Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 17th: Kilmacduagh

Kilmacduagh1

 

The monastic site in County Galway Ireland is made up of 6 key structures:

 

IMG_3409Heynes abbey or Heynes church: It was built in the first half of the 13th century and was originally supported by intricate columns with flowers on them.

IMG_3393

Glebe House: It was probably the abbot’s house and was originally built in the 14th century, but was significantly reconstructed later.

IMG_3422

Saint John’s Church: This is the oldest masonry on the site, with parts dating to the 10th century.

IMG_3400Our Lady’s church: A small 13th century church which might have been built with stone from an earlier church.  You can see it second from the left in the above photo, I sadly don’t have a closer photo.

Kilmacducgh3

The Cathedral: The earliest part dates to the 11th century and was probably built to replace a wooden cathedral.

Kilmacduagh2

The leaning tower: This round tower dates to the 10th century probably and at 102 feet is the tallest round tower in Ireland. For more information on round towers see this previous post.

Kilmacdaugh Monastery was founded by St Colman Mac Duach early in the 7th century. He built a monastery and church. St Colman presided over the diocese until his death in 814. It remained the seat of the bishop of Kilmacdaugh until the 16th century. The churches were plundered in the 13th century but Maurice, the bishop of Kilmacdaugh who died in 1283,  introduced a foundation of Augustinian canons. The canons survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 1500s when the land and the site were granted to the Earl of Clanrickarde.

References:

Site visit 2015

Kilmacduagh: A short guide by James P. Hynes

http://www.libraryireland.com/topog/K/Kilmacduagh-Kiltartan-Galway.php

The photos are all mine

 

 

 

 

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 16th: Kells Priory, County Kilkenny

Kells1Kells2Kells3

IMG_2233The first Norman church at Kells was founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert de Marisco in 1183. Ten years later he invited the Augustinian canons from Bodmin in Cornwall to come to Kells, and the priory was established. He also built a Norman style town beside it. It is worth noting that this is not the Kells that the Book of Kells comes from, that’s in County Meath and you can see pictures and some information here.

The buildings at Kells have several different dates. The extremely dominating walls which are the first impression of the site date to the late 15th early 16th century. They exemplify the war like nature of the area in this time period, as does the fortified prior’s house which dates to the same era. The remains of the original complex are more densely clustered, including the priory church (the canons would have ministered to the local inhabitants, they were not cloistered), a cloister, a mills and brewery. The remains of the church most likely date to the 12th century at least in part. This was not a large community of canons, with between 3 and ten canons in residence during it’s history. That being said there would have been a laity working for and with the canons and the acreage that the priory covers was impressive. Even today it still occupies around 10 acres, making it one of the biggest monastic complexes in Ireland.

From the very beginning the history of the priory itself is largely one of conflict.  FitzRobert came out to Ireland with Strongbow in the 1170, Strongbow granted him 44 000 acres and he married Strongbow’s widowed sister Basila. Geoffrey was appointed Seneschal of Leinster by William Marshal in 1204, a post he held till 1208 and this brought him into conflict with King John. Geoffrey ended up as a hostage to King John as a guarantor for the Norman Barons in 1208. Geoffrey remained a hostage until 1211 when he died in Hereford.

This conflict was beginning of the distinctly warlike history of Kells priory. The priory was often at the heart of conflict, it was sacked a number of times. In 1252 Lord William de Bermingham burnt down the town of Kells and sacked the priory. In 1316 Lord Edward Bruce took possession of the town, though he didn’t damage it. Between 1308 and 1312 the last member of FitzRobert’s line died out and a series of landlords who were largely absent took over the priory, this led to the district being unprotected and frequent raids. Kells began to decline. In 1327 the town and priory was sacked and burnt again and over the next two hundred years it went back and forth between a few different lords, with the office of prior being a bone of contention amongst the local families.

Ultimately in 1540 it was dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The land was divided amongst the aristocracy who were loyal to Henry VIII. The majority went to James Butler, Earl of Ormond.

References:

Site visit 2015

A Brief History of Kells, Co. Kilkenny by Albert Smith 1993.

The photos are all mine.

