Babe’s Bridge , also known as Ferganstown or Robber’s Bridge, was built by the Normans, at the time of King John, at the beginning of the 13th century and probably completed around 1216. It originally had 11 arches across the Boyne and its location was chosen to provide access from the Barony of Screen to Donaghmore Church and Monastery, i.e. at the Round Tower sited on the present day Slane Road.

The bridge was named after a Norman landowner, at the time, a John le Baub. It is likely that he financed it and provided 10 acres of land for its maintenance and upkeep. It is also likely that it was built by a master mason sent over from Thourarsais, in France, on the advice of King John. The structure of the bridge is a pointed stone arch formed of limestone and sandstone with narrow piers which made it very vulnerable to high water levels. This was and is a very unusual type of structure and unique in Ireland. Only one arch of a similar profile could be found in the UK and France (O’Keefe). However, a similar arch exists in a doorway in the ruins of St. Michaels Church in Duleek, which was erected by Walter de Lacy in 1285.

A reference in James Graces Annales Hiberniae under the year 1330 states “ there was a great flood, especially of the Boyne, by which all the bridges on that river, except Babes, were carried away and other mischief done at Trim and Drogheda”.

By 1450 repairs to the bridge were apparently neglected and came to the notice of the Parliament of Ireland who ordained that the hands of the King be removed from the 10 acres held for its maintenance and committed it to the care of the Abbot of Navan and the Parson of Ardmulchan, without rendering any account to the King. In 1463 the Statute Rolls of Ireland recorded, however, “that through default and repair, the said bridge is ruinous and likely to fall speedily, unless it is remedied”. The attempt to bypass authority was not successful and it is recorded in the Statute Rolls (1463) that the said lands be committed to the Parson of Dunmoe and the Vicar of Donaghmore , these two persons to render an account to the Abbot of Navan.

According to O’Keefe, Babe’s Bridge is not shown on Moll’s map nor on the Downe Survey and Hugh O’Neill’s invasion plan of 1599. It is probable that it became dangerous and impassible between 1500 and 1550 and that the Navan Burghers and local landowners realised it was cheaper to build a new bridge at Kilcarn than to repair and maintain Babes. There is no record of when the bridge was demolished. In the late 18th century, however, at least one of the arches was demolished by the Boyne Navigation Company to enable the construction of the Boyne Canal. Today just one arch remains of one of the earliest masonry arch bridges constructed in Ireland.

The next historical mention of the bridge is in Sir William Wilde’s, “Beauties of the Boyne” published in 1849, where he confirmed that “before its complete demolition it went by the name of Ferganstown or Robbers Bridge, tradition says, on account of some noted horse-stealers in the early part of the last century, having made it their chief resort. The country people also tell us , that Cromwell’s army crossed it in its passage up the Boyne”.

The remaining arch remained untouched until 1988 when the Meath County Engineer persuaded the Office of Public Works to underpin the remaining two pier foundations. The remaining arch is now one of the oldest surviving authenticated bridges in Ireland. The stability of the remaining bridge arch structure is, at present, threatened by tree growth out of the masonry and general neglect. The recent
higher than average floods on the Boyne are also a concern and need to be taken into account in the preparation of any further preservation works.

Geoff Clarke