I have to admit, the large medieval Abbey ruins of Bective are probably the nicest I have had the chance to explore to date, with the exception of the Baltinglass Abbey in Wicklow, but Baltinglass has been a personal favourite of mine for many years so I may be biased. Bective Abbey or Mainistir Bheigthi in Gaelic was the second Cistercian monastery founded in Ireland. It was built on the banks of the Boyne river for the Cistercians in 1147AD, by the then King of Meath Murchadh O’ Melaghin as a ‘daughter house’ of Mellifont Abbey, and was dedicated to the ‘Blessed Virgin’. The Abbey was not only a center of religious creativity and learning, but also a place of great influence. The Abbot was a spiritual lord and held a seat in the Parliament of the Pale, thus influencing the politics of the day. These monks were responsible for preserving and passing on precious texts and for the creation of some of the world’s most imaginative and fanciful Christian art.
The abbey along with the Abbey of St. Thomas in Dublin were granted to Hugh de Lacy. After his death in 1186 both abbey’s wanted his body to be buried at their site, finally it was decided that his body was buried at Bective and his head in Dublin. This decision caused great feuding between the monks and in 1205 the Bishop of Meath along with two judges decided that the body should be moved to Dublin. Following the English invasion in 1228AD the abbey underwent some modifications, and was fortified to be used as a safe haven for the English and visitors from Europe. By the 15th century there was a decline at the abbey and buildings had to be remodelled on a significantly reduced scale.
After the Suppression of the Abbeys by Henry VIII in 1536AD, the abbey and its 1600 acres of land, a water mill and a fishing weir on the Boyne, were leased to the civil servant, Thomas Asgarde, whom converted it into a Tudor Mansion house. In 1552AD the abbey was bought by Andrew Wyse, after which it then passed into the hands of the Dillon and then the Bolton families, before eventually falling into ruin. By 1540AD the roof had be removed for use in another of the king’s properties and was left abandoned.
The Abbey rests within a walled section of pasturelands. In 2012, The Office of Public Works, bought some of the land from a local farmer, converted it to a large car park with a walkway from the abbey to the car park. The main part of the fortified abbey is built over three floors and includes cloisters and a tower giving it the appearance of a fortress rather than an abbey. The ruins contain a combination of both Monastic and defence features. The Cloister is the best preserved of the buildings and there is a pillar of a figure carrying a crozier. There are also some beautiful arches which are still intact. The majority of the site consists of buildings from the 15th century with a few monastic details such as the sculpture of a kneeling monk, which can be seen in the south cloister.
Most of the individual rooms have been closed of with Iron gates, but the rest of the site is open to explore, If you are feeling adventurous it is even possible to ascend part of one of thetowers and get out onto part of what would have been the first floor. Caution must be taken though as the steps have been badly worn over time. You may not know this but Bective Abbey was used as a location during the shooting of the 1995 historical action-drama movie Braveheart, based on the Scottish hero William Wallace, which was both directed by and starred Mel Gibson in the title role.