Bective Abbey was located within Norman controlled Ireland, called The Pale, which was the area around Dublin conquered by the Normans starting in 1171, and is the source of the phrase, ‘beyond the pale’. If something is beyond the pale, it is unacceptable or unseemly. In other words, here be dragons. Bective Abbey, and Trim Castle which is not too far away, are located on the River Boyne, which in some eras formed the barrier between Norman and Irish controlled Ireland—though Trim is on the inner bank and Bective on the outer.
Dan: Does that mean it wasn’t always a Norman abbey?
It was founded in 1147 by the king of the Irish Kingdom of Meath. I’m not pronouncing his name because I would only butcher it. It was a ‘daughter house’ of Mellifont Abbey, located close to Drogheda, and the first Cistercian abbey built in Ireland. As we have talked about in reference to Wales, the Cistercians sought an isolated life, so they were suited to life in Ireland. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and at one time included several granges, a watermill and a fishing-weir on the Boyne. Recent excavations have revealed evidence of large-scale cereal processing and also of the monastic kitchen garden for herbs, vegetables, and fruit. What we see today are remains of the church, chapter house and cloister, and for the most part date to the thirteenth-century.
When this part of Ireland was taken over by the Normans, it fell under the jurisdiction of the Lacys at Trim castle. One somewhat bizarre story that gives insight into monastic politics of the age references Hugh de Lacy, who was killed in 1195 by an axe wielded by an Irishman when supervising the construction of defensive works at Durrow. His body was buried in Bective but his head was brought to St Thomas’s Abbey, Dublin. The two monasteries “fell out” over who had the right to Lacy’s remains until the Bishop of Meath intervened in 1205 in favour of St Thomas’s. By this point, the community at Bective Abbey were mostly Anglo-Norman, and in 1380, King Richard II ordered that men of Irish birth should be barred from entering the abbey’s community. By now Bective Abbey had also become one of Ireland’s most important monastic communities, since its abbot was a Lord Spiritual who sat in the Parliament of the Pale.
Like Tintern, after the dissolution of the monasteries, Bective became a private house.
For readers of the After Cilmeri series, Bective Abbey plays a role in Outpost in Time and is mentioned also in the Gareth & Gwen medieval mysteries.