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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Beggan's Spirit

Kilbeggan above the River Brosna is far enough from Dublin to be an unspoilt country town. It is known for its racecourse and distillery. Both contribute to a relaxed atmosphere.

The racecourse, on the outskirts, has a reputation for ‘the laidback charm of a genuine rural meeting’. However the racing is taken seriously, it is one of four national Hunt Courses in the country. 

Since 1757 the distillery has a picturesque site on the river at the edge of town.  It claims to be the oldest pot distillery in the world and its product was favoured by, among others, Winston Churchill and Myles na gCopaleen.

Almost forgotten on its hill, looking down on the river and distillery, is the spot from which Kilbeggan got its name.

Beggan was a 6th century scholar-saint, one of the ‘Twelve Apostles of Ireland’ who studied at Finnian’s monastic school at Clonard and went on to make history.  

He had a national reputation for self-discipline and ranked with Endeus and Mochua, as the monastic ‘hard men’ of their time. Every day whether dry or wet, cold or warm, he used to sing the whole Psalter by the side of a stone cross in the open air outside the monastery.

The community he introduced evolved until the 12th century when, like similar groups of the period, it took on a new life as a Cistercian monastery. This survived until the dissolution in 1549.

I wondered what the serious-minded Beggan, on his hill above the distillery and racecourse, would have thought of the developments below?  Of course they were not there in his time. Towns in Ireland were the outgrowth of monasteries such as Killbeggan. As a result there was little conflict between monastery and town. The town provided services for the monks and the monks educated and served the local people.

Today, traces of Beggan’s foundation can be found remain in the middle of town. His modest cells were replaced by the Cistercian monastery, of which little remains, and then by a Church of Ireland now also in ruins. Only part of an impressive tower survives and pokes up through the trees.  

The memory and outlook of Beggan seem also to have faded. Even the new Catholic Church on the other side of town has no reminders of him, its patron is St James.  

If it wasn’t for the names of Irish towns would eight-hundred years of Irish heritage be forgotten? 



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