This secluded medieval church in North Dublin once known as the Church of the Assumption, but more commonly as Old Ballyboughal, has an illustrious and tragic history. It is situated just north of Ballyboughal village, Ballyboughal translates into Irish as Baile Bachaille ‘Town of the Staff’, in relation to the legendary staff of St Patrick. This staff was named ‘Bachall Ísu or Íosa’ meaning staff of Jesus and legend had it that St Patrick was given the staff to assist him in his missionary work. The use of a staff as a relic of power was tied into early Christian theology and St Patrick is nearly always depicted with one, Moses is also depicted with a staff and in both cases it was meant to have otherworldly properties.
After the death of Patrick the ‘Bachall Íosa’ was handed from layman to layman within the Ui Sinaich family eventually given over into the possession of the Archbishop of Armagh, who in 1113 commissioned a church to house it at Ballyboughal. It must be said we are talking about of an age of great antiquity and timelines may not match perfectly as much of the current ruin at Ballyboughal appears to be 14th century! It is believed that when the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland happened during the 1170s Strongbow himself took the staff into his possession, later granting funds and the staff for the renovation of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. The staff remained in Christchurch until the Reformation and in 1538 the staff’s ornaments were removed and it was burnt by order of the Archbishop George Browne in Skinners Row (modern day Chirstchurch Place) as it was viewed as a superstitious Catholic relic.
Ballyboughal was also the site of a farm that provided provisions for St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin (near Abbey St) during the 14th century. The church was listed as ‘in ruin’ by 1630. There is a monument to the United Irishmen of the 1798 Rebellion in the graveyard to commemorate one of the last battles of the failed Irish Rebellion which was fought at Ballyboughal on 14th of July 1798. This was one of the last stands of a column that had headed northwards from Wexford and 200 pike-men were slaughtered by Crown forces and buried in and around the graveyard at Ballyboughal.
‘Tell to the nations, though the grass is o´er them for many a weary year,
Our father’s souls still thrill the land that bore them, Their spirit still is there.’
(’98 by William Rooney)
GPS: 53.52381, -6.2695