The village of St. Mullins in
South Carlow is a scenic and charming village
alongside the River Barrow
with an impressive ecclesiastical history. Nestling between the
Blackstairs Mountains on one side and Brandon Hill on the other, the
locality acquired its name from St. Moling, a 7th century cleric, prince,
poet, artist and artisan, who built a monastery here with the help of
"Gobban Saor", the legendary Irish builder. In the 8th century manuscript,
known as “The Book of Mulling”, there is a plan of the monastery;
the earliest known plan of an Irish monastery, which shows four crosses
inside and eight crosses outside the circular monastic wall. It is said
that St. Moling dug a mile-long watercourse with his own hands to power
his mill; a task that took seven years! Active in politics, he succeeded
in convincing the Leinstermen to let the Munstermen off the Borama, a
traditional tribute of cattle which they were forced to pay. St.. Moiling
is said to have been Bishop of Ferns and also of Glendalough. He died 13
May, 697AD and is buried at St. Mullin’s.
The St. Moling watercourse is still
there, but the original monastery was plundered by the Vikings in 951AD
and was again burned in 1138. An abbey was built on the site later, in the
Middle Ages. A 9th century High Cross, depicting the Crucifixion and the
Celtic spiral pattern, stands outside the remains of the abbey and there
are also some domestic medieval buildings, including one that has an
unusual diamond-shaped window.
His book-shrine is among the greatest art
treasures of Ireland, and his "well" is still visited, but he is best
known as patron of St. Mullins (Teach Moling) County Carlow. The ancient
monastery of Ferns included a number of cells, or oratories, and the
cathedral was built in the Irish style. At present the remains of the
abbey (refounded for Austin Canons, in 1160, by Dermot MaeMurrough)
include a round tower, about seventy-five feet high in two stories, the
lower of which is quadrangular, and the upper polygonal. Close by is the
Holy Well of St. Mogue.
In the packed little churchyard is a penal
altar, used in the days when the anti-Catholic penal laws were in force. A
Norman motte, once topped by a wooden castle, stands outside the
churchyard, and when Mass was being said at the altar some of the
congregation would climb the motte to act as lookouts.
The MacMurrough Kavanaghs, former Kings
of Leinster, together with other Celtic Kings, are buried in the precincts
of the monastery. Fr. Daniel Kavanagh, who is said to have had the gift of
healing, is also buried here. People still claim that to cure toothache
you should take a pinch of earth from outside the churchyard and exchange
it for a pinch of clay from F. Kavanagh's grave. Then say a brief prayer,
pop the clay into your mouth and walk down the hill to wash it out with
water from St. Molings Well.
The complex includes a medieval church ruin,
the base of a round tower and the former Church of Ireland church, built
in 1811. Protestants and Catholics lie side by side in the churchyard, and
a story is told in the village of the days when, because there were only a
handful of Protestants in the neighbourhood, the local Church of Ireland
Bishop was thinking of closing down the church. The distraught vicar had a
word with the Catholic priest, who had a word with his flock, and on the
day of the Bishop’s visit Catholic families filled the Protestant church,
joining in the responses and lustily singing Protestant hymns. The Bishop
went home delighted and the church remained open!
many other Norman boroughs however, the settlement did not develop into a
prosperous town. The River Barrow is tidal to St. Mullins facilitating the
arrival of Vikings who plundered the monastery in 825. It was plundered
again by a later fleet under Lairic in 951. The Normans led by Maurice de
Pendergast arrived in 1170. The lock system which made it navigable was
begun at St. Mullins in 1750. A thriving cargo and passenger trade existed
for 150 years. Today the locks and towpaths are valued leisure amenities.
Corn and woollen mills provided employment in the 19th and 20th centuries.