Historical Background

Settlement on this site

Bagenals Castle drawingThe rediscovery of Bagnal's Castle offers an important opportunity for Newry to recognise this part of the town as its oldest. Here, the Cistercian daughter house of Mellifont was founded in 1157 on land granted by charter from Maurice O'Loughlin. The lands held by the Abbey were extensive including lands at Cooley and Carlingford.

In 1543 during the Dissolution, the Abbey was converted by petition to a collegiate church for lay clergy. However by 1548, the properties were confiscated for the Crown and the new tenant was to be Nicholas Bagenal, a native of Staffordshire. He appears to have come to Ireland after being implicated in a murder. After acting for some time as agent for the Crown in infiltrating the O'Neill clan, he received a general pardon in 1543. In 1547 he was appointed Marshall of Elizabeth's army in Ireland and in 1550 became a member of the Irish Privy Council. That same year he was given a lease 'of the college or house of Newry' where he set up a garrison at this important interface between the anglicised Leinster 'Pale' and an Ulster still under the control of the O'Neills.

New locationIn 1552 he became Knight Marshall and was clearly a valued commander who held on to his lands in spite of incursions by Shane O'Neill and a deprivation of his office under Mary Queen of Scots. Lord Sydney restored him as Marshall in 1568 and he was succeeded by his son Henry in 1590. At the battle of Yellowford in 1598 Henry was killed during a skirmish with Hugh O'Neill. Ironically Nicholas' daughter Mabel had eloped with and married Hugh O'Neill in 1591. This is the subject of Brian Friel's play 'Making History'.