Drogheda is a great base to explore an area which has the highest concentration of internationally important archaeology sites in Ireland. The Neolithic complex at Brú na Bóinne, the seat of the high kings at Tara, and the important Christian sites of Kells and Monasterboice are all just a short distance away. That doesn’t mean that Drogheda itself doesn’t have a lot to offer. The town’s buildings, museum and gallery are great. Almost more importantly than these however, are its atmospheric old pubs and great dining choices.
A brief history of Drogheda
Located at the mouth of the River Boyne, Drogheda’s name derives from the Irish ‘Droichead Átha’, meaning bridge of the ford. The Anglo-Normans founded Drogheda originally as two separate towns on either side of the river in the late 12th century. Drogheda in Meath was founded by Hugh De Lacy. On the northern bank Drogheda in Louth was established by Bertram De Verdon. Although they immediately bordered one another, the two towns were in different church dioceses, had separate corporations, taxes, tariffs and landing charges. This last difference in particular was to lead to intense rivalry and even bloodshed as each town sought to undercut the other in order to gain a greater share of maritime trade.
By 1186 a motte and bailey had been built at Millmount. The first town defences which enclosed the settlements date to the 1190s. They were earthen banks topped with wooden palisades and fronted by deep ditches. In the early and middle decades of the thirteenth century the construction of stone walls began. However, it wasn’t until the fourteenth century that murage grants stipulating that walls of stone be built actually appeared. Despite this, the defences were strong enough to repulse an attack in 1315-16 by Edward the Bruce’s Scottish army. The eventual area enclosed on the south side was 33 acres. On the north side 80 acres was walled. The total walled area makes Drogheda one of the largest walled towns in medieval Ireland. It was comparable in size to Dublin, Kilkenny, Bristol and Oxford.
In 1412 a Dominican friar, Fr. Philip Bennet preached his sermon of peace to the warring townsfolk and his great act of reconciliation resulted in the unification of Drogheda as one town and borough. A submission was taken to King Henry IV by Robert Ball who brought back a new Charter unifying the two towns to become one single Drogheda in November of 1412.
In 1641, Catholic Old English and Gaelic Irish forces rose up in open revolt against the new English and Scottish Planter classes in Ulster. On 21st November 1641, under the banner of the Irish Confederation, their army under Sir Phelim O’Neill took up positions at various points north and south of the Boyne, and laid siege to the town. O’Neill attempted three times to forcibly take the town, but was repulsed each occasion and on March 4th 1642, relief forces from Dublin, under Lord Moore, forced O’Neill to abandon his siege.
Seven years later, the town was again under siege when Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army of 18,000 troops attacked the town’s garrison. After three days they finally broke through the town walls on the south side near Duleek Gate. They then took the town, killing most of the garrison in the process.
Beginning in 1689 the walls were rebuilt and strengthened so as to better survive cannon fire. Despite this, the newly renovated defences were never tested. The Williamite victory in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne led directly to the town’s surrender to Protestant forces the next day. After this, the walls were gradually removed. They had simply become redundant in an age of artillery on an island that had now become pacified. Today, several large sections still remain, including the place where Cromwell made his breach.
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