Middle Ages monument is relocated

KILCULLEN: 16 April 2001: by Brian Byrne. Two and a half years after it was proposed, the Portlester Monument in the old New Abbey Graveyard in Kilcullen has been relocated to protect it from the elements.

The rare monument was the top of a tomb in a former Franciscan Church in the area and depicted Sir Roland FitzEustace and his wife who had been buried in the tomb in the Middle Ages. Extensive erosion has taken place over the years because of water lodgement on the monument and detail was rapidly disappearing.

Now, following a proposal in November 1998 from Kildare County Council's Senior Executive Architect Brian Swan, the monument has been relocated in a standing position against an old wall in the graveyard, where it is better protected from the elements.

The move followed consultation with the Kilcullen Heritage Group, as part of establishing the views of the local Kilcullen community. An earlier attempt a couple of weeks ago to move the monument had to be called off because a crane brought in for the purpose couldn't reach the effigy.

Below is an account of the history of the Portlester Monument written by Kilcullen historian Sean Landers in The Bridge Magazine in September 1973, and recently republished in the collection '30 Years of The Bridge', published by the Kilcullen Heritage Group.


Antiquities of New Abbey
by S. Landers - September 1973

The New Abbey Effigy (Portlester Monument)
In the centre raised portion of New Abbey Graveyard, resting on six low granite pillars, is what many generations of Kilcullen children have referred to as "Adam and Eve". This is what is known as the “The Effigy". It consists to-day of one large slab of limestone on which are carved the figures of a medieval knight in armour, and his wife, in the aristocratic dress of the period. The knight is Sir Roland FitzEustace, founder and benefactor of New Abbey Monastery and the lady is his wife, Margaret D'Artois.

The heads of both figures rest on square cushions with tassels at the corners. Between the heads are two angels, each supporting one of the cushions. The lady lies to the right of the knight; she wears high horned bonnet and her dress falls delicately from a decorated belt to her feet, which rest on another tasselled cushion.

The knight is covered completely in plate armour. His sword hangs in front, slightly skew from his right to left. His feet rest on a small animal which is not now identifiable. The features of both figures are now completely eroded – a process which is of course continuing to deface the whole of the monument.

The Altar Tomb
The entire slab formed originally the cover stone of what is known as an altar tomb. It consisted of the slab raised on pillars about 20 inches high. The sides were filled in with other slabs raised on edge. On these were depicted in sculpture, various aspects of the family history of the subject, and scenes from the gospels. Precise information on the side panels from the New Abbey effigy are no longer available, but much can be learned from the portions of these which survive. These are built into the low wall outlining the site of the Church which was erected there about 1786 – and demolished some hundred years later.

We are indebted to the late Canon Langan P.P. for thus preserving what remained at that time. The illustrations here were made in 1900, and were originally published in the Journal of County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. III, No. 5, where a detailed description of each is given. (A copy may be had on loan from the editor.)

The New Abbey altar tomb is one of three such tombs which were erected within a mile of each other. The others were in Old Kilcullen and in Castlemartin. The shattered remains of the Castlemartin tomb now lie in the cellar of Castlemartin House. The cover stone of the Old Kilcullen tomb rests in the Church of Ireland parish church in Ballymore Eustace. What remains of the side panels in New Abbey are the best preserved of the three.