 

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 15th: Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint1Jerpoint2Jerpoint3Jerpoint Abbey in County Kilkenny Ireland was founded in c. 1160 probably by Donal MacGillpatrick King of Ossory. However in 1180 it was taken over by Cistercians monks from Baltinglass Abbey in County Wicklow.

The tower and the cloister date to 14th and 15th centuries where as the remainder of the church and the chapter house and the refectory date to 12th and 13th centuries.

Jerpoint was at the heart of the the early 13th century power struggle in the Cistercian Order between the Anglo-Norman Abbots and the Irish Abbots. The Abbot of Jerpoint was deposed in 1217 for instigating the riot of Jerpoint. The General Chapter of the Cistercians had organised a visitation to Ireland to investigate reports of misconduct by the Irish Cistercians. When the investigator arrived at Jerpoint he was greeted with a riot involving Jerpoint and four other abbeys. The Abbot of Jerpoint was blamed. Matters came to a head in the Conspiracy of Mellifont when all the Irish abbots were deposed. Jerpoint was removed from Batlinglass and was made subject to Fountains in Yorkshire. The Irish affiliation was restored after about fifty years.

The carvings you can see in the photos above date largely to the 15th and very early 16th centuries. In 1442 the abbey was granted an indulgence to repair the cloister, bell tower, dormitory, other offices and chapel of St Moling after they pleaded poverty following the English Irish conflict at the time. The carvings on the tomb are apostles.

In 1228 the number of brethren at Jerpoint was fixed at 36 monks and 50 lay brothers, but by the time the abbey was dissolved in 1540 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was down to the abbot and five monks. The possessions of the abbey went to James Butler Earl of Ormond.

References:

Site visit 2015

OPW Jerpoint Abbey booklet

https://www.hrionline.ac.uk/cistercians/abbeys/jerpoint.php

 

 

 

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 14th: Dunbrody Abbey

Dunbrody1Dunbrody2Dunbrody3Dunbrody Abbey  in Wexford Ireland was founded at the instruction of Richard Strongbow in 1170 by Hevre de Montmorency who was his uncle. Montmorency made the grant of land for Dunbrody to the monks of Bildewas in Shropshire on the condition that they should establish a Cistercian monastery on them and that there should be sanctuary in the abbey for any malefactors.

The abbey was dedicated to St Mary and St Benedict. Montmorency became the first abbot of Dunbrody and when he died in 1205 he was buried there.

The church that remains is largely 13th century and is remarkably intact, there is less of the cloister remaining but you can still see where it was.

Dunbrody remained largely quiet and out of history until 1355 when the abbot and some of his monks were charged with taking up highway robbery. William de Ross, the abbot, and some of the monks were indicted for imprisoning Thomas Herlyn who was a monk from Tintern and stealing two horses worth forty shillings. They were also charged with expelling Thomas de Wiggemore who was the Abbot of Tintern and stealing three horses from him worth eight marks. The jury found the charges to be unfounded.

In 1522 the Abbot of Dunbrody Alexander Devereux granted the towns and villages of Battlestown, little and great Haggart, Ballygow, and Ballycorean for the term of 51 years with a rent of 22 marks to his relative Simon Devereux. Having disposed of one of the wealthiest part of abbey’s holdings to enrich his own family, he then abandoned being abbot, switched religions and became Bishop of Ferns.

In 1536 the abbey was dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was granted to the Etchingham family in 1545, they turned part of it into a residence.

References:

Site visit 2015

Dunbrody Abbey booklet

Grosse, The Antiquities of Ireland, Volume I, Kilkenny: Wellbrook Press, 1982.

Chartularies of St. Mary’s Abbey Dublin

https://archive.org/stream/chartulariesstm00gilbgoog#page/n89/mode/2up/search/de+ros

The photos are all mine

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 13th: Glendalough

IMG_2657

Glendaloch1Glendaloch2

St Kevin’s House dating probably to the early 1100s. Glendaloch3

Round Tower dating to 900 to 1200 for more on round towers see

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/07/01/round-towers-of-ireland/

IMG_1792

Cathedral dating to 900-1000.

The name for Glendalough is from the Irish Gleann de Loch which translates as a valley of two lakes. The name really exemplifies the quiet, isolated beauty of the place.

