Friday, April 12, 2013

Bridgetown Priory, County Cork

Bridgetown Priory is a beautifully preserved medieval priory positioned on the western bank of the River Blackwater in County Cork. The Priory was founded in the early thirteenth century, by Alexander Fitz Hugh the Norman Lord of Castletownroache. He gave the site to the Augustinian Order, with thirteen carucates of woodland, pasture and arable land. A carucate was a medieval unit of assessment, that was calculated by the area a plough team of eight oxen could till in a single season. One carucate very roughly equates to around 120 acres, suggesting that Fitz Hugh’s original donation to the Augustinians at Bridgetown was around about 1560 acres.  He also generously donated one-third of his revenue from his mills and fisheries and all tolls from the bridge that once crossed the Blackwater at the Priory.

The Augustinian order had started to flourish in Ireland after the Anglo-Norman invasions that began in 1169, and as well as the establishment of Bridgetown Priory the area suddenly sprouted more priories, friaries, abbeys and nunneries nearby in Buttevant, Fermoy, Ballybeg, Glanworth and Castlelyons. We visited the remains of a number of those sites and will cover them in future articles here on Time Travel Ireland. Bridgetown Priory was a wealthy and prosperous site for the first century after it was established. In the Papal Taxation of 1306 the value of Bridgetown was reckoned at the hefty sum of £40.
The Tomb of the Roache Family

A number of the structures that make up Bridgetown Priory have survived in excellent condition, making it a fantastic site to explore. The early thirteenth century church is in good condition and contains an internal wall that seperates the nave (where the general congregation sat during mass) from the choir (reserved for the monks and clergy). There are signs of later medieval developments and modifications at the church, with a large two-storey residential tower added. You can see an interesting fifteenth century tomb of the Roche Family in the Choir, if you look carefully at the decoration you can see an upside down shield with a fish on it. Having the shield upside down indicates the death of the bearer, and the fish was the emblem of the Roche family who were probably key benefactors of the Priory. Above the tomb there is a well preserved late thirteenth century window.

 As you pass through the church you can encounter a number of medieval buildings and features such as a sixteenth century chapel, a well preserved thirteenth century graveslab, the calefactory (or warming house, apart from the kitchen, the calefactory was the only other building in the Priory allowed to have a fire), the priors domestic quarters, a room thought to be the kitchens, a large refectory where the priors met for large communal meals and a vaulted passageway that leads to the cloister. The remains are extensive and you can easily find hours slip by at this wonderfully peaceful spot. I highly recommend a visit, it has a similar feel and atmosphere to the extensive Kells Priory in Co. Kilkenny.

By the fourteenth century Ireland had fallen into a period of strife and warfare as the resurgent Gaelic Irish fought the Anglo-Normans for supremacy. Bridgetown itself suffered during this period, and by the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during King Henry VIII’s reign in 1541 the site was noted as being largely in ruins, and its value only estimated at £13. The last Prior at Bridgetown was given a pension, and the site was granted to the English soldier Robert Browne. The site was sold on a number of times before completely falling into ruin. Cork County Council began conservation works on the site in the late 1970’s and now it is open to the public. The site is free to enter with a number of interpretation panels positioned around the priory, and there is space to park your car in front of the site.

Bridgetown Priory is located about 12km west of Fermoy off the N72. About 2km south of Castletownroache take a minor road to the west at Kilcummer. Then take the road to the south after half a kilometre, the site is well signposted.

If you love images and information about Ireland's wonderful heritage sites you can get daily updates at Facebook, Twitter or Google+, or perhaps you might like to check out our website where we offer the highest quality audioguide experience in Ireland. Listen to the story of one of Ireland's iconic heritage sites, full of original music and sound effects they are a fun and immersive way of appreciating Irish history that can be enjoyed at the sites or from the comfort of your own home.

All photographs © Neil Jackman /