While the town as we know it today was established by Quakers in the mid-18th century, there is evidence of community habitation for some time. Situated on the Esker Riada, the ancient thoroughfare which connected the east and west coasts of Ireland, numerous ring forts are to be found in the countryside surrounding the town suggesting that the early settlement may have been a staging post for travellers.
Just outside the town in Kilbride, the remnants of a 12th-century monastery testify to the existence of a religious presence. According to tradition this monastery was founded by St Brigid of Kildare (d.c 525 AD) and is linked by an ancient road to Durrow Abbey founded by St Colm Cille (St Columba).
St Brigid’s original monastery, founded shortly after her religious profession – her first foundation, would have been constructed in wood and consisted of a number of buildings surrounding a central church.
These buildings were replaced by stone structures in the 12th century. The original parish was named after St Brigid: Kilbride (from Cill Bhride: the Church of Brigid). The ruins of an ancient church are to be found not far from the monastery at the foot of a hill (Chapel Hill) and this may have been the original parish church.