The settlement in County Wicklow Ireland was founded by St. Kevin in the latter half of the sixth century. This was a period of great religious change in Ireland and there was still tension between the older faiths and Christianity. Christianity was still the Celtic rather than Roman form and there was a tradition at the time of small and very isolated communities living lives of asceticism to sacrifice themselves to the love and worship of God. It was in this tradition that St Kevin founded Glendalough. He probably lived there alone for roughly seven years, but word eventually spread and he was joined by others so he founded his first actual settlement. The original site of the settlement was on the lake but as the community grew the space became to limited and they moved to their present site.

Life as Glendalough was not always calm and isolated, there were Viking raids in 790, 834, 889 and 938. But while they would have been damaging they did not affect the overall longevity of the settlement. The monks would not have been the only inhabitants of the settlement, there would have been craftsmen, pilgrims and students. The monks educated the children of the aristocracy. Glendalough was a centre of learning.

The first major change to Glendalough came with the invasion of the Anglo-Normans in 1169. The Anglo-Normans were keen to absorb Glendalough into their version of a religious community and in 1173 Richard Strongbow gave the cathedral and parsonage to his clerk Thomas. By 1214 Glendalough was incorporated into the Dublin Diocese.

Over the years Glendalough became a symbol for Celtic resistance, and it found itself in a territory that was openly in rebellion against the English. It was in fact sacked by an English force 1398. Glendalough began to fall into decline over the next two hundred years and the Flight of the Earls (which was the departure of the last of the great Gaelic chieftains) in 1601 spelled the end for the community and the churches fell into ruin until they were renovated by the Board of Works in the 1870s.

 

References:

Glendalough: A guide ISBN: 9181905487462

The photos are all mine, bar the first one which I have permission to use.

 

 

 

Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 12th: Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey1Hore Abbey2Hore Abbey3Hore Abbey in County Tipperary Ireland is often overshadowed by the awe inspiringly spectacular Rock of Cashel which looms right over it. It is, however, a very interesting abbey in its own right.

The Abbey was founded by the Benedictines in 1266. However in 1269 it is said that the Archbishop of Cashel David McCarvill had a dream that the monks attempted to decapitate him so he violently threw the Benedictines out. It is definitely true that he evicted the Benedictines, though it was probably for a more prosaic reason.

He remade the abbey as a Cistercian foundation and imported monks from Mellifont Abbey to populate it. It was the last Cistercian abbey to be founded in Ireland. The majority of the ruins you see today date from the 13th century though some changes were made in the 15th century. The most obvious change was the addition of the tower in the middle of the transept. The remains of the cloister arcade are positioned to the north of the abbey itself, which is unusual. It is possible that the location of the Rock of Cashel might be the reason for this odd positioning.

The buildings are actually quite substantial. The remaining choir is twenty-nine feet long and twenty feet wide. The nave is fifty feet long and twenty three feet wide.

The Abbey was dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and only the Abbot and one monk were granted a pension. In 1561 Elizabeth I gave the abbey and its grounds to Sir Henry Radcliffe along with a portion of ale, called the Mary-gallon, out of every brewing in Cashel.

References:

Site visit 2012

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/sports-recreation/postcards-of-ireland/tipperarys-historical-pos/cashel/hore-abbey/

http://www.ireland.com/en-au/what-is-available/attractions-built-heritage/churches-abbeys-and-monasteries/destinations/republic-of-ireland/tipperary/cashel/all/1-60836/

Grosse, The Antiquities of Ireland, Volume I, Kilkenny: Wellbrook Press, 1982.

The photos are all mine.

Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales also known as Giraldus Cambrensis was born in c. 1145 in Manorbier Castle which you can see in the photos below.

IMG_5277IMG_5316IMG_5292IMG_5294Below you can see the room that the castle has set up to commemorate Gerald.

