C15th manuscript from Monasterevin Abbey is conseved by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The property passed through various hands until acquired in 1607 by Gerald Moore, who was made Viscount Moore of Drogheda in 1616 and died in 1627. The 3rd Viscount , Henry Moore, created Earl of Drogheda in 1661, planned much of the layout of late C17th / early C18th Dublin (hence many if the capital’s street names commemorating him and members of his family). The 5th Earl, Edward Moore, was forced by his predecessors debts to sell the family’s land at Mellifont (Co. Meath) and move to Kildare.
Monasterevin was laid out in the late C18th in accordance with a town plan drawn up by the energetic Charles Moore, 6th Earl of Drogheda, who encouraged local industry, founded the Punchestown Races, and in 1791 was created Marquess of Drogheda (a title that died in 1892 with the 3rd Marquess / 8th Earl).
In 1759 locally recruited soldiers in Lord Drogheda’s Light Horse Regiment fought French troops under Admiral François Thurot, who had captured Carrickfergus (Co. Antrim) in a diversionary raid during the Seven Year’s War. Monasterevin sent a volunteer unit to fight for the Crown in the American Revolution. Local men also made up the bulk of the 18th Light Dragoons, who saw action against Tipperary‘s White Boys in 1792, in the Second Maroon War in Jamaica in 1795, and against the French in Holland in 1799; renamed the 18th Hussars, aka Lord Drogheda’s Blues, they helped the Duke of Wellington to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte‘s forces in the Peninsular War and at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.
The 1798 Rebellion saw some serious fighting in the streets of Monasterevin. At 4:00 am on 25th May, about 1,300 insurgents led by Captain Padraig O’Beirne from Nurney attacked the town in three columns, one by the canal, one by the turnpike and one by the main street. They were opposed by 80 yeomen (including 14 Roman Catholics) under Captain Frederick Hoystead and Lt Bagot. After initial clashes, a disciplined cavalry charge routed the rebels, who fled leaving 63 dead. Five yeomen were killed and four wounded.
In its C19th Monasterevin enjoyed an unusually high level of industry, in the form of cereal / textile mills and Cassidy distillery & brewery, and was known as “the Venice of Ireland”. This admittedly farfetched sobriquet was based on its numerous bridges etc.
Many locals joined the British Army to fight (and in more than a few cases to die) on the Western Front in WWI. During the 1918- 1921 War of Independence, Monasterevin saw IRA activities aimed at disrupting railway transport.
Monasterevin made international headlines in 1975 when a Dutch businessman, Dr Tiede Herrema, was abducted by Provisional IRA members Marion Coyle and Eddie Gallagher, in support of a demand for the release of Republican prisoners, including the latter’s future prison bride, the English heiress and art thief Rose Dugdale. They were traced to a local house, culminating in a two-week siege ending with the release of Dr Herrema and the arrest of the kidnappers.
Most of the Georgian houses in the town date from when the current streets were laid out.
Monasterevin has quite a few reminders of its industrial past, notably the Cassidy Distillery & Brewery buildings (1786 – 1920) and Bell Harbour on the Grand Canal.
Moore Abbey, originally an early C17th mansion known as the House of Monasterevin, was renamed and remodelled in 1767 and modernised in the neo-Gothic style in 1836, but never lost its notoriety as one of the coldest Stately Homes in Ireland, rivalled only by Leinster House. (Photo by Andreas F Borchert)
The estate was the seat of the Earls of Drogheda until 1921. (The English-born 12th Earl, Dermot Moore, is a leading international photographer)
Preliminary excavations for the fashionable sunken gardens in 1846 unearthed numerous skeletons, presumably of monks buried in the old abbey cemetery.
The property was leased from 1925 to 1937 by the internationally famous Irish operatic tenor and Papal Count John MacCormack (who made Ireland’s first “talkie” movie, Song of My Heart, featuring Maureen O’Sullivan, in 1930 on the grounds), and sold in 1938 to the Sisters of Charity, who currently use the building as a convent / training centre for nurses of mentally handicapped patients.
The wooded riverside demesne is now a Coillte Recreation Area.
The Charter School, erected by Lord Drogheda in 1762, catered mainly for small children, and was replaced by a new Protestant Primary School in 1846. The derelict building has long been known as “the Hulk“.
Monasterevin House, an early Georgian mansion, was the home of the Cassidy family of whiskey and ale fame. It is now the Diocesan Generalate of the Presentation Sisters (who also own another beautiful Georgian mansion nearby, the former Skeffington-Smyth residence, Mount Henry, now Mount St Anne’s Retreat Centre).
St John’s parish church (CoI) was constructed in 1767 with stones from the old abbey at Rosglas. It has exceptionally fine wrought iron gates and lovely stained glass windows.
Ss Peter & Paul’s parish church (RC) was inaugurated in 1847, at the height of the Great Famine. The neo-Gothic limestone edifice has fine stained glass windows, notably the Rose Window, and a splendid Venetian marble altar with charming cherubs.
Togher House, a large neo-classicalvilla erected by James Cassidy in 1854 on the occasion of his marriage, was later occupied for a time by the house-hopping Papal Count John McCormack, who described it as “the gem of them all“. The property is strictly private, so the magnificent interior can only be admired online, but there is nothing to stop passers by from peeking at the beautiful gardens.
The Celtic Cross monument in the main square was erected by local Nationalists in 1899 to commemorateFather Edward Prendergast, ordained in Salamanca in1749, who for his ministrations to insurgents during the1798 Rebellion was hanged from a tree in the garden of Monasterevin House. (Photo byAndreas F Borchert)
The Market House, erected by Lord Drogheda in 1905, is now a branch of the Bank of Ireland.
The town’s Riverside Park, inaugurated in 1996, has won several awards.
Saoirse ar an Uisce (“Freedom on the Water”) is a 59ft inland waterways barge designed and built specially to cater for people with physical or intellectual disabilities. The Booking Office is in the River House Arts & Crafts centre on Main St., and the wheelchair-accessible boat can be boarded in nearby Bell Harbour.
The great Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins visited Monasterevin to stay with the elderly Miss Mary Cassidy and her widowed sister Mrs Eleanor Wheble on at least 7 occasions between 1886 and his death in 1889 (more info). This literary connection is commemorated by a James McKenna sculpture, the riverside Hopkins Garden and an annual literary festival, the Gerald Manley Hopkins Summer School, held every July.
Monasterevin’s annual Canal Festival is held every August Bank Holiday weekend, attracting large crowds.
The Hazel Hotel, owned and run by the Kelly family, has long been a traditional spot to break a journey for a quiet drink, a good meal or an overnight stay.
Cloncarlin House, about 3km away on the Nurney Road, is a lovely C18th farmhouse owned and run by Marie McGuinness and her familyas a very reasonably priced B&B.