Drumlane Monastery

May 9, 2011

Drumlane or Droim Leathain in gaelic means the broad ridge/hill and gives the parish its name. It is located in a peaceful setting of picturesque small drumlins and a chain of small lakes. Drumlane parish area stretches from Rinn Point on the south of the parish to the Bloody Pass/Quivvy on the north and from Bakers Bridge on the east to Cranaghan/Aghalane Bridge on the west side.

Situated beside the village of Milltown are the Abbey/Monastery, Church and Round Tower of Drumlane, which dates back to the year 555. The founder of Drumlane is believed to be Saint Colmcille. The name of Saint Mogue is used in close association with Drumlane but there are many reasons for concluding that the foundation is older than his time. The exact date of its foundation cannot be fixed with certainty but the historical evidence leads to the conclusion it belongs to the early part of the sixth century.

Saint Mogue’s parents, before his birth in 555, were believed to have visited the monastery of Drumlane where a vision foretold them of the future sanctity of their son.  St. Mogue also known as Aidan was born on Port Island in the parish of Templeport in about circa 560. Other convincing evidence is supportive of the view that Saint Colmcille himself was the founder of Drumlane is afforded by the close connection which existed in the succeeding centuries between Ceanannus (Kells) and Drumlane. St. Mogue spent a lot of time at Drumlane and later travelled to Wales, England and later became bishop of Ferns dioceses in Co. Wexford.  He returned occasionally to Drumlane. After a long and arduous missionary career, he found death approaching. He left Ferns and returned to Drumlane “in the maturity of his age and days.”  At Drumlane he had a stange and wondrous vision/premonition of the battles that would happen in Drumlane between the O’Reilly’s and O’Rourke’s. An angel having, through St. Colmcille interpreted the vision, commanded that he should rise and go to Cuillin na bFer (old name for Rossinver), Co. Leitrim or Cell Mor Feidlimid (Kilmore).  He then moved to Rossinver in County Leitrim.  He died in Rossinver in circa 632 and is buried there.  His feast day is 31 January.

Saint Mogue’s Holy Well is located in the townland of Derrintinny about 1 mile from Drumlane.  There is a flag-stone located beside the well that according to popular belief has an imprint of the Saint’s knees visible on it called Slun Maedoc, i.e. Saint Mogue’s knees beside this well. Many kings and chiefs of Breifne are believed to have been baptised at this holy well.  There is also another Holy Well dedicated to St. Mogue in the townland of Kilnacross in the parish of Kildallan only a few miles from Drumlane.

The stone situated beside St. Mogue’s Holy Well at Derrintinny

The island of Inishmuck beside Drumlane, is called in Gaelic Inir Maedoc i.e. St. Mogue’s Island.

The Round Tower of Drumlane

The Round Tower is the most interesting and outstanding feature at Drumlane, it is of a solid structure and stands beside the church. It is the only tower of it’s kind now remaining in the dioceses of Kilmore. Towers are of Christian and ecclesiastical origin and were erected at various periods between the 5th and 13th centuries. They served as belfries and as a place of strength in which were secreted utensils, books, relics and other valuables were deposited of in case of sudden predatory attack and were used for safe watch. The entrance in to the tower itself is about nine feet above the ground. This was of greater security as in the event of a raid on the monastery, the monks could ascent to the entrance by means of a ladder, which was then drawn up, and the position of the entrance ensured that no attackers could rush in. The most outstanding feature in the tower is the two different styles of building. For the first twenty two feet the stones are well cut and dressed with great care unusually large and closely fitted, the doorway which is in this part of the structure indicated how skilful and admirable workmanship. The upper part of the tower the stone work is much smaller and undressed.  An underground tunnel/passage went from the tower to the monastery, which was located a few hundred yards further down the laneway. The underground tunnel is believed to have been closed-in because it posed a danger to animals getting trapped in it. For generations it was believed that the monks deposited treasures in the nearby lake i.e. bell, chalice and trunk of books for safe keeping but this has never been proven.

Round Tower with Cockerel carving.

