A Relic of Clonard, County Meath

From the Illustrated Dublin Journal, Volume 1, Number 35, May 3, 1862

THIS now insignificant spot, which is situated near the river Boyne, county of Meath, was formerly a place of great splendour and considerable importance. It was heretofore called Cluainiriaad, which signifies the retirement on the western height, and more anciently Rossfiunchuill. However inconsiderable it appears at present, it was once famed as a bishop's see, and boasted of an abbey of regular canons, as well as of a nunnery for regular canonesses, dedicated to the Virgin.

St. Kyran, the son of Boetius and Dasercha, who was called the son of the artificer, and in the year 548, founded the famous abbey at Clonmacnoise, in the King's County, having received a grant of that place, together with Inis-Aingin and one hundred churches in Meath, from Dermid, the son of Cervail, monarch of Ireland, a short time before his death, which took place in 549, bestowed Clonard upon St. Finian. Finian, who was of high descent, and eminent as a divine and philosopher, founded here an abbey, and dedicated it to St. Peter. He also established a school here, at which were instructed several men remarkable for learning and piety. In the year 548 he died of the plague.

From the annals of the abbey of Clonard we collect the following, as the most remarkable of the vicissitudes to which it was exposed. In the year 838 the Danes destroyed it and put the clergy to the sword. These ruthless invaders also destroyed it in 888. King Congalagh, in 949, exempted it from cess and other charges. In 1136, the people of Brefney (now the county of Leitrim and part of Cavan) not only rivalled but surpassed the Danes in the barbarity of their conduct towards this religious house; for they not only ravaged and sacked the abbey, but acted with great cruelty to O'Daly, then chief poet of Ireland. They at the same time carried away the sword of St Finian. Donald O'Doin Fhiacha, lord of Teaffia, became a great penitent, and died here in 1141; a great part of the abbey, and all the library, was consumed by accidental fire in 1143. The abbey and town were despoiled and burnt in 1170, by M'Murcha, aided by Earl Strongbow and the English; and having been afterwards rebuilt, they suffered a similar fate in the year 1175, about which time Walter, son of Hugo de Lacy, erected a monastery here, under the invocation of Saint Peter, for Canons Regular of St. Augustine. The nunnery was founded and endowed by O'Melaghlin, King of Meath, who dedicated it to the Virgin, before the arrival of the English. As to the bishoprick of Clonard, it was, before the year 1152, united to that of Trim and others, all of which were annexed to Meath about the commencement of the following century.

There is not at this day a vestige remaining of its former magnificence; and even the curious tomb which Seward and Archdall say once was here, has vanished by the ruthless plans of some modern vandal. The present church is a wretched looking edifice, and in still more wretched repair. It consists of an oblong rectangular choir, about fifty feet long by twenty-four broad, having a tasteless steeple fifty feet high at the west end, on one side whereof is placed an old corbel stone, with an antique-shaped head carved upon it.

A venerable font, of which the engraving on the preceding page is a sketch, is exceedingly curious. It is formed of limestone or marble, and on the inside of the shape of a convex demisphere. The outside is an octagon, composed of square panels, beneath which are eight other panels that diminish in size towards the base. The upper panels are ornamented with biblical subjects.

Beauties of the Boyne and Blackwater