The Barrow. Our River Your Journey

Monasterevin Lifting Bridge


St. Evin

Monasterevin takes its name from St. Evin who became abbot of the monastery here in the 6th century. St. Evin brought a number of monks with him from his native Munster. This gained the settlement the name “Rosglos-na-Moinneach” (the green wood of the Munstermen). St. Evin was politically astute, he secured special status for the Monasterevin area placing it outside the common law, making it a sanctuary. His famous bell was used for swearing oaths and was much in demand by tribes of the region for guaranteeing peace treaties up until the 14th century. St. Evin also co-authored the “Tripartite Life of St. Patrick”. Other writing by Evin survives including the “Cain Emhin”. St. Evin’s Monastery came to an end about the time of the Viking raids in Ireland.


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Moore Abbey and the development of Monasterevin

The present day Moore Abbey stands the site of the Cistercian Abbey founded in 1189, which was itself built on the ruins of the early medieval monastery of St Evin . The Cistercians called it the “Valley of the Roses”. As with all Cistercian Abbeys of the time it had an enormous influence on the economy and life of the town. They provided alms, food and health services.


Following the appropriation of church lands by the crown in the 16th century, the Abbey passed into other hands and on to the Moores, Earls of Drogheda who built not only Monasterevin but much of Dublin. During the time of Sir Henry Moore, Monasterevin underwent extensive planning and development. The town had previously consisted of a single long street. It was developed into a rectangular street pattern, with the Main Street widened and straightened. The building of Monasterevin occupied the period from 1790 to 1860.



Venice of Ireland

Due to the amount of bridges in Monasterevin and its link with the Grand Canal, the town is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Ireland”. Work on the Barrow Line began in 1783 and by 1785 the canal had reached Monasterevin. However, the river from here to Athy was so shallow in parts, that the company decided to continue with the construction of the canal as far as Athy. The junction with the Barrow at Athy was completed in 1791. There are several structures at Monasterevin associated with the canal. Beside the small canal basin is a very fine drawbridge which still carries a minor road over the canal. Drawbridges and guillotine bridges appear to have been common on the branches of the Grand Canal and on the Barrow Navigation. The bridge at Monasterevin is one of the few survivors which is still in regular use. Just downstream from the bridge an aqueduct built in 1826 carries the canal over the Barrow. Just beyond the aqueduct, the canal branch to Mountmellick heads off to the North West.


Monasterevin has the highest density of bridges on the River Barrow, one of these being Monasterevin Town Bridge. The bridge was built in 1832 and carries the main Dublin to Limerick Road across the Barrow. It was built on what must have been an ancient crossing site, with evidence provided by the many artefacts unearthed during the time of the Barrow Drainage Scheme. During World War II the town was protected by the local defence forces, highlighting its importance as a strategic junction. A machine gun was erected on the bridge while a number of Barrow bridges in the area were drilled, so that an explosive charge could be inserted if the enemy appeared.



Father Edward Prendergast

During the rebellion of 1798 Father Edward Prendergast was serving as curate in his home parish of Monasterevin. He was not directly involved in the rising but while visiting the sick in June an insurgent asked that he deliver the last rites to a dying man at their camp in Barn Hill. He was observed visiting the rebel camp and plans were made to arrest him. When informed by a friend of his impending arrest he refused to flee. He was arrested and tried by a court-martial in Monasterevin House which found him guilty of treason. On June 11th 1798 he was hung and buried in the riverside garden of Monasterevin House. The body was guarded by the Monasterevin Yeoman Infantry. A daring rescue was organised by Captain Padraig O’Bierne and a group of Derryoughter boatmen, they succeeded in snatching the body and made their way down the River Barrow and across land. They buried him in the graveyard of his native Harristown.


Fr. Prendergast’s dedication to duty and to his flock has inspired much commemoration. In 1899 the Nationalists of Monasterevin erected a monument to Fr. Prendergast and all who died in 1798 in the Market Square. The monument takes the form of a Celtic cross copied from the tomb of the great Fenian Matt Harris. It bears the inscription:


“Erected by the Nationalists of Monasterevin and surrounding districts to the memory of Father Prendergast who was hanged here in 1798 for the performance of his clerical duties towards the insurgents and in memory of the heroes in that sad but glorious period. All, all are gone but still lives on the memory of those who died. True men, like you men remember them with pride”.



Cassidy’s Distillery – Monasterevin 1784 – 1921

The town’s prosperity had begun in the 1780s with the opening of the Grand Canal and the founding of the Monasterevin Distillery by Mr. John Cassidy. Cassidy’s Distillery was for the 137 years of its existence at the social and economic heart of Monasterevin.  With excellent canal and, later, rail transport; using the local turf as fuel, and water for brewing from the celebrated White Springs of Borraderra (“famed for its purity and sparkling appearance”), by the 1880s Cassidy’s distilled a quarter of a million gallons of whiskey per year, and their main, ten acre, premises on what had formerly been Abbey land, had  293 feet of frontage on the Dublin Road. The Distillery had its own carpenters’, smiths’ and engineers’ shops and extensive stables with 30 horses of a superior class, as James Cassidy was famous for his fine breed of horses (he eventually had two Irish Derby winners).


The distillery closed in 1921 when Ireland was struggling with independence and Civil War. From 1914, wartime taxation and other restrictions took their toll on the distillery and the owner, Robert Edward Cassidy fell ill and died in 1918.  His son, James, was too young to take over the running of the distillery, so it fell to his wife, Gwendella de Beler, a young Frenchwoman, to try to keep the family firm going.  Things went from bad to worse and eventually the distillery went into voluntary liquidation, when the banks foreclosed for a sum of £40,000 with only 3 day’s notice.



Charter School “The Hulk”

In the eighteenth century, education was provided principally by Protestant foundations, in the form of privately endowed charity schools or charter schools. “The Hulk” was a Charter School set up in 1758 to educate orphaned Protestant children. There are two small entrances, right and left, for girls and boys. Boys were usually taught a trade which they could be apprenticed into when they reached about 13-15 years. Later the building was used as a warehouse and up until recently as a residence until bought by a developer.



Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins an important English poet was born on July 28th 1844 and passed away on June 8th  1889. His experimental explorations in sprung rhythm and his use of imagery established him as an innovator in a period of largely traditional verse. Prior to Hopkins, most Middle English and Modern Poetry was based on a rhythmic structure based on repeating groups of two or three syllables, with the stressed syllable falling in the same place on each repetition. He did write some of his earlier poetry in this style, which he referred to as running rhythm. However he found it boring and cleverly described it as being “same and tame”. Sprung Rhythm is a poetic rhythm designed to imitate the rhythm of natural speech. It is constructed from feet in which the first syllable is stressed and may be followed by a variable number of unstressed syllables. Hopkins saw sprung rhythm as a way to escape the constraints of running rhythm.



Hopkins and Monasterevin

Hopkins became professor of Greek and Latin at the Catholic University in Dublin in 1884 now known as UCD. At this time Hopkins was becoming increasingly depressed, he did not enjoy living in Dublin away from England and his friends, and his form was reflected in his poetry of the time eg. I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark. The poems he wrote at this time are known as the “terrible sonnets”.


The Cassidys were a gentry family from Monasterevin, who had special connections with the Jesuits, and would have requested the Society to send a priest to say Mass for them in their private oratory in Monasterevin House for the few days over Christmas. Hopkins was invited to stay with Miss Cassidy in Monasterevin, which became a rural haven for him where he could escape Dublin. He stayed with Miss Cassidy many times declaring that he ‘felt better for the delicious bog air of Monasterevin‘. That Monasterevin was, ‘one of the props and struts of my existence.’  In January 1887, the poet wrote from Monasterevin to his friend Robert Bridges


I had, in spite of the severe cold, some very pleasant days down at Monasterevin in Co. Kildare at Christmas and again at New Year and it was a happy acquaintance to make, for they made no secret of liking me and want me to go down again.”


It is quite evident that he had a fondness of the River Barrow and mentions it in his unfinished poem. “The burling Barrow brown’, referring to the rusty brown colour the river acquires as it meanders at a leisurely pace through the surrounding bog.


After suffering ill health for several years, Hopkins died of typhoid fever in 1889 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. He is thought to have suffered throughout his life from what might be diagnosed today as either bipolar disorder or chronic unipolar depression, and battled a deep sense of melancholic anguish. However, on his death bed, his last words were, “I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life”.