Saint Laurence Gate

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Coordinates: 53°42′57″N 6°20′49″W / 53.715909°N 6.347003°W / 53.715909; -6.347003

Saint Laurence Gate
Geata Labhráis
Drogheda - St. Laurences Gate (5638818100).jpg
Former names Great East Gate
General information
Type Barbican
Address St. Laurence Street
Town or city Drogheda
Country Ireland
Completed c1280
Owner Office of Public Works
St.Laurence Gate

Saint Laurence Gate is a barbican which was built in the 13th century as part of the walled fortification's of the medieval town of Drogheda in Ireland. A barbican or defended fore-work which stood directly outside the original gate of which no surface trace survives.[1] It is widely regarded as one of the finest of its kind in Europe and is considered on of Ireland's greatest national monuments.[2] The original names for Laurence Street and Saint Laurence Gate were Great East Street and Great East Gate, respectively. In the 14th century, both the street and gate were renamed because they led to the hospital of Saint Laurence, which stood close to the Cord church.[3]

It consists of two towers, each with four floors, joined by a bridge at the top and an entrance arch at street level. Entry is gained up a flight of stairs in the south tower. There is a slot underneath the arch from where a portcullis could be raised and lowered.

Historians have wondered why such an enormous barbican was built here in the east of the town, when the main artery through the town has always been north/south. For example, a similar barbican in Canterbury is less than half the height of Saint Laurence Gate. However, from the top of the Gate, the estuary of the Boyne and the four mile stretch of river from there to Drogheda can be clearly observed. This is the only point in the town with a clear view of any potential sea invasion. This is proposed as a reason why Saint Laurance Gate was built to such a height.

A portion of the town wall remains to the south of Saint Laurence Gate. North of Saint Laurence Gate, the wall ran up Palace St/King St where the footpath is today. The depth of the basements of the houses and school suggest the presence of a steep trench outside the wall. Over the centuries, as the walls and gates fell into disrepair, the rubble stones were reused in later buildings. For example, the house and walls at the corner of Laurence Street and Palace Street and stone walls in Constitution Hill. Old pictures show that a toll booth and gate house remained until the early 19th century. The shop beside Laurence's Gate was a bicycle shop 100 years ago. The green letter box dates from a time when there was a post office there.


The 13th-century Buttergate, just northwest of Millmount, is technically the only surviving genuine town gate in Drogheda as Saint Laurence Gate is a barbican. It is believed that the name 'Butter Gate' comes from a toll that was once collected on butter passing through this gate to the nearby Hospital of St John, however, the name may also be a corruption of the Bothair Gate; similar corruptions were assigned to the names of Green and Yellow Batter and, there is a 17th-century reference referring to the 'Dirty Batter' which was that of a lane or small road in the vicinity of the said Butter gate[4]

Drogheda's town walls[edit]

The first of the defenses which enclosed the settlements of Drogheda date to the 1190s. By 1186 a defensive motte and bailey had been built at Millmount which overlooks the town from a bluff on the south bank of the River Boyne, these first defenses were built on conjunction with and to protected Millmount Fort. Archaeological discoveries of the 1970s show the original fortifications to consist of a ditch and an earthen bank with wooden palisades on top. Despite this, the defences were strong enough to repulse an attack in 1315-16 by Edward Bruse's Scottish army.[5]

Drogheda’s trading connections, attested by archaeological evidence, were predominantly with English ports but also extended much further to Flanders and Gascoigne, to France, northern Spain and Portugal with evidence of contact even as far afield as Iceland.[6] The prosperity of medieval Drogheda meant that stone town walls and fortifications were built around the town between 1234 and 1334 in order to protect the citizens and the prosperous economy within.[7] Enclosing an area of 113 acres, 33 acres on the south side and 80 acres on the north side, with a circumference of one and a half miles the walled city of Drogheda was twice the size of medieval walled Dublin.[8] For a town of this size and with this scale of economic activity the enclosing town walls facilitated the collection of taxes through its ten gates, which included, Blind gate, Butter gate, Saint Catherine's gate, Duleek gate, Fair gate, Saint James/Dublin gate, Saint John's gate, Saint Laurence gate, Saint Sunday’s gate and West gate. For centuries Drogheda's defences were to a great extent an expression of the town’s civic success and independence.

