Friday, January 24, 2014

Dovecots of Llanthony Priory in Ireland

Dovecots of Llanthony Priory in Ireland

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

Early in the Norman conquest of Ireland the ancient Irish kingdom of Meath was granted to Hugh de Lacy. This lord held numerous estates in South Wales and England. Thus when he came to granting tithes and land on his new Irish estates, Hugh de Lacy favoured the religious house of Llanthony in the Vale of Ewyas in Wales (established around 1103). When unrest in Wales made life difficult from the Norman settlement a daughter house of Llanthony was established near Gloucester in 1137.[1] Between 1204 and 1217 long negotiations were held on the separation of the two houses which was made effective in 1217. Thus from that year the house in Wales became known as Llanthony Prima while the other became Llanthony by Gloucester or Llanthony Secunda.[2] The possessions of Llanthony in Ireland were divided between the two houses and separate records were held relating to these possessions.

In 1421 the patronage of Llanthony Secunda passed from Anne, Countess of Stafford to the crown. This was followed in 1461 by Llanthony Prima when its patron, the Earl of March, became King Edward IV. Twenty years later, in May 1481, the priory of Llanthony Prima was sold to Llanthony Secunda and the two houses became one house. The records held at Llanthony Prima travelled to Gloucester with the five monks who were left in Wales. At the dissolution of the priory in 1539/40 its records passed to the new owner, Arthur Porter, who had acted as under-steward at Llanthony Secunda before 1539. In 1771 Frances Scudmore, a descendent of Arthur Porter, married Charles, Duke of Norfolk. She died in 1820 after many years as a lunatic. Her estates passed to the Chancery along with the various record books of Llanthony and which today form part of the National Archives at Kew.[3]

These records tell us much about the origins and growth of a religious house in medieval Ireland. Today’s article will focus on the dovecots of the priory in Ireland that are mentioned in these records. In 1381 a detailed survey was carried out concerning the property of Llanthony Secunda in Ireland. The chief grange of Llanthony Secunda was in the Barony of Lower Duleek in County Meath at the House of St. Michael at Duleek. The main buildings of the grange were located between the King’s Highway and the Nanny River. The buildings were arranged around an open courtyard.[4]

Outside the court, in the meadow field above the Nanny River was a thatched dovecot which for the previous four years was worth very little but if restored would have been worth 6 shillings 8 pence. Nearby in another meadow field beside the court was a second dovecot, in good condition, which was worth 6 shillings 8 pence. In this second meadow field was also located a water mill which was generally worth 10 shillings.[5] One hundred and sixty years later (1541), in the survey associated with the dissolution of Llanthony Priory, a straw-thatched dovecot at Duleek was worth 3 shillings 4 pence per year – only half the previous valuation.[6]

Map of the Duleek area showing the location of the Llanthony court and the River Nanny between which were located the dovecots

The actual income from the dovecot at Duleek as opposed of the valuation of the building was about £1 3s 4d in 1381. But this amount also included the income from the windmill.[7] The precise income from the dovecot is therefore difficult to determine. In 1513 a dovecot belonging to Llanthony Secunda at Brockworth, Gloucestershire, was leased to John Theyr for 8 shillings per year. In addition Theyr leased the house and outbuildings of Brockworth along with farming land and woodland for about 150 shillings.[8]

The income from the dovecot and windmill was added to farm rents, altar dues and fishing rights income along with other income to make about £50 5s per year. Of this amount £20 was spent on hospitality while £30 5s went on necessity and external expenses including repairs to buildings. From other sources of income the proctor at Duleek was able to send about £80 to Llanthony Secunda by Gloucester in England.[9]

Little trace of these buildings at Duleek, including the dovecots, remain today except for the ruined walls of the chapel of St. Michael, which was at the eastern end of the courtyard. This absence of physical evidence of the dovecots in this present time (2014) is in large part attributed to the materials used in its construction. A thatched roof needs continuous maintenance over the years. The derelict condition of the first dovecot at Duleek in 1381 is reflected in dereliction to parts of the court buildings in the same survey. Other monastic houses like Kilcooley, Co. Tipperary and Ballybeg, Co. Cork built their dovecots from stone including a stone roof. These dovecots are still standing today.

