Bective Abbey overlooking the legendary River Boyne is the oldest Cistercian foundation in Meath and the second oldest in Ireland. It was founded in 1147 with an endowment from Murchad Ua MSituated on a low rise in a broad bend of the River Boyne with a SW-NE section of the river c. 150m to the SE. The Cistercian abbey known as the Beatitudes and which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin was founded by Marchad O'Maeil Sheachlainn, king of Meath c. 1150. It was the first daughter-house of Mellifont (LH023-007002-) and as it was within the Pale was able to remain in contact with it until both were suppressed in 1537-40. The abbey was endowed by Hugh de Lacy, and although he died in 1186, his body was buried here in 1195 after a dispute with the Augustinians at St Thomas’ abbey in Dublin (DU018-020051-), who got his head. The abbot was a lord of the realm, and in 1488 abbot James Castlemartin was pardoned for supporting the pretender to the throne, Lambert Simnel. There was a religious community at Bective up to the end (Hogan 1976). At the Suppression in 1537 the timbers of the church roof were used to repair a mill at Trim. A hall and a cloister ‘roofed with tiles’ are also mentioned in the description of the precinct. There was 280 acres of demesne land together with a weir and a mill. Five tenants, with plots of 30-40 acres in the Grange of Bective, leased 175 acres, while there were four cottiers and 20 acres of commonage. There were other farms leased to tenants of a similar size with a compliment of cottiers: Balgyll (Balgill/Gillstown - 144 acres), Balbradok (Balbradagh - 155 acres), Dyellogh (Dunlough - 104 acres), Cloncoillen (Cloncullen - 120 acres) and Balbreyth (Balbrigh - 144 acres), which taken together comprise the parish of Bective (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 383-4; White 1943, 267-9). After the Suppression the estate was first leased by Thomas Agard, a vice Treasurer of the Mint, and it was purchased from the Crown by Andrew Wyse in 1552. Possession passed through his granddaughter to Sir Bartholomew Dillon of Riverstown (ME031-031----) and ultimately by purchase in 1638 to Sir Richard Bolton, which family retained it into the 19th century (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 116-20). The abbey was vested in OPW in 1894 and conserved soon afterwards. It is now a National Monument (Harbison 1970, 179-80) that is usually open, but only the cloister and church are accessible. There is a carpark at the roadside c. 80m to the W, but archaeological testing (99E0095) here produced no related material (Sweetman 2000). The surviving remains are complex and four phases of construction are represented (Leask 1916), but fabric dating from the foundation of the abbey is not present (Stalley 1987, 242-3). The S nave wall of the church with its quatrefoil clerestory windows at the top, the surviving fragments of the transepts, and the chapter house at the ground floor in the E range all date from the late 13th century. In the 15th century the N and S aisles of the church were lost and the S nave arcade built up in a blank wall into which two three-light multi-cusp windows under square hood mouldings were set. The nave was foreshortened at the W end and a new, smaller cloister garth (dims 11.3m N-S; 11.3m E-W) was built. The fine arcade of its walk survives on the S and W sides. Each side consists of three bays of three multi-cusp arches (Wth 0.73m; H 1.6m) separated by buttress-piers. The refectory was built over the S range, over-sailing the S cloister walk, and a dormitory similarly over-sails the cloister walk on the W side. The cloister arcade is typical of 15th century work, and two of the arches were moved to the S transept of Clady church (ME031-019004-), c. 1km to the N. One of the piers in the S range has an image of an abbot, and another pier with an image of a bishop is now displayed in the tower of Johnstown Roman Catholic church (ME025-041002-) in Navan. In a later phase a fortified tower house (ext. dims c. 11m E-W; c. 10m N-S) was built at the SW angle of the cloister over the vaulted chambers of the 15th century on the ground floor. There were three upper floors, each with large rectangular but now plain window openings on the S and W walls and fireplaces in the N and E walls. The entrance is a lintelled doorway in the projecting tower at the SE angle at the first floor, and a newel stairs in the projecting tower at the SW angle communicated between the floors. Sometime in the later 16th century, after the Suppression, the buildings were transformed into a U-shaped house, adapting the first floor of the E, S and W ranges as accommodation. The tower house was incorporated into the design and the W range was extended northwards into the W end of the now defunct church. A new entrance was provided on the S front at the first floor, reached by a grand stone staircase. The old chapter house was converted into a kitchen with a large oven in the adjacent chamber to the N. The other vaulted chambers of the ground floor were used for storage, and a stairs to the first floor was inserted in the S range, accessed from the old cloister walk. The most distinctive features of this phase are the large chimney stacks that are particularly visible, two on the N wall of the S range and one on the N gable of the E range. The first floor and an attic survive here with large rectangular windows of two or three lights under rectangular hood mouldings. It might have continued in occupation until Bective House was built around 1790 (Bence-Jones 1978, 35) c. 1.5km to the NNE, and it is depicted as a ruin by Grose (1791, 2, 16-7) and Wilde (1850, 91-4). (Leask 1916; Stout 2017) Archaeological testing (E3200) W and SW of the remains confirmed the existence of archaeological features (Larsson 2009). Low earthwork banks are in the area around the masonry remains, particularly to the S and W where a subrectangular enclosure (dims c. 56m x c. 53m) appears to underlie the masonry remains and might therefore relate to the original foundation of the abbey. Excavation (E4028) in 2009 demonstrated that the enclosure was 17th century in date but it sealed a corner of a building with an outer drain that is enclosed within a medieval ditch. This building is interpreted as an infirmary that was isolated outside the SW angle of the monastic complex (Stout 2012). Further work in 2010 immediately S of the S range recorded a stone-lined corn-drying kiln. A rectangular enclosure S of this could be interpreted as a kitchen garden since environmental samples produced evidence of herbs and vegetables including cabbage, mustard, dock, sorrel, radishes, pulses and elderberries. For the 2010 season see this web-page accessed on 8 January, 2015: http://www.excavations.ie/report/2009/Meath/0021722/ The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987). In certain instances the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research. See the attached aerial view from NW (015), NE (037), W (047) and N (065). See the abbot from the cloister arcade (054), and a general view from NE (106). This is a National Monument in state guardianship, No. 187. Compiled by: Michael Moore Date of revision: 15 January 2015
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.