IMG_5324

Gerald described Maorbier as “in all broad lands of Wales Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far”[1]

Gerald was of both Norman and Welsh stock. His father was William de Barri, a Norman knight, and his mother was Angharad the daughter of Nest, one of the most fascinating Welshwomen of the period who you can find out more about her here. Nest was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr Prince of South Wales. So Gerald’s lineage was rooted in both sides of the Norman French and Welsh divide. He described himself as strikingly handsome in his mid thirties, as well as very tall. He was confident of his own ability, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted and apparently an excellent horseman.[2] So much of his work has survived, and he wasn’t shy about describing himself and his opinions, that we are left with a surprisingly complete picture for a man who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries. He died in 1223 in his 80s, extraordinarily long lived for the time.

He travelled extensively and succeeded in being involved in several of the most momentous events of his time. His ultimate aim was to become Bishop of St Davids in Wales, an ambition at which he never succeeded. He was elected, but he never managed to have it confirmed by the king. He refused four other bishoprics to try and get St Davids, he even travelled to Rome to try and secure the bishopric and ended up in gaol whilst there. In the end, though, he was never made its bishop. When he died, however he was probably buried there. You can see an effigy in St Davids today which is thought to be either Gerald of his nephew. See the photo below

IMG_5579

You can see some photos of St Davids below

IMG_5561IMG_5565IMG_5598IMG_5604IMG_5605 St Davids has been a site of worship for more than 1500 years since it was founded by St David in the middle of the sixth century.  As St Davids is a cathedral it makes the town of St Davids, arguably, the smallest city in the UK with a population of only 1800 in 2011.

Gerald was a scholar, diplomat, churchman and theologian, but he is best known for his extensive surviving writings. He was the author of a number of works, including a life of St Hugh of Lincoln. The best known and, to me, the most interesting are: The Journey Through Wales, The Description of Wales and The Topography of Ireland. These texts are part travelogue, part nature guide and part diary and are not always flattering to the local inhabitants and geography. They also place Gerald at the heart of several key events. They give an almost unique depiction of the reality of Gerald’s world.

The Journey Through Wales covers the journey that Gerald, as the Archdeacon of Brecon, made with Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury in 1188 to preach what would become the 3rd Crusade. Phillip Augustus of France and Prince Richard of England, later Richard I, had both taken the cross in 1187 and Archbishop Baldwin was trying to recruit more people. He preached in towns across Wales as well as saying mass at a number of cathedrals. The Journey Through Wales is an almost diary like account of this journey, and is one of the best descriptions of Wales at the time as they preached to both the Welsh and the Norman French. Gerald had connections throughout Wales with both groups and he presumably spoke Welsh, though he avoided preaching in it and didn’t act as a translator.

The Journey Through Wales has chapter headings that cover where Gerald and Baldwin journeyed. I’m not going to cover each in detail, but I have photos of quite a few, so I thought I’d include the list with a number of photos.

Book One

1.Hereford and Radnor

herefordHereford Cathedral

2.Hay-on-Wye and Brecknockshire

hay on wyeHay-on-Wye castle

3.Ewias and Llanthony

4.Coed Grwyne and Abergavenny

5. Usk Castle and Caerleon

caerleonCaerleon Roman amphitheatre

6. Newport and Cardiff

Cardiff Castle

7. Llandaff and Margam Abbey

8. Rivers Avon and Neath. Swansea and Gower

avonRiver Avon

9. River Loughlor, Kidwelly

kidwellsView from Kidwelly castle

10. River Tywi, Carmarthan, Whitland

11. Haverfordwest and Rhos

haverford westHaverford-West castle

12. Pembrokeshire

pembrokshirePembrokeshire Coastline

13. Cambrose, Newgale and St. Davids

IMG_5562St Davids

Book 2

14. Cemais and St Dogmael’s

dogmaelsSt Dogmael’s

15. River Teifi, Cardiganshire and Newcastle Emlyn

teifiRiver Teifi

16. Lampeter, Strata Florida, Llanddewi Brefi

Strata FloridaStrata Florida

17. River Dovey

18. Traeth Mawr, Traeth Bychan, Nefyn, Caernarfon and Bangor

caernarfonCaernarfon

19. The Island of Anglesea

angleseaAnglesea

20. River Conwy, Dinas Emrys

conwyRiver Conwy

21. Mountains of Snowdonia

snowdonView from the top of Mount Snowdon

22. Degannwy, Rhuddlan, Llanelwy

23. River Dee, Chester

24. Whitchurch, Oswestry, Powys and Shrewsbury

shrewsburyShrewsbury Cathedral

25. Wenlock Edge, Bromfield, Ludlow Castle, Leominster, Hereford. 

ludlowLudlow Castle.

