MELLIFONT

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

MELLIFONT, a parish, partly in the barony of UPPER SLANE, county of MEATH, and partly in that of FERRARD, county of LOUTH, and province of LEINSTER, 4 miles (N. W.) from Drogheda, near the road to Ardee, by way of Collon; containing, with the parish of Tullyallen, 3964 inhabitants. This place derived its chief celebrity from the foundation of a monastery in 1142, by Donough McCorvoill or Carrol, Prince of Uriel, for Cistercian monks sent over by St. Bernard from his abbey of Clairvaux, and of which Christian O'Conarchy, the first abbot, was, in 1150, consecrated Bishop of Lismore. In 1157 a great synod, at which the Archbishop of Armagh, then apostolic legate, and many princes and bishops were present, was held here for the consecration of the church, on which occasion, among numerous munificent benefactors, Devorghal, wife of Tiernan O'Rourk, Prince of Breffny, who afterwards died here in seclusion, presented 60 oz. of gold, a chalice of the same metal for the high altar, and furniture for nine other altars in the church.

The ample endowments of the abbey were confirmed by charter of Henry II., and by King John, who augmented its possessions; and in 1347 and 1349, Edward III. greatly extended its possessions and privileges; he granted to the abbot the power of life and death within his territories, and the liberty of acquiring a burgage holding in the town of Drogheda, for the residence of the abbots during the sittings of parliament and other great councils. In 1471 and 1472, parliament disannulled the grants, rent-charges, annuities, leases and alienations made by the late Abbot John. In 1540, Richard Conter, the last abbot, resigned the monastery into the King's hands and received a pension of £40 per ann. for life.

After the dissolution, the monastery and its revenues, at that time valued at £315. 19., were, on account of the difficulty of defending these possessions against the incursions of the native Irish, granted to Sir Gerald Moore, who converted the abbey into a baronial residence and place of defence. Though situated so near the border of the English pale, the place maintained itself in security against all the attacks of the Irish, till, in the war of 1641, it was besieged by a strong body of the insurgents, when the garrison, consisting only of 15 horse and 22 foot, made a vigorous defence, in which they killed 120 of the enemy, and on their ammunition being exhausted, forced their way through the besiegers and retreated to Drogheda in safety, with the exception of 11 men who were intercepted and put to the sword. The castle was plundered by the insurgents, who, taking advantage of the absence of Lord Moore with his troop of 66 horsemen for the protection of Drogheda, desolated the place and put the servants to death. Mellifont continued for some time after to be the chief residence of the Moore family, till the Earl of Drogheda removed to Monastereven, now Moore abbey, in the county of Kildare, since which time this once magnificent pile of building has become a heap of ruins.

The parish is situated in a beautiful small valley intersected by the Mattock rivulet, which flows into the Boyne; the land is fertile and in good cultivation. Near the ruins of the abbey is a large flour-mill, worked by water which flows under the ancient gateway, and turns four pairs of stones. It is an impropriate curacy, in the diocese of Armagh, forming part of the union of Tullyallen; the rectory is impropriate in the Marquess of Drogheda.

In the R. C. divisions it is also part of the union or district of Tullyallen. The ruins of the ancient abbey, for which this parish is chiefly celebrated, consist principally of the lofty gateway leading into the area of the abbey grounds, and a massive square tower carried up on one side to a considerable height, and forming a strong protection against the frequent assaults to which the place was exposed; it is connected with the rock by a wall, affording entrance only through a low circular archway. Within the area are the elegant remains of St. Bernard's chapel, the splendid doorway of which, a highly enriched and deeply receding pointed arch in the most elaborate style of Norman embellishment, has been removed.

The interior of the chapel is plainly groined with arches springing from columns on the side walls with ornamented capitals, and lighted with an east window of two lights, enriched with delicate tracery, and with three windows of similar design on each side. The baptistry, an octagonal building of great beauty, has only four of the walls remaining, each resting on an arch of graceful form and richly moulded; the roof is wanting, but within are the corbels on the walls from which the arches sprung for its support; above the roof of this building was a reservoir of water, from which every part of the monastery was supplied.

There are also the foundations of a spacious quadrangular building, probably the cloisters; and near the summit of the hill is a large cemetery, with some remains of a church, apparently of a much later date; there are numerous fragments of richly sculptured pillars scattered over the site, and though these very interesting ruins afford but an imperfect idea of the original grandeur of this celebrated monastery, they present in their details many of the richest specimens of architectural embellishment to be found in any part of the country.

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