The effigy tomb of Robert Bowen and his wife Alice Harpole which was erected in 1631 by their sons Oliver and Thomas. Robert Bowen was the son of John Bowen known as John Thomas Owen a Welsh settler who arrived in Laois during the plantation times in the Elizabethan Era. John obtained a lease on the former O’More stronghold at Ballyadams Castle for his services to the crown and died in 1569. He was regarded as a fearsome constable of that castle and was said to have slaughtered many locals with his pike during the turbulent days of the Laois Plantation. He was known as John of the Pike or 'Séan a' Phíce' as a result. His son Robert who is commemorated here became Sherriff of Co. Laois and constable of the Castle shortly after his father’s death; again it was believed he wasn’t very sympathetic towards the natives. Robert married into another English settler family called the Harpoles who had a seat at Shrule Castle on the banks of the Barrow in Co. Laois.  

Robert died in 1621 and his wife Alice died shortly after this. The limestone tomb we see here today originally had a covering slab which depicted both settlers in 17th Century costume, likely mail and armour, and ladies dress. It is believed that the cover slab was smashed and discarded by locals during the late 18th Century, during the time of the Whitefeet agrarian unrest . Stories of the brutality meted out by the settlers on the natives passed down the generations and resulted in the breaking up of this effigy, perhaps a small reprisal in comparison to the treatment their ancestors received in the previous centuries.

The tomb was constructed in 1631 by Roberts’s sons and a wall memorial records this date complete with the crests of each family a stag (Harpole) and helmet (Bowen) and an epitaph which reads:  

'AN. EPITAPH. ON. THE - DEATH. OF ROBERT: BOWEN: ESQUIRE IF TEARES. PREVENT NOT, EVERY READERS EYE MAY. WELL PERCEIVE, THAT IN THIS TOMB DOOTH LIE

FRIENDS HOPE. FOES DREAD, WHOSE THRICE VICTORIOUS HAND

CAIN'D LOVE, WROUGH. PEACE WITHIN THIS JOYFULL. LAND WHOSE WORTH DOOTH MOUNT ITSELFE ON ANGELS WINGS

WHOSE GREAT DESCENT WAS FIRST FROM. ROYALL. KINGS

WHOSE NEVER - DYING - VERTUES LIVE, FOR WHY WHOSE FAME'S ETERNIZ;D, HE CAN NEVER DY'.

There are six figures depicted on the side portions of the tomb all dressed in 17th Century costume. On its South face is an arcade of four rounded arches containing four figures, two male and two female. Their names are recorded in relief carvings overhead as being Joan, Margaret, Thomas and Oliver. On the East side Sir John Bowen the eldest son of Robert and his wife Thela Ellis Bowen are depicted. The west side panel depicts two more individuals of the family.

The effigial tomb is located at the site of an early stone Church which likely dated to the 14th Century and served as the religious house to Ballyadams Castle. The Church site itself is associated with St. MacAedh who was an Early Medieval saint in Ireland famed for his many cures (6th Century A.D). There are two holy wells to the west of the site. Tobernasool and Toberneebe the former being associated with cures for the eye. The site is accessible and well worth a visit, a true Laois Hidden Gem.

Post Author: Laois Archaeology

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