Gerald probably finished the first version of The Journey Through Wales in 1191 and started the Description of Wales most likely straight after. The Description of Wales covers much more of the people and landscapes of Wales and is often less than laudatory about the Welsh. Dwelling, for example, on the inconstancy and instability of the Welsh as well as their weakness in battle and their greediness. He also usefully outlines how they could be conquered. Including the need for a long sustained effort, how to blockade their supplies and the importance of sowing dissension amongst the ranks of the Welsh as a “spirit of hatred and jealousy usually prevails” [3] This is a reference to the Welsh practice of acknowledging all sons, illegitimate or otherwise, and dividing land amongst all the sons, which led to quite a lot of infighting and fratricide. [4] These condemnations of the Welsh should not be taken as unvarnished fact.

Gerald wasn’t only condemnatory, he acknowledges the beauty of Wales and he goes into detail about the geography and especially the rivers and some mountains. He also discusses everyday things like how the Welsh wear their hair and their love of music.

The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales were not the only works of Gerald’s to present a travelogue. He also wrote The Topography of Ireland and The Conquest of Ireland when he travelled with Prince John’s party when John was sent in 1185 to be the new Lord of Ireland. Gerald was sent along as an advisor and he stayed after John returned back to England. While there he began both texts. Neither are complimentary of the Irish, and are very much from the view of the Norman conquerers. That being said he does cover a lot of the landscape of Ireland from the birds, to the barnacles and especially the weather describing it as a country “exposed more than others to storms of wind and deluges of rain”[5]

Having spent some time in Ireland I can see his point…

IMG_4013

But coming from a Welshman it does seem a bit harsh.

Gerald’s writings remain some of the most detailed and interesting accounts of his time. They continued to be influential for centuries after he died, not always to the benefit of reality especially in the case of the Irish, and in his long life he truly succeeded in making his mark.

References:

Site visits to Manorbier and St David’s in 2015 as well as visits to other sites in Wales and Ireland in both 2012 and 2015.

Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, Thorpe, Lewis, (ed. and trans.) Penguin: London, 1978

Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland,  http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/topography_ireland.pdf

[1] Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, Thorpe, Lewis, (ed. and trans.) Penguin: London, 1978. p.151.

[2] Gerald of Wales p. 23

[2] Gerald of Wales p. 267

[4] Gerald of Wales p. 261

[5] Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland, 

http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/topography_ireland.pdf  p. 13

The photos are all mine.

 

 

Mellifont Abbey

 

Mellifont Abbey in County Louth is one of the most interesting if inconspicuous (at first glance) abbeys in Ireland.

IMG_4578 (1)

It was founded by St. Malachy, with a group of Irish and French monks in 1142. It was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland.

The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 in Citeaux in what is now France. While its foundation is complex, essentially it was a reaction against the perceived corruption and extravagance of the older Benedictine monasteries like Cluny. The aim of the Cistercian Order was to return to the original ideals of St Benedict and to live a very simple life. Cistercian abbeys were usually isolated and self sufficient, though the lay brothers did the work on the farms because the monks were cloistered. They lived simply and ascetically, closely following the rule, away from the gold, excesses and luxuries often seen in the bigger older monasteries. They also deliberately founded daughter houses. By 1153 over 350 houses had been established across Europe, including Mellifont. This was at least partly due to the work of the man who is probably the best known Cistercian of his period; Bernard of Clairvaux.

Bernard is not one of my favourite historical figures, largely due to his puritanical opposition to Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was Queen of France. He was, however important. He joined the Cistercian Order as a novice in 1113 and by 1115 was the founding abbot of one of the early daughter houses in Clairvaux. He preached the 2nd crusade, was a councillor to Louis VII and had an immense amount of influence. He died in 1153 and was canonised  by 1174.

