11/30/2013

Drogheda's Underground Tunnels







Excavations in James St. before the dual carriageway construction
There has long been plenty of urban legends in Drogheda about various subterranean passages that exist around the town. They are referenced in many of the written histories of Drogheda down through the years, probably taken from local rumours themselves. They were allegedly used as various escape routes around and out of the town. 

John D'Alton in his 1844 History of Drogheda says that "it should not be omitted that in and about Drogheda, several subterranean passages have been discovered and many of considerable extent; one reaching from St. Peter's Church towards the Tholsel, another in the line of West St., a third near the ruins of the Dominican monastery (Magdalene Tower), and a fourth near the burial ground popularly called the Cord."

Basset's guide and Directory to Co. Louth also mentions the tunnel from St. Peter's, perhaps copying D'Alton: "Of traditionary subterranean passages, honey-combing the ground on which Drogheda stands, there is no lack. A very well authenticated one is said to run from St. Peter's Church toward the Tholsel."

In 1891 it was reported in the national news that in the course of construction of a house in Narrow West St., a large passage was discovered: "After excavating about ten feet beneath the surface the workman displaced a large flagstone, under which a large, dark subterranean passage was discovered. One of the workmen took a long crowbar and failed to touch the bottom with the end of it. All the surface water which originally passed through the sewer now drains into the underground passage referred to. It is considered that this discovery reveals one of the subterranean passages for which old Drogheda was famous. One of these passages (also) extended from the town to Mellifont Abbey."

It is also on record that a Mr. Hatch, the Borough Engineer explored a passage in Narrow West St. in 1893.

Finally, in 2006 when West. St. was in the process of being 'upgraded', people noticed apparent underground tunnels in the middle of the excavations. There are also reports of tunnels around the old Grammar School site, in the Duke St./Fair St. area and even that the Cellar Bar in Laurence St. was part of a larger network. Whether all these tunnels are the remains of cellars from older, previous buildings or perhaps old sewerage tunnels, the fact that there are so many stories and that they still persist is an indication that there is perhaps a grain of truth behind the urban legends.


Dowth Souterrain image c. Brian McElherran
Edit: The tunnels may also be the remains of souterrains, underground Iron age tunnels or galleries used, as has been suggested, as food stores or hiding places. They were dug out and then lined with either stone slabs or wood, which could be part of the passage found in West St. Co. Louth has a high concentration of these souterrains and considering Drogheda and the surrounding Boyne Valley area has evidence of human habitation since the Neolithic Age it seems within the realms of possibilty to suggest that these tunnels could be souterrains. With the recent geophysical survey of Millmount in Drogheda it can be hoped that if it shows evidence of a passage tomb on a par with Newgrange, then the immediate Drogheda area can be given another definite date for historical habitation. 

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