Navan, Kells, Bective Abbey, Trim and Tara - Irish Pictures (1888)

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1888) by Richard Lovett

Chapter III: The Valley of the Boyne … concluded

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Navan, Kells, Bective Abbey, Trim, and Tara, are all well worth the attention of the leisured traveller. They are all rich in remains which indicate the part they have played in past history. At Tara, whose old Irish name, Teamhair, means an elevated spot commanding an extensive prospect, there is not only a view similar to but less comprehensive than that at Slane, but there are also evidences of the power of the early Irish kings. The spot ceased to be a royal residence as early as 563 A.D., and it is hardly needful to state that the evidences of past grandeur are not so conspicuous as at Cashel and Trim. The remains are chiefly raths or duns, that is, old mounds and enclosing fortifications of earth, that have evidently been residences in the past. The largest of these, Rath Riogh or Riga, is an oval 850 feet long, enclosing the mounds known as the Forradh and the Teach Cormaic, or House of Cormac. The Forradh is flat at the top and encircled by a double earth-work, enclosing a ditch. Upon the centre of this stands a stone pillar, placed there in 1798 to mark the graves of some who fell in conflict with the English troops. This pillar had lain for ages upon a neighbouring mound. Dr. Petrie held that it was the famed Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, upon which for many ages the Irish kings were crowned. This opinion is not shared by all scholars; if it be true, then this Lia Fail should be under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, in the place of the stone so long preserved there. To the north of the Forradh lie the remains of the great banqueting hall. These consist of two parallel lines of earth divided by openings, six on each side, which show where the ancient entrances stood; it was 360 feet long, and 40 wide. From the centre of the Forradh the finest view of the surrounding country is obtained.

Kells is a lively little town, situated near the Blackwater, celebrated as having been the residence of Columba, who founded a monastery there in 550, and as containing a round tower, a building known as St. Columbkille's house, and several splendid old Irish crosses. The saint's house belongs to the class of building and to the same age as St. Kevin's Kitchen, already described. One of the crosses is in the town, three are in the churchyard, and one, the finest of all, in the market place. Kells was in very remote times the home of learning and literature. The most conspicuous evidence of this is the Book of Kells, so fully described in Chapter I., which in all probability was written in the monastery in this town.

Trim, the last place in this rich valley we shall note, though of great antiquity, presents important remains only of much later date than its neighbours. Sir W. Wilde grows enthusiastic over its charms. 'To see Trim aright the tourist must approach it by the Blackbull Road from Dublin, when all the glorious ruins which crowd this historic locality, and which extend over a space of above a mile, burst suddenly upon him: the remains of St. John's Friary, and castellated buildings at Newtown; the stately abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, a little farther on; the grey massive towers of King John's Castle; the Sheep Gate, and portions of the town wall; and, towering above all, the tall, commanding form of the Yellow Steeple, which seems the guardian genius of the surrounding ruins. All these beauteous objects, with the ancient church tower, the town itself, the Wellington Testimonial, and the modern public buildings, form a combination of scenery and an architectural diorama such as we have rarely witnessed.'[12]

The Yellow Steeple, a square tower, of which only the east and part of the north and south walls are standing, is 125 feet high, and was probably a watch tower. Immediately beside it, in ancient days, were the buildings of St. Mary's Abbey. The castle of King John, so called simply because that monarch once lodged in or near it, was built early in the thirteenth century, and has the proud pre-eminence of being the finest ruined castle in a country peculiarly rich in that class of architectural treasure. The ruins cover two acres; the donjon or keep rises to a height of eighty feet, and the walls in places are twelve feet thick. The castle was surrounded by a moat, 486 yards long, into which the waters of the Boyne could be admitted.

Here, during the last seven centuries, many a pageant has taken place, and many a tragedy been enacted. Men famous in history have stayed within these walls. 'We cannot forget the pageants and tournaments of Richard, Earl of Ulster, the imprisonment of the families of the Dukes of Gloucester and Lancaster, during Richard II.'s sojourn in this country; the confinement here of the royal hero of Agincourt; its occupation by the De Lacys, the Mortimers, the Verdons, the Cootes, its parliaments and its sieges—all of which throw a degree of splendour over the ruins of Trim.'[13]

In the early part of the fifteenth century, Sir John Talbot, 'the Scourge of France,' erected a castle at Trim, of which scarcely any traces remain.

Dangan, where the Duke of Wellington lived as a boy, is only five miles away, and on his twenty-first birthday Trim elected him as its representative in the Irish Parliament. Only two miles distant is Laracor, once the residence of Dean Swift; and along the quiet roads of this peaceful region he and Stella often sauntered.


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[12] The Boyne and the Blackwater, p. 79.

[13] Ibid. p. 95.