On my walk into town from our abode at the Wooden Bridge we have come to Shilling Hill, in the townland of Knocknashee, a reasonably modern area, with Boyle Abbey and Abbeytown Bridge on our left. This road and roundabout area was reconstructed about 30 years or more ago when the new road to Sligo was being built. Here is really where Boyle began.
4. The Monastery of Boyle.
On the instruction of Malachy of Armagh, who was later canonised for his part in this play, two European orders of monks were invited into Ireland. The Augustinians and the Cistercians, the latter coming to Boyle first after a brief sojourn in Mellifont Abbey in Louth. The job of both these orders was to convert the wayward early Irish Christian church with their semi-pagan lifestyles into a more modern Church of Rome. The Cistercians after searching the area eventually set up camp on the Boyle River which of course did not have a name then and proceeded over the next 40 or so years to build their Abbey which was badly damaged by fire before it could be consecrated. They eventually completed their task in 1220 after building the adjacent bridge to aid their labours. It remained at the forefront of Christian civilisation for another 400 years gradually attracting the local population down from the Loch Gara/ Monastraven area to the more tranquil area of the abbey and slowly the beginnings of the town of Boyle took place.
For 400 years the monastery prevailed with this foundation being the heartbeat of local culture and commerce until Cromwell arrived on his tour of Ireland, sacked the monastery and killed its occupants. For the next 150 years it became a military establishment providing shelter for British armies as they attempted to quell the spirit of freedom that was part of Irish lore. They came badly unstuck one day in August 1599 when an English army led by General Conyers Clifford set out from the Monastery to go up the Curlew Mountains heading for Collooney and were set upon by a bunch of Irish lads from the O’Rourke and McDermott clans. Poor Conyers lost his head and the remnants ran back down to the Monastery. The last defeat of English troops on Irish soil if you discount the truce ( or defeat) in 1921.
In the 1790s the British Army bought King House in Boyle off the King Family and the military moved into a much grander establishment and the Monastery was let fallow for the next nearly 200 years and became a playground for the children of the town until the Board of Works realised what a jewel was there and gave it a cosmetic clean up. It is now a tourist hot spot and many a fat bellied American ex Gael tumbles down his charabanc’s steps to take a photo.
4. Abbeytown Bridge
To your left down by the side of the Abbey lies the Abbeytown Bridge originally built in 1200ish to complete the refurbishment of the original Monastery after fire and to follow King John’s edict that all lands in his domain had to be accessible. What you see is the original bridge built by the monks 820 years ago. It is the oldest working bridge in Ireland and is a monument to the science and skills of that day. Its secret is the use of hydrated lime in its mortar. This new concept then enabled stonework to be laid, jointed and set in a watery environment. It sets far quicker than normal limestone mortar and it was locally readily available. The Bridge itself consists of five arches, four Romanesque and one Gothic arch mirroring the arches in the nave of the Monastery. The upstream side of the bridge is consructed with four massive breakwaters which give the bridge its strength. In heavy weather i have measured a depth of water 1.2 metres higher on the upstream side than on the downstream side, a remarkable ability after 800 years. Over the years when the King family became the landowners of this part of Ireland, this bridge enabled them good access to the town from their mansion in Rockingham.
5. Abbey Bridge
As you stand at Shilling Hill 200 metres in front of you is the Abbey Bridge built by the King family in 1817. A one arched bridge which allowed travellers from Carrick on Shannon and the South to enter the northside of the town without travelling through the slummy south side. The Boyle Barracks, the RIC barracks and all the posh houses could be accessed this way.
6. The Rent House
At Shilling Hill we turn right into the town along Military Road and shortly on our left we come upon a small grandiose looking building, built of fine ashlared sandstone. It was once the counting house for the King family empire where all the poor and poverty-line tenant farmers had to enter and pay their dues on a regular basis. Originally it was built as two dwellings in about 1790, one housing the land agent, the other the treasury. This was run by the family agent who normally was one step removed from a cross between a dragon and a rat. For two hundred years the poor farmers had to turn up and pay their dues or risk eviction to live on the side of the road. Now the King family although not being all heart certainly did not evict as quick as some of their ilk but certainly their agents made it busy for the poor tenant. However history tells us that certainly more agents were murdered than landowners. Always be nice to your customers is the key.
After the Land Wars of the late 19th Century this important position of collecting taxes fell away, landlords of Ascendency leaning gave up their lands and buildings of this nature became useless. However the burgeoning middle class of Boyle, mainly by now sort of Catholic, bought the building off the King in residence and turned it into a Catholic club where the wise middle class could spin and weave plots to keep the under dog down. Normally they placed a time served Connaught Ranger NCO in charge as steward and he kept the rats and slummies out of the place.
Eventually this afterbirth or product of landlordism died away to a great extent when these burgeonese crap callers decided to find other ways to spin and weave and the house again fell into disuse until eventually being revived in the guilty period after De Valera’s death when Ireland realised that they had not played the game correctly and socialist values raised their heads.
The Irish government took this and other places in towns round Ireland, christened them Family Resource Centres and gave them a vision. “We aim to support and enrich family life in its diverse forms today, to affirm the value and uniqueness of each human being irrespective of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, disability, race and membership of the travelling community.” Fabulous words and aimed at the bullies of the world who it seems are mainly men. The poor women of this world certainly need a protection from the feral beasts that inhabit this male run world. However this worthy place closes for lunch Monday to Friday and is closed altogether Saturday and Sunday. Abuse obviously stops during these hours. However it is a wondrous place for the abused and down-trodden to flee to.