Tuesday 21 December 2021

St. Mary's Priory Co Louth


                                     Above Image: Lane way from the roadside
                                                   Above Image: Entrance gate

                                             Above Image: South wall arches

                                         Above Image: South wall entrance door

                                           Above Image: East gable inner view

                                          Above Image: Steps to basement door

                                           Above Image: West gable inner view

                                     Above Image: Sunken oratory or mausoleum.

                                Above Image: Stone remnant with raised head figures

                                               Above Image: St Mochta's house

St. Mochta, a disciple of St. Patrick is said to have founded a monastic site here in the early 6th century in what is now the Northern end of the village of Louth. No remnants remain of this early site which was frequently attacked over subsequent centuries nor indeed of the monastery built by the Augustinians in the 1130's which was destroyed by fire in 1166. The present ruins are likely to have been built in the early 13th century and remained in use until the priory was suppressed in the late 1530's. The building and lands were then passed to the Protestant Church of Ireland in the wake of King Henry's formation of the Church of England. During the confederate wars in the years following 1641 the priory was badly damaged and subsequently fell into ruin.
The village of Louth contains a number of historical sites and this priory in particular is very easily accessible. A gravel and grass lane leads up from the roadside to the gates of the graveyard that forms the area to the priory's Southern side.
The priory itself is a long rectangular building stretching impressively over 140 feet in length of which the inner floor is around a metre lower than the outside graveyard. This means you have to drop down if you wish to have a look at the interior which contains further graves interred there as it is deemed consecrated ground. Being an Augustinian priory there may originally have been a tower in the centre area between the Nave and the Chancel but nothing remains extant today. The East gable has an arched window partially bricked up with what appears to be a small bell aperture above it. while a single arched window is the only feature present in the West gable. The Eastern end of the South wall sports a number of fine arches while on the West end of the South wall a small set of stone steps lead down to basement chamber which naturally of course is gated off. I certainly would like to have investigated that further.
On the East side of the graveyard a small vaulted and somewhat sunken building, perhaps an oratory or  mausoleum lies partially overgrown.
The ruins and graveyard were empty of other visitors during our time there so we had an uninterrupted  look around at our own pace. 
The Northern wall of the priory looks out onto farmland and is not accessible by the public from that side. This wall is virtually featureless unlike its Southern counterpart.
In the field adjacent to the West gable on the farmland mentioned, is a small vaulted structure standing alone and appearing somewhat akin to the oratory of St Columb's in Kells, Co Meath.(see earlier post here) A renovation took place in the 1930's on this structure which resulted in it being dated to around the late 12th century. In medieval times it was common for the relics of Saints to basically go on a grand tour and it is recorded that the relics of St. Mochta travelled from Rome to St. Mary's priory around that particular time leading to speculation that the small vaulted chamber was built to contain and display the relics during their visit.
This is a very interesting historical site and is well served by information boards on the lane leading to its entrance. It is worth consulting the information on display which can lead you to enhance the visit with some other nearby historical places.
To find the ruins take the R171 heading North from Ardee signposted for Tallanstown. When you reach the crossroads in Tallanstown village turn right at the Louth Arms pub. Drive for approx 5KM until you reach Louth village and take the left hand turn just past the Louth village playground which is situated on your right hand side. Drive down the main street until you reach a small manicured grass area where the road forks. Continue a few yards around the left fork and you can park at McCooey's pub. The lane leading to the ruins is just opposite.