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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Who is Wolstan?

Tracing the history of Celbridge (Cell on the Bridge) from the time St Moclua first used the druids’ well there as a baptismal font, to Moclua’s own cell at Tea Leave Graveyard, to Swift and Vanaessa, I came across St Wolstan.

That he made an impact on the town can be seen in the names of St Wolstan’s Estate, St Wostan’s Community School and, hidden away, St Wolstan’s Abbey. He didn’t sound very Celtic or Irish yet in parts of Celbridge he gets more attention than the town’s initiator, Mochua.

It took some time to find out who he was and even more to locate what remains of his abbey.

When the Normans settled in the area in 1202 they built a Norman-style stone abbey and named it after a newly canonised Norman-Saxon saint.

Who was Wolstan? He was born in 1008 at Long Itchington, Warwickshire. He entered the priory of Worcester as a novice, became the cathedral prior and then Bishop of Worcester in 1062.

He had a reputation as a pious man who, following the Norman Conquest of England, submitted to King William I and was permitted to retain his position as bishop.

As a saintly Saxon who had submitted to the Normans, he seemed a good example to put before the Irish. The new abbey was known as Scala Coeli, ‘Stairs of Heaven’ and in the Reformation it was the first monastery in Ireland to be suppressed.

When I went in search of the abbey itself in the area indicated by maps I discovered it is cut off by high walls and barred gates. One day when taking a stroll along the Liffey in Castletown Park I noticed an imposing ruin across the river. It was St Wolstan’s, inaccessible but at least I could take a photo.

So now I know. St Wolstan’s represents a turning point in Irish history that is little remembered but had a lasting cultural influence.


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