Cistercians in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XX

The Abbey of Mellifont was founded A.D. 1142, for Cistercian monks, by Donough O'Carroll, King of Oriel. It was the most ancient monastery of the Order in this country, and was supplied with monks by St. Bernard, direct from Clairvaux, then in all its first fervour. We have already mentioned some of the offerings which were made to this monastery. The date of the erection of St. Mary's Abbey in Dublin has not been correctly ascertained, but it is quite certain that the Cistercians were established here in 1139, although it was probably built originally by the Danes. The abbots of this monastery, and of the monastery at Mellifont, sat as barons in Parliament. There were also houses at Bectiff, county Meath; Baltinglass, county Wicklow; Moray, county Limerick; Ordorney, county Kerry (quaintly and suggestively called Kyrie Eleison ), at Newry, Fermoy, Boyle, Monasterevan, Ashro, and Jerpoint.

The superiors of several of these houses sat in Parliament. Their remains attest their beauty and the cultivated tastes of their founders. The ruins of the Abbey of Holy Cross, county Tipperary, founded in 1182, by Donald O'Brien, are of unusual extent and magnificence. But the remains of Dunbrody, in the county of Wexford, are, perhaps, the largest and the most picturesque of any in the kingdom. It was also richly endowed. It should be remembered that these establishments were erected by the founders, not merely as an act of piety to God during their lifetime, but with the hope that prayers should be offered there for the repose of their souls after death. Those who confiscated these houses and lands to secular purposes, have therefore committed a double injustice, since they have robbed both God and the dead.

A great number of priories were also founded for the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. These establishments were of great use in supplying a number of zealous and devoted priests, who ministered