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Beaubec excavation of the Norman Monastery. Source: Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use.

Norman Artifacts Indicate Long-lost Monastery Has Been Found in Ireland

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In Ireland a long-lost 13 th century monastery has been found along with a large number of medieval artifacts. Monastic farms and other buildings that belonged to French and Norman monks who had settled in Ireland were unearthed. The finds are throwing light on the economic, political, and social structure of Ireland in the decades after the Norman conquest.

The discoveries were made, on some private land at a location known as Beaubec, just outside the town of Drogheda in the County of Meath . The Irish Mirror reports that the dig was undertaken “at the behest of landowner and local historian John McCullen”.

He passionately believed that some ruins on his lands were of great archaeological importance and has finally been proven correct. According to local tradition a great Cistercian monastery was built in the area during the Middle Ages and there are some records to support those claims.

The Norman Monastery excavation cut D after completion. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

The Norman Monastery excavation cut D after completion. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

The Normans in Ireland

The excavation was conducted by medieval expert Matthew Stout and his wife, archaeologist Geraldine reports the Irish Mirror . The couple have previously made some important discoveries relating to the Norman presence in Ireland. Their work was sponsored by the FBD Trust and was supervised by the local council.

The Stouts told the Irish Examiner that the finds are “hugely significant”. The couple and their team found a massive number of shards of French style pottery.

Very large sherds of Drogheda style pottery were discovered at the Norman Monastery. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

Very large sherds of Drogheda style pottery were discovered at the Norman Monastery. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

They also found some fragments of a 13 th century jug, probably from Normandy, and some roof tiles that were not produced in Ireland at this date. These have been removed from the location and are the subject of post-excavation examination and conservation.

A reconstruction of the roof that slid into the moat at the eastern end of the Norman Monastery. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

A reconstruction of the roof that slid into the moat at the eastern end of the Norman Monastery. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

The archaeologists also discovered a kiln that was used to dry cereals such as corn and peas, staples of the medieval diet. The Stouts told the Irish Examiner that this kiln “confirms that crop rotation was ongoing in the 13th century in Ireland”. There also appears to have been French style farms located in the area.

The kiln with its deposits removed. The charcoal-rich deposits in the kiln flue can be seen at the top. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

The kiln with its deposits removed. The charcoal-rich deposits in the kiln flue can be seen at the top. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

During the survey they also found that the site was very large and unearthed the remains of a gatehouse that once guarded the entrance to a large complex of buildings, which had a French style buttress. David Sweetman and Con Manning, two well-known experts on medieval archaeology, stated that, “a diagonal French support is very rare, if not unique in Ireland”, according to the Irish Examiner .

800-year-old Monastery Rediscovered

This evidence is providing proof that the site was the location of the long-lost monastery , known in Latin as De Bello Becco. There is documentary evidence that there was a French Cistercian monastery in this general area, but it had never been found.

It appears that the recent dig has found the lost cloister and its complex of ancillary buildings. This proves the local claims that the Cistercians had lived in the area was correct. Matthew Stout told the Irish Mirror that “we are fortunate people that we were able to unearth this amazing story”.
It appears that the land was given to members of this order of monks from Normandy by the powerful Walter de Lacey in 1215. His family was among the most powerful Norman magnates in Ireland.

Excavation of the Norman Monastery is revealing a complex of ancillary buildings. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

Excavation of the Norman Monastery is revealing a complex of ancillary buildings. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

They played a leading role in the conquest of southern, central, and eastern parts of the island from 1169 to 1175. The French Cistercians were invited to Ireland in order to bolster Norman control of the island and they established their community at Beaubec.

This location was of great strategic importance and occupied a key point in the vital Boyne Valley . The monastic order played a crucial role in the development of the region, as they established a commercial network and engaged in long-distance trade.

The French monks also were innovators in agricultural production and noted farmers. This helped to strengthen the Normans hold on this part of Ireland.

The Monastery was Dissolved by Henry VIII

The monastery played a crucial role in medieval Leinster, even during the so-called Gaelic Revival of the 14 th century when the Irish Celts re-occupied most of the lands taken by the Normans. It appears that some 100 monks and possibly many others lived at the site for centuries. The monastery was a religious center until the early 16 th century when Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of all the monasteries in English-held lands in Ireland.

The husband and wife team of archaeologists hope to return to the site of the monastery and to find more remains. The actual cloister and its church have yet to be identified. The discovery of the long-lost monastery is expected to provide more insights into the Norman conquests in Ireland and into medieval monasticism .

The dig at the medieval Norman Monastery. (Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

The dig at the medieval Norman Monastery. ( Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use)

Top image: Beaubec excavation of the Norman Monastery. Source: Beaubec Excavations / Fair Use.

By Ed Whelan

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