Knights Templar in Newry

We assume, partly because a full page of the local Democrat was alloted to the story, that  some research was undertaken into the authenticity of this story.

Sources were not credited, however, nor any member of the research group identified. The whole is a curious mix of verifiable history and apparently unsourced speculation.  The latter includes the first and last two paragraphs. 

Still, the whole is surely as credible as the more recent claims of the Bagenal Group about the origins of the Castle Street building.  It is surely far more interesting also!

In December 1306 a small band of forlorn and weary travellers recently disembarked near Boat Street, climbed the slippery slopes which led to the Cistercian monastery perched on the rocky outcrop above what is now Castle Street.  The entourage included pack animals heavily weighed down with victuals and provisions much needed by the monks and lay people who lived within the precincts of the monastery walls.  Our story is told because there might well have been a much more valuable cargo secreted away, being transferred now to the sacred keep of these servants of God, who were also friends and trusted companions of the travellers, representatives of France’s Knights Templar.

The newspaper article goes on to describe a welcome within the Abbot’s domain that would sound more credible if sources were attributed. 

The article correctly attributes the influence of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux at that period to both the Cistercian Order and the Knights Templar, as recognised in their rules and constitution.

The Abbot and the Knight, it is said, spent several hours discussing in depth the make-up, constitution and dispersal of the precious items entrusted to the latter’s keep.

The thread of this story, we are told, was sewn together in 1994 by a local charitable group and its research team commissioned to undertake a commemorative exhibition at the Master’s House.  This was part of the 850 Celebrations (850 years since the founding of Iubhair Cinn Tragha).  Concrete artefacts such as maps, documentation and physical items were uncovered.  ‘The entire research team’, we are assured, ‘which included an adviser qualified in all aspects of fraternal bodies past and present, was of the consensus agreement that this was an exciting project and unique in its findings.’

With the late Brother Beausang, the group was given permission to enter into the heart of McCann’s Bakery, the focal point of their research.  Here they found, fixed over the mantle of a doorway, the effigies of a male head with chevrons, accompanied by that of a hound.  Using dental plaster, the group made a mould, which was then cast in bronze to later become the centrepiece of the Exhibition.

These images were confirmed to be of a Romanesque style, in vogue in Ireland in the mid to late twelfth century.   Further authentication – it is claimed – followed when these (the replicas!) were gifted to the Irish Room at Pittsburg University, Pennsylvania, USA.

The article claims that this identified at least a portion of the structure of the (then) bakery as dating back to the twelfth century.   Newry Journal tends to the opinion that late 15th century – and imitation style – is more likely.

Of course, one may alternately speculate that a sculpted stone from an earlier building was retained, to be built into a 16-17th century town house.

Most significantly, in our opinion, the original artefacts soon ‘disappeared’ out of Newry entirely.  Shortly after, a ‘new group’ of Council researchers arrived to identify the building as the ‘Castell’ of the English invader Nicholas Bagenal!).   

The carved heads bore a remarkable similarity to similar images seen even today at Killeavey Old Church (also a former convent) – also ‘dissolved’ by Henry VIII.

High King Muirterach Mac Lochlain, under the advice of Mael Maedoc (St Malachy), the Archbishop of Armagh, increased the holdings of the Cistercian Monks – resident in Newry since 1144, thus 850 years before the 1994 celebrations – and formalized this by granting a ‘Donatio’, a land charter, in 1157, a charter which is extant.

Under this Charter, larges tracts of land in Ballnacraigy, Sheeptown, Ballyholland, Derryleckagh and Lisduff were given to the Cistercians.  The research gleaned that the grant served a dual purpose: to create a religious buffer zone against intrusions by McLochlain’s enemies as he in turn aspired to conquests in lands south of his terrain, and to fulfill the dream of Saint Malachy to increase the Cistercian influence in Ireland.

Muirterach MacLochlain understood well that the Cistercian influence brought also with it the protective influence of its brother order, the Knights Templar.   The research group stressed the necessity of a military presence to defend such a far-flung area, as the Monastery and auxiliary houses were built.   Less credibly it considered as especially significant the many place names in the area that included the word Temple (Templegowan, Templehill Road, Templetown, Templepatrick).   The latter is far more likely, in our own view, derived from one Gaelic term for ‘church’.

It appears that the expulsion from France of the Knights Templar on Friday 13 October 1307 had been well signaled in advance.  Pope Clement V and King Philip IV conspired jointly against them.  The service of ‘mammon’ (as well as the service of God) had seen them amass great wealth and riches all throughout Christendom.  They were recognized as the first bankers.  It appears that some part of their vast wealth was never properly accounted for.   By today’s standards, it is estimated in the trillions. 

The researchers claim to have found evidence that senior members of the Templars met secretly in 1306 to discuss their fraught position.   It was agreed to disperse much of the Templars’ treasure and important artefacts throughout Northern Europe.   Five locations, including Newry, were identified on the grounds of obscurity and safety.   A designated sign was duly recorded to identify these areas for future reference.  After much deliberation one of the Knights suggested the Tarot Card to identify the Newry area – a symbol that throughout history had been synonymous with the Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  The Cards, it seems, were used to disseminate information and pass on secrets to the chosen few.  In the regard, one can view in a new light the Seal of the Cistercian Abbey in Newry which depicts Saint Patrick sitting on a chair between two yew trees.  The illustration is remarkably similar to the Hierophant Card chosen by the Templars.

The Town Commissioners in later days were given the old seal of the Cistercian Abbey as their official insignia.  Similar seals may or may not exist throughout Europe.  Still, the group, finding that the Chambers English Dictionary defined ‘Hierophant’ as ‘one that reveals sacred things’, speculated that a most important portion of the treasure, sacred and historical documents and other significant articles may have been sent to Newry.

… Thomas Steers, Canal Engineer …

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