It was Bernard’s friend St Malachy who founded Mellifont Abbey. He was granted the land by Donnchadh Ua Cerbhaill, King of Airghialla. It was founded with roughly 300 monks and 300 conventuals. The church in the abbey was consecrated in 1157. The remains of part of the transept can be seen below.

IMG_4582

The foundation was part of a general re-evaluation of christianity in Ireland. There were several Synods leading up to Mellifont’s foundation in 1142. Furthermore the Cistercians were only one of a number of continental orders that arrived in Ireland at around the same time.

Mellifont might have been the first Cistercian abbey in Ireland, but it certainly wasn’t the last. It was the mother house for at least 8 daughter houses by 1153, including Boyle Abbey which was founded in 1148. The church of which can be seen below.

IMG_3704

The Cistercian Order spread quickly, partly because of Ireland’s landscape, which worked well for the Cistercian model of isolated self-sufficiency. The abbeys were also supported by the incoming Norman-French/ English nobility who came to Ireland in c.1170. Many of the Cistercian abbeys can be found in parts of Ireland that were  under Norman control by 1200. An example is Tintern Abbey which was founded by William Marshal.

Marshal came to visit his lands in Ireland that came to him by right of his wife Isabel de Clare in 1200-1201. They were caught in a terrible storm crossing the Irish Sea and Marshal vowed to God that if they survived he would found an abbey. The ship didn’t sink and Marshal kept his word. As thanks to God for their survival he founded Tintern Abbey, which  stands on Hook Head Peninsula. It’s known as Tintern of the Vow as well as Tintern Parva, meaning small Tintern in Latin. It can be seen below.
tintern parva

IMG_1983

It is a daughter house of Tintern Abbey in Wales, which also stood on Marshal land. It can be seen below.

IMG_2483

As you can see from the photos of other surviving Cistercian abbeys there is comparatively little left at Mellifont. IMG_4577IMG_4569IMG_4567IMG_4571It, like many other abbeys, was a victim of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Following the Dissolution the buildings came to Sir Edward Moore who converted them into a fortified residence. It played a role in several Irish wars and during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 King William based his headquarters there. It fell into disrepair in the early 18th century and eventually ended up in the hands of the state in the 1880s.

Despite that lack of large buildings remaining there are some fascinating surviving features. The one most people notice is the lavabo which dates to the beginning of the 13th century and would have been where the monks washed before entering the refectory. You can see it in the photos below. It is an unusual survival partly because it was octagonal.

IMG_4568IMG_4566Additionally much of the intricate stone work has survived and can be found preserved in the visitors centre. Examples can be seen below.

My favourite survivals however are the medieval tiles. I’ve written about medieval tiles before and that can be found here. 

The tiles at Mellifont aren’t in the original positions and they are kept in formation in a closed off area because they were damaged by vandalism. They were most likely first introduced to Mellifont sometime after 1230. Intricate patterns adorn the tiles. They represent  roughly 10 or 11 of the common medieval tile designs. You can see examples of surviving tiles below. IMG_4557IMG_4560

IMG_4561

I was also lucky enough to be able to have a look at some of the individual tiles which are in storage, including a really lovely lion rampant tile (see below). The tiles are surprisingly heavy and are earthenware with a lead glaze. They were fired in batches in a kiln. Mellifont would have bought them in, not made them on site

IMG_4564Most of these tiles were discovered during an excavation in the 1950s.

The overall evolution of Mellifont Abbey architecturally was key to religious architectural development in Ireland generally. It would have possessed some of the most dramatic and beautiful church buildings in Ireland. By 1540 Mellifont held estates that extended to 50 000 acres making the abbot one of the wealthiest landlords in the country. It was remodelled on several occasions and it is likely that other religious buildings across Ireland would have been based on its design. The photo below is a model which shows how the abbey itself might have looked at the height of its powers.

IMG_4502

Mellifont benefited from the support of many noble families including local Irish nobility, especially in its early years before the Norman conquest. For example Dervogilla, who was the wife of O’Rourke of Breffini, gave a gold chalice for the altar and furnishing for nine other altars as a gift for the consecration of the church in 1157. Only a little before this gift Dervogilla had, unwittingly, become one of the key sources in the Norman invasion of ireland.

