Now this may appear at odd thing to write about, but this weekend I stopped at Clontuskert Abby near Ballinasloe to visit a monastic settlement , it is located down a lane way , it is well kept and in good condition, but the reason I was there was to look at an oven in its walls. It has an interesting history and lot of it went on fire 1404 and was rebuilt.
Now, ovens in Ireland were not the norm, unless you were in a Monastic settlement, lived in castle setting or large urban areas like Dublin, Waterford, Cork or Limerick for example. You may ask the question why or what do these three places may have in common, stone is the answer, in Ireland most of the houses were made out of wattle, wooden weave with mud and grasses, not very safe place to have an oven. Some mills may have an oven somewhere on the premises as well. The Trinity Priory accounts roll of 14 th Century Dublin mentions bread been purchased from the baker. Another reason for not having bakers all over Ireland, the towns lands which is an area of land with given name may only have a few houses scattered in them. Rural Ireland was not conductive to a baker making a living. So places with good number of people and regular fairs may be lucky to have a baker as one of its trade people.
As I mentioned before flat breads were the norm cooked on ashes, hot hearth stone and griddles. Oatcakes left to dry beside the fire so what about bread. As history moves on, so those bread making, with advent of bread soda, bread was made in upturned pots, the use of the bastible that my grandmother used to feed twelve children was well in use into the 20 th century.
As you can see I have explored the cooking of bread through the ages, bread was one main foods in all settings before the arrival of the potatoe. There is an Interesting read by AT Lucas a paper covering just that subject” Ireland before the Potato”
So the Abby itself was in the hands of the Augustinians. Bread was main part of their diet, and as part of the lent experiment and associated research , found could have eaten thirty ounces daily. Many rules regarding penitents living on bread and water for their misdemeanour can be discussed, but that’s a different story and a different day.
I manage to visit two Augustinian Priory orAbby, A Dominican one all on my route home from work, a nice way to celebrate Bealtaine, finishing it with lighting my fire and baking my bread.
In my journey regarding ovens and lack of through the ages. Kells priory has evidence of hearths and the type of food eaten there, yet again this is a story for another day.