Drumlane Abbey/Monastery/Church; The Priory of St. Mary’s Drumlane

The Augustinian Priory of Drumlane.  The two prominent Drumlane family names that were of major importance were the MacGaheran’s and O’Farrelly’s. The McGaheran’s were Erenachs of the monastery. The O’Farrelly’s were the Coarbs of Drumlane from the days of St. Mogue.  These families were responsible for the running of Drumlane monastery and abbey lands etc.  The Abbey lands consisted of; Ardonan, Derrygerraghan, Drumherriff, Derryvehill, Drumgesh, Drumlane, Kilnacranagh and Uragh. In an ancient Life of St. Maedoc edited by Rev. Charles Plummer, it is mentioned that the saint, whose name is connected with every phase of Drumlane’s early history, before his death baptised Ureain, son of Oilhill and named him Faircellach. The Faircellach he placed in the coarbship of the church. Many thousand years later the O’Farrelly’s remained the spiritual and temporal rulers of Drumlane. In the cemetery there still survive remnants of the MacGaheran and O’Farrelly’s tomb.

Saint Mogue gave a present to Drumlane it was a shrine that is believe to contain the relics of Saints Laurence, Mark and Stephen.  He had received this as a gift from Saint Molaise, Devenish, Co. Fermanagh after he had returned from a pilgrimage to Rome.  Saint Molaise brought back relics of Saints Peter, Paul, Clement, Stephen and Laurence, he then shared some of these gifts with Saint Mogue.  The shrine or reliquary was called “Breac Maedoc” (i.e. the Speckled of Maedoc) which these relics were kept, was for a long time  one of the most treasured possessions of Drumlane monastery. It was held in veneration of a very great antiquity and was preserved for many years in Drumlane Monastery.  Little is known of the history from the confiscation of the monastery till the beginning of the 18th century this was about the time of it’s last custodian Pat MacGaheran transferred it to the parish priest of Drumlane. The Shrine being an object of great reverence, as the people believed that a false oath taken upon it was followed inevitably by a visible judgement it was used for the purpose of swearing persons accused of some crime. In 1846 it was borrowed from Rev. Philip Donegan, Parish Priest of Drumlane on the usual borrowing understanding, but instead of returning it the borrower sold it to a Dublin jeweller. Dr. Petrie purchased it.  On his death it was passed with his collection to the Trustees of the National Museum, Dublin.

In 1391 the Annals of Clonmacnoise give a reference to the town of Drumlane and tradition is positive that a town existed there in the Middle Ages around the monastery area. Drumlane situated as it was close to the boundary dividing East and West Breifne, suffered considerably from the warfare carried on in the twelfth century between the O’Reilly’s and Rourke’s. The Grainne River (now Woodford Canal) in Ballyconnell separated East and West Breifne was it’s ancient border.

Drumlane was burned in 1246 and 1261. There were battles in Drumlane in 1261, 1314, 1338 and the battle of Creeny 1391.  In 1261 a depredation was committed by Hugh O’Conor in Breiffni and he advanced to Drumlane, where a part of his army was defeated and many of the less distinguished of them were slain.  Hugh O’Connor son of Felim, King of Connacht, raided Breifne and suffered defeat in the battle of Drumlane. In 1314 Rory, son of Cathal O’Connor, defeated the O’Reilly’s in another battle of Drumlane. Another O’Connor raid on Drumlane is recorded in 1338, when Aedh, son of Rory who had led the foray of 1314 was mortally wounded. The O’Conor’s carried the fiery torch of war into Drumlane three times in less than a century.  In 1391 at the Battle of Creeny Tiernan O’Rourke with a small body of troops, went to Drumlane to meet John O’Reilly.  When the Clann Murtough O’Conor heard of this they met him with all their forces at Bealach-an-Chrionaigh/Creeny; but made them retreat before him, having slain with his own hand John, son of Mahon O’Conor and Donough, son of Hugh-an-Cleitigh exclusive of the number of others whom his forces had slain.  In the Annals of history, Drumlane is sometimes known by an alternative name “Bolgan” or “Bolcan” evidently the survival of an ancient tribal name.



February 2024
Drumlane Community Website, Cavan, Ireland