Diarmait Mac Murchada was King of Leinster. He was involved with the other kings of Ireland in various disputes and battles. In 1152 during yet another conflict he carried off Dervogilla, who was the wife of his old enemy O’Rourke, and her cattle. Depending what source you believe she may have been consenting as her husband was a bit of a tyrant. This abduction was a personal insult to O’Rourke and he held a grudge. Although O’Rourke managed to reclaim Dervogilla, a little over a year later, he never forgave or forgot Diarmait. His grudge helped to lead to Diarmait’s loss of his kingdom in 1166 and his subsequent request for help from Henry II, which brought the Norman/French to Ireland in 1169. The never left again.

Dervogilla may have stayed with her husband after being reclaimed, but as well as Mellifont she had the Church of the Nuns at Clonmacnoise built. You can see some of Clonmacnoise in the photo below.

IMG_3598Dervogilla retired in 1186 to Mellifont and she died there. It is possible that she was buried in the wall of the church and legend has it that she was buried the wrong way round because she was a “fallen woman”.

Mellifont Abbey was at the core of faith in Ireland from its foundation in 1142 until its dissolution in the 16th century. It shaped the way religion was enacted in the country and it shaped the development of many other religious houses. For what now, especially in comparison to other sites, seems to be a small and inconspicuous grouping of walls and buildings it is of national historical importance.

 

References:

Site visit to Mellifont, Boyle, Clonmacnoise in 2015. Site visit to Tintern Pava in 2012 and 2015. Site visit to Tintern 2012.

Mellifont Abbey OPW guide-book.

Ireland Under The Normans 1169-1333 by Goddard Henry Orpen. ISBN: 9781851827152

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1980: Mellifont Abbey: A Study of Its Architectural History by Stalley. pg 264  http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/stable/25506059

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy :Excavations at Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth: Liam de Paor, J. Hunt, H. J. Plenderleith and Michael Dolley pg 110. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/stable/25505154http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.slv.vic.gov.au/stable/25505154

A Monastic Landscape: The Cistercians in medieval Ireland. Dr. Breda Lynch. ISBN. 9781453561003

Special thanks to Lindsay from OPW at the site who answered all my questions and showed me the tiles.

The photos are all mine.

 

Advent Calendar of Castles: 21st of December: Trim Castle

trim1trim2trim3

Trim castle is my second Irish castle and like Ferns it was built by an English baron on Irish soil. Unlike Ferns, Trim had no connection to the old Irish Kingdoms. In 1172 Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath by Henry II. It was an attempt by Henry to stop Strongbow taking all that he could of Ireland. Shortly after he was granted the land de Lacy erected a wood and timber motte and bailey castle at Trim. By 1176 this castle had been replaced, after it had been burnt down by one of de Lacy’s barons to keep it from Irish hands, with a stone keep.

While the rest of Trim is not that unusual by Anglo-Norman castle standards the keep very much is. It is built in a cruciform shape which was an experimental military design for the period.  The keep would have contained a public hall, great chambers for the lord and his family and a chapel, as well as quarters for castle officials and the garrison. Trim’s keep also has extensive cellars which were kept well stocked so that the keep could hold out in a long siege if necessary. In 1196 Walter de Lacy enlarged the keep adding new floors, and later a great hall was built at the third floor level. In the 13th century the side towers were extended and plinth at the base of the keep was added, which closed off one of the original doorways. While this made the keep more secure it did not make it especially accessible for large public gatherings and a great hall was built in the grounds outside the keep sometime after 1250.

Although the original wall around the keep would have been wooden, by 1180 a stone wall had been built, which would have contained stables and places for stores, there was also, eventually, a ditch added as well as a drawer bridge and three defensive towers and a stone gatehouse. In the 13th century weirs were put on the River Boyne which allowed for the moat/ditch to be flooded and a new gate was constructed to guard the south entrance to the castle.

Trim came into the Mortimer family in 1306 and they held it until 1425, parliaments were held at Trim in the 15th century but by the 16th the castle was in decline and eventually it was surrendered to Cromwell’s forces in 1649.

 

References:

Site visit 2015

OPW Trim visitor’s guide

http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/midlands-eastcoast/trimcastle/

The photos are all mine.