One of the problems of coming from the colonial world is that white people have no history except for the native history of the indigenous people they pushed to one side. That history has no real place in the European mind so they hunt farther afield. They yearn for the history of their grandfathers and beyond. Ma Femme as I endearingly refer to my latest and last squeeze is from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Not the civilised Cape Town area that had been protected by Dutch, German and British people for 350 years who were glad to hang onto their toehold in Africa to welcome shipping that was denuding Asia of its content and scared to wander into the wilds of this vast and wonderful sub-continent. Port Elizabeth has only been around for 200 years and was once and still is the home of the Xhosa people who complained bitterly of their misplacement. After all they had been relaxing in that wonderful climate for over 10,000 years.
So is it any wonder Ma Femme, who originally thought that North Roscommon was a one horse place in which the horse had died years previously, should start to consider her position, in light of the fabulous stories this writer wove of times past. For one whose grandfather was birthed in the military barracks in Inchichore in the 1880s she was determined to take more interest in her adopted land and so she asked me to write of the wonders of Boyle.
I therefore took it upon myself to take a walk into town from our abode and point out to her the stuff that is on our doorstep every day of the year.
- The Wooden Bridge
We leave the house and within a 100 metres we are on the Wooden Bridge. No longer of course a wooden bridge but an old Bailey Bridge bought from a British Army jumble sale and erected here by the people of Boyle in the early 1960s. These bridges enabled the Allied armies to keep biting at Nazi arses on the long run from Normandy in June 1944 to eventual victory in Berlin in May 1945. The Nazis kept demolishing bridges in their wake to keep the dogs of war at bay. All they in fact did was destroy lots of European industrial revolution history whilst the Allies threw these type of bridges across any puddle they came to. A wonderful feat of civil engineering energy which has stood the test of time for over 80 years. It was called the Wooden Bridge because it replaced an historic crossing of the Boyle River which had been in place in its different guises since the 15th Century. In the early 132th Century King John of England, he of Magna Carta fame, decided that he would have access to every bit of his realm and that then included Ireland. So bridges were built all over Ireland to enable this boast.
So the wily Cistercian Monks of Boyle Abbey completed their bridge across the adjacent Boyle River in the early 12th Century to enable them to easily rebuild their monastery which had been partially destroyed by fire a few years previously and also score a few brownie points from their monarch. They set a toll on this bridge but I suppose they let the king access it for nothing but it was a hurdle for the poor cattle man.
In those days the local currency was cattle and many made their living droving cattle to where it was most needed. These men were modern day cowboys and in the Boyle area the big problem was crossing the Boyle River from the South. All they had was the monks bridge at Abbeytown who charged a pretty penny to cross. So an alternative route over an ancient fording place was set up. I have seen 15th Century maps showing a bridge at this location. and as far as I know there was little or no tolls. Once across they had a straight run through the town to-be of Boyle and along The Road To The Seas through Gurteen to-be and Tubbercurry and up the Windy Gap to Ballina. This was an ancient droving road mentioned in documents from the 8th Century. This route over the Boyle River was used continuously up to the early 20th Century, being modernised in the 18th century with the construction of a drinking area for tired horses still to be seen on the left hand side of the southern approach to the bridge. I now go over this ancient place every day in search of said drink during these lock down days.
2. St Columba’s Church
So over the bridge we go and turn left for town and a few hundred yards along this ancient track with the river on our left, we can look across at a sloping field and on its right hand side there is a plateau obviously man made on this ground falling into the bed of the river. It was here in the mid 6th Century that Columbus or Colmcille with his band of beligerent monks hit Loch Ce near Doon Shore and built a church on Church Island on the lake. Lots of history about this place, there is even a killin, a burial ground for unbaptised infants, there from the late 19th/ early 20th century but it is not on our route into town.
During this activity he rowed up the river with his gang of monks under the Wooden Bridge which of course was not there then and spotted this place I am talking about and they levelled off the ground and built this church complete with souterrain ( a cellar which was a place of safety and a store for food). In 1859 Fraser’s Survey of Roscommon noted that this souterrain was obvious and indeed accessible. It was here 500 years later that the Cistercian monks in their quest for a Reformation of Christian Ireland took shelter whilst they built their own magnificent dwelling further up the river. This church of Colmcille (Columba) stood the test of time until raided by cattle rustlers in the 15th century and destroyed. Obviously Christianity was not as important as a potential herd of cattle.
We continue down the road until we meet the modern day Sligo road at Boyle Celtic’s soccer ground where we turn left again into town still follow the Boyle River until we come to the Shilling Hill roundabout and to our left is the magnificent site of Boyle Abbey, the description of which we will save until part 2 of our journey into town.