See our publication: The Bridges of Navan

The Dublin to Navan Road and Kilcarn Bridge

Peter J. O’Keeffe

Who said Dublin Castle spies were unIrish ? Without Richard Halpenny’s information about Hugh O’Neill and his Meath allies' plan to invade the Pale in 1539, we might have no firm idea of the actual date of Kilcarn Bridge, (below) only removed from vehicular use since 1980, when an upriver cutwater collapsed.

The bridge currently stands in better fettle than ever, following the 1992 works carried out by the Co. Council, funded by a £25,000 National Heritage Council grant – which the “Save Kilcarn Bridge” committee and An Taisce, Meath, lobbied hard for.

Joint author a few short years ago of the suberb Irish Stone Bridges, Peter J. O’Keeffe has set about a seemingly dry-as-dust task with great thoroughness, coupled with a most enjoyable light literacy touch.  He traces the development of roads radiating from Tara in pre-Christian times, through the Norman, Georgian tollpike and post-1798 post roads.  The delightful fun we today have, damning local authorities and central government for the state of our roads, pales by the shattered surveyors discoveries of just 200 years ago.  Roads inflicted on landlords and local communities for maintenance simply were not . . .maintained!

Perhaps we ought to have had more rebellions, to judge from the author’s very detailed account of the post-1798 road building explosion.  It is something of a revelation to learn that turnpikes were abolished as recently as 1856 – some consolation to city motorist on the Links!

The author’s exhaustive study of Kilcarn skilfully disentangles the numerous repair jobs done on it since the mid-17th century.  He modestly posits that it was originally built in the 15th century – and happily entrusts the task of further finding out to “local antiquaries and historians.”

He provides a thorough overview of other Meath bridges, including Lissenhall, Dardistown, Pollboy [Poolboy is a much more recent spelling in Navan], old Kinnegad, Bective, Stackallen, Navan New Bridge [Athlumney], Flemingstown, Scariff, Derryindaly, Ballinter and Dowstown bridges.

(above left) Medieval Pollboy Bridge, Navan's oldest bridge, which crosses the Blackwater at the bottom of Flower Hill, and (above right).  The New Bridge built c.1756 crossing the Boyne, and linking Navan to Athlumney.

Peter’s detailed accounts of the pre-1656 Pollboy bridge (above) should make every Navan driver shudder.  It has been extensively overhauled, particularly in the past two centuries.

The Save Kilcarn Bridge committee commissioned an expert in publishing this very readable, superbly researched booklet.


Butlers Bridge, Bellinter

The Rescue of Butler's Bridge

I am doing history!  I am the very first one who will write about a historical bridge, rescued by the owner of the land - and me.

My landlord has a lot of land and on one of his fields there are some arches, hidden by bushes and rubbish.  It's a long time I pass there when I take a walk in the fields.  And every time I thought who knows what those are.  Now I know and my landlord decided to do something with those ancient stones.

His first steps were cleaning the mess around and have a closer look at it.  It doesn't look really good though.  Stones are falling apart, the top of the arches on the other side has fallen already and the walk space over the bridge is really invisible, hidden under a thick green cover of ivy. That's the first impression.

A few days work now have given a better view of it.  The main pillar in the middle holding the structure at least is so tiny at the bottom that the risk to crash down is near.  That will be the first thing to fix.  After that maybe a wooden construction around the arch on the other side can give a possibility to put back the arch stones.  The sides of the bridge are well held by two trees growing just there where normally one should go on the bridge.  But I presume that - cutting them down - the bridge has too much space and will widen within a short time and loose all the other stones.  The ground on which the bridge is built is soft and very wet. Like in nearly all fields in Ireland.

So far so good.  Now there is an important question: why there is a bridge in the middle of the field? Normally people built a bridge over water.  Where are these troubled water?  Well the width of the bridge let think it must have been also a big, deep and really wild stream.  Now there is the fact that around 50 meters further there is the river Skane.  That one seems more a channel than a natural river.  And the story is that that was once just going under this bridge in the middle of the fields.  It had originally a big bend before going again to its now still natural bed.  That explains - my landlord told me - when he bought the land in the 50's of the last century this field had a deeper 'road' in the middle coming from the river far away.  He closed that gradient to have one level only in the field. So now we can not follow anymore the original bed, just imagine.

The river had at that time at least a width of 4 to 5 meters and was not going parallel to the today street but crossing it and maybe straight to Bellinter Bridge.

Besides: the bridge's name is Butler's Bridge or Bellinter Arches.  And it is standing on the old land of Bellinter, which is the name of the whole area here.

About the history of the bridge and the surroundings I had the honor to read a part of a book that still has to be printed.  An author living here nearby and originally from County Meath is writing a book about the roads of once County Meath and how they are runing nowadays - especially with the motorway not even one kilometer far from this bridge.

A history page is in preparation and will be added here soon.  It will take a while to fix the whole bridge that it will appear like 'once upon a time' ... I will blog about it every some time there is anything new on the way... sorry: on the bridge!


Photographs © Navan & District Historical Society