Was the presence of thatch roof dovecots at Duleek a reflection of the lack of good stone working skills in the area or a conscious policy of Llanthony Secunda to spend as little as possible on the fabric of their Irish buildings so as to maximise the profits sent to England? The valuable description of the buildings around the courtyard at Duleek would suggest that the local builders were competent at making stone roofs. The east range had a straw-thatched kitchen and dairy which was connected to a small stable roofed with stone tiles. Further along the east range was a series of rooms that were also covered with stone tiles. The south range had a bakery and malt house which were also covered with stone tiles but the range also had a bake-house and pigsty which had a thatched roof.[10]

Duleek was not usual for having a mixture of thatched and tiled roofs. The previously mentioned property at Brockworth had a mixture of roof types. There the leasee was obliged to maintain the thatched roofs while the prior of Llanthony took care of the tiled roofs.[11] We sometimes may have the idea that a thatched building reflected a lower social status to a person with a tiled roof. But this is a Victorian idea where the big landlord lived in the big house with the slate roof while the peasant lived in the mud thatched cottage, more often than not depicted in the semi-ruinous condition in the illustrated newspapers. In medieval times thatch was as good a material for the rich man as the beggar. The stone built tower houses which dot the countryside were the “big house” of their day and were sometimes covered in thatch

Records from Llanthony property in England show that the leasees of the priory’s estates there were obliged to maintain the buildings on the property including any dovecot. For example, in 1459 Robert White took a twelve year lease on the manor of Chirton in Wiltshire in which he was among other obligations to “maintain a dovecot and houses, walls and enclosures including earthen walls and roofs”.[12]  

But this was not always the case. In 1503 John Stephens took lease of the manor of Turkdean, Gloucestershire, for thirty years during which time he was to “maintain the property and its walls, ditches and hedges, except that the prior will find shingles and pegs for the dovecot and other buildings”. John Stephens had taken use of the dovecot as part of the lease.[13] It would appear that Llanthony operated the manor at Duleek directly and leased outlining estates to tenants. Therefore maintenance of the dovecot was the responsibility of the priory proctor. We saw earlier how the proctor gathered such money for building maintenance.

A dovecot with a stone roof at Llantwit Major

In addition to the dovecot of Llanthony Secunda at Duleek, the priory of Llanthony Prima had a dovecot at their manor of Colpe, also in County Meath. A description and valuation of this dovecot is not given in the records. A valuation of £7 11s 8 ½ d given in the accounts of 1408 included the valuation of pasture land, meadow land and land and gardens around the manor house.[14]

It is interesting that in England a good number of the manors owned by Llanthony priory had dovecots. Yet in Ireland the only known dovecots of the priory were located in the principle manor of each priory, Prima and Secunda, at Colpe and Duleek, respectively. Is this situation a reflection of the poorer number of surviving documents from Ireland or is there another conclusion? Could it be that doves and pigeons were not a favourite diet in Ireland compared to England? Did the Irish prefer their meat from four-legged animals as oppose to two-legged birds? A more detailed survey of the distribution of dovecots in Ireland may provide some answers to these questions. A job for another day no doubt.


End of post


[1] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, 1172-1541: Land, patronage and politics (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2008), pp. 24-5
[2] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 26
[3] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 40
[4] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 184
[5] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 185
[6] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 187
[7] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 199
[8] John Rhodes (ed.), A calendar of the Registers of the Priory of Llanthony by Gloucester 1457-1466, 1501-1525 (Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Record Series, vol. 15, 2002), no. 343
[9] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, pp. 199-200
[10] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, pp. 184-5
[11] John Rhodes (ed.), A calendar of the Registers of the Priory of Llanthony by Gloucester, no. 343
[12] John Rhodes (ed.), A calendar of the Registers of the Priory of Llanthony by Gloucester, no. 50
[13] John Rhodes (ed.), A calendar of the Registers of the Priory of Llanthony by Gloucester, no. 145
[14] Arlene Hogan, The Priory of Llanthony Prima and Secunda in Ireland, p. 213


  1. Neither Colpe or Duleek were Manors, they were in fact Monastic Granges, their main duties were to manage the lands and tithes of their respective mother houses at Llanthony and Gloucester.

    1. Thanks Debhuimh,
      I had a look at the book on Llanthony by Arlene Hogan and from that it would seem that Duleek was indeed a grange as you said while somebody else held the manor of Duleek [pages 347, 350]. As for Colpe it was a named in the Llanthony extent of 1408 as a manor [page 380]