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THE MONASTIC PRECINCT
|The Infirmary (21-24)
The infirmary (or farmery) occupies the
south range of the outer court. As well as a
hospital, the infirmary was often home for
elderly canons no longer able to follow
monastic routine. The large size of most
infirmaries was actually dictated by the
practice of phlebotomy or blood-letting.
Phlebotomy was popular because it was
followed by a few days of convalescence in
the infirmary, with relaxed discipline and a
better diet (often including meat). It
became so popular that its frequency was
restricted. The Augustinian Rule
(governing regulations) was the least restrictive and permitted phlebotomy eight times a year.
The infirmary is divided into two large rooms (Figure 8). Each is entered from the court through doorways alongside the central dividing wall. A door at the centre of the dividing wall connects the two rooms. Little remains of the walls above their foundations, but the infirmary would have been a lofty single storey building.
The west room was the infirmary hall (21) or hospital ward. The vault of the priory drain intrudes above the floor along the foot of the west wall. Narrow mortared stone foundations were excavated along the south and north walls in 1980 and interpreted as seating in a small refectory. It is more likely that they supported bedheads arranged along the infirmary walls. The east room was the infirmary chapel (22), providing access to the holy sacraments for the sick. A low plinth against the east wall was the mortared base for the altar.
Large glazed windows must have been set high in the infirmary walls, with only one close to ground level at the west end of the south wall. A large fireplace would have warmed the hall, probably from a small dais (raised platform) built over the drain vault along the west wall. The walls of both rooms would have been plastered and whitewashed and perhaps decorated with mural paintings. Shelves would have held jars for the wide variety of herbs and ointments used by the infirmarer and his assistants.
The hall and the chapel both have a doorway opposite their outside entrance passing into a narrow passage extending to the south wall of the Precinct. The passages lead to a doorway through the Precinct wall and they shared a pitched roof, its crease preserved on the inside of the Precinct wall. A corresponding crease on the outside face of the wall shows that the chapel passage entered a small room which extended partway across the millstream (Figures 4,8). This low extension on the infirmary must be the infirmary reredorter (23), the millstream serving as its drain. The hall passage must once have entered the other one just inside the Precinct wall.
Two small chambers are built onto the hall passage of the reredorter (24). One chamber was probably for the infirmarer who might also have been infirmary chaplain. The other may have been for an assistant. Larger monasteries also had an infirmary kitchen but the adjacent priory kitchen will have served here.
The Kitchen Block (25)
The kitchen block and west gate made up the short west range of the
court. Internally, the kitchen block is divided into three rooms (Figure 8). At its heart
was the kitchen with a large stone hearth at the centre of the west wall. Excavation in 1980 identified a second
hearth opposite.11 A stone-lined open drain runs from the side of the hearth to the millstream. It passes beneath
a doorway in the southwest corner of the kitchen leading to a curved recess in the Precinct wall. A second drain
serves a small raised 'sink' in the south wall of the kitchen. From the southeast corner of the kitchen, a door
enters a smaller eastern room. The kitchen block is entered from the outer court along a passage against the south
wall of this smaller room.
Bake-house and brew-house
The kitchen block seems too small to have accommodated the priory bake-house and brew-house although this has been suggested previously. It is more likely that they occupied the Southwest Precinct Bastion (as already stated), perhaps lying outside the Monastic Precinct until the later fifteenth century. A brewery was still recorded on the site by the first nineteenth century Ordnance Survey of Ireland. The surveyors appear to refer to Water Tower and perhaps the penthouse between the tower and the millstream bridge.
Gardens and orchards
The priory farms and the river provided grain, meat and fish for
the kitchen. The priory would probably also have been self-sufficient in vegetables, herbs, fruit and honey. Herbs
were used for cooking and in the infirmary, the infirmarer being a skilled herbalist. As gardening was a popular
form of the physical work demanded by every monastic Rule, the priory garden was probably close to the cloister.
Vegetable beds, a circular herb garden and bee hives are shown in a high-walled triangular garden west of the cloister
in Figure 4. The garden might alternatively have been at the centre of the cloister.
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler