Bective excavations Blog


Archaeological Excavation

The aim of the 2009 research excavation is to determine the nature and function of a large sub-rectangular earthwork, which is visible around the south and western precinct of the medieval Cistercian abbey at Bective, County Meath. Limited test excavations in 2006 indicated that this enclosure is contemporary with the foundation phase of the abbey and that within its interior are multi-phase medieval occupation levels contemporary with the time the abbey was in use. This excavation should provide an insight into the type of structure that would have been erected by Cistercian monks at the earliest stage of the foundation in the Twelfth century. It could uncover structural evidence for various types of ancillary buildings such as workshops, guest accommodation or the infirmary, structures that may have been present around the precincts of an Irish medieval Cistercian abbey. Environmental evidence uncovered will provide valuable information on the type of agriculture practiced by the monks, their immediate environment and their dietary requirements. Finds retrieved such as pottery and metal objects may also throw light on the nature of the abbey’s relationship with communities at a local, national and international level immediately before and after the Norman invasion in 1169.

Bective Abbey is the oldest Cistercian foundation in County Meath and the second oldest Cistercian foundation in Ireland. Its Latin name is Beatitude Dei, meaning the ‘blessedness of God’. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin when founded in 1147 with an endowment from Murchad Ua Máel Sechnaill, who ruled over the pre-Norman kingdom of Mide from 1106 to 1153. It was the first daughter house of Mellifont, established only five years after that monastery’s foundation. Bective is located in the townland of the same name in County Meath (NGR 285890 259930) c.0.7km northeast of the crossroads of Bective and c.6km northwest of Trim. Bective abbey is a National Monument. The high status of the foundation at Bective is indicated by the fact that it was chosen to hold the remains of Hugh De Lacy in 1196, nine years after he was killed. In 1217 the abbot of Bective was involved in a riot at Jerpoint, county Kilkenny and was further charged with imprisoning a man in a tree stump until he died. He was sent to Clairvaux for trial. Subsequently, the prior of Beaubec in Normandy was appointed as abbot of Bective in 1227. During Stephen of Lexington’s visitation to Ireland the following year in 1228 he visited Bective and described it as a strongly fortified place which could be used to help Clairvaux subdue the abbeys of Mellifont and Boyle.

The abbey at Bective was dissolved on the May 6th 1536. In the following year Sir John Alen, Master of the Rolls wrote to the king’s commissioners in Ireland advising that stones from the abbey should be used in the repair of Trim castle. At the time of the dissolution the estate contained c.1,580 acres. There were eight granges reflected in the present townlands in the immediate area of the abbey, comprising Bective, the Grange (of Bective); Balgill, Balbrigh, Balbradagh, Dunlough, Cloncullen, Balsoon, Yellowwalls, a detached townland at Monktown near Trim, lands attached to the parish church at Balsoon and lands in Westmeath. In 1537 the site of the Abbey and lands were leased to Thomas Agarde of Bective for 21 years and the lease was renewed again in May 1545. The abbey and its possessions were purchased in 1552 by Andrew Wyse, Vice-Treasurer of Ireland for sum of £1,380 16s. 7d. It remained in Bolton hands until 1862, the abbey farm passing to a relative Rev. Martin who vested the Abbey ruins in the Board of Public Works in 1894.


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