Under Edward I, Drogheda received grants of toll for mirage. The town possesses one of the most extensive series of murage grants for any Irish town with at least 13 grants spanning the years between 1234 and 1424. The murage grants basically consisted of a licence to levy a toll upon goods coming into the town and the money thus gathered at the gates was used to construct and repair the town wall. The form and composition of the wall indicate that it was largely constructed in the 13th century, although there is evidence for multiple phases of town wall building can be seen in construction joins and the use of different mortars. A fine example of this is still visible today to the west of Millmount. Later murage grants indicate that additions and repairs were required in the 14th and 15th centuries (Bradley 1997). In 1316, Edward I granted 300 marks for the repair of Drogheda's walls and turrets[9] The almost incessant warfare with the Scots and native Irish had so reduced the Borough of Drogheda, that in the year 1380, King Richard II then conferred upon them certain customs and duties for the repair of their walls and fortifications, and for the general improvement of the town.[10]

Drogheda became an important centre for linen and grain trade. This period of sustained growth peaked in the years 1785-1808, when Drogheda became the fourth largest town in Ireland after Dublin, Cork and Waterford.[11] By the late 18th century the walls were viewed as an anachronism and no longer necessary for defence in a more prosperous time, which left them prone to decay. As a consequence many sections of the walls were demolished during property development at this time. The gates were also removed to widen the streets and ease the passage of increased coach traffic, as was the case on 30 June 1795 when the Corporation ordered that the stones and material from Sunday’s Gate be auctioned off so that “the avenue on which same stands be widened to fifty feet” [12][13]

Descriptions of the town wall and gates[edit]

Ravells map of Drogheda, 1749.

Drogheda has a number of available sources that describe or illustrate the town wall, although many of them post-date the construction of the town’s defences by several hundred years. The earliest of these is “The Plott of the Towne of Tredagh (Drogheda)” drawn by Barnaby Goche in 1574, Capt. Robert Newcomen’s map of Drogheda from 1657 was commissioned as part of the Down Survey and illustrates in great detail the town’s walls, gates and towers. A sketch of Drogheda’s walled town also features on the Down Survey of 1657 in the Barony of Ferrard. These maps were drawn up as an inventory of Irish landholdings for distribution to English gentry colonising Ireland after Cromwell’s invasion. In 1749 Joseph Ravell produced a map of early Georgian Drogheda that depicts the circuit of the town walls cartographically (See map to right).

Illustrations and paintings of Drogheda provided valuable detail about the town wall and in particular, the number, location, and form of the gates. The painting of Drogheda by Van der Hagen c. 1718 (See below) clearly shows walls and towers along the northern quay, although there was some debate between the cartographers over the existence of defensive quay walls. This painting also illustrates what a prominent feature of the skyline the defensive towers of the wall circuit once were. Two paintings by Gabrielle Ricciardelli c. 1753 (See below) show Drogheda from different viewpoints. Several towers and gates are visible, and both paintings clearly highlight the form of the wall between Butter Gate and St John’s Gate. The quay walls are relatively low and vary between individual properties.

Descriptions of the wall, its construction and repair can be found in a number of sources. The records of Drogheda Corporation contain the details of the numerous murage grants of Drogheda, land survey and property title documents, all of which refer, in part, to the defences of the town.[14] Cromwell’s letters regarding the siege of the town in 1649 also provide historians with information about Drogheda’s fortifications.[15]



  • Wakeman, William F (1995) [1848 original published by James McGlashan, Dublin]. Archaeologica Hibernica - A Hand-book of Irish Antiquities. Reprint by Bracken Books. Chap. 4, especially p. 144. ISBN 1-85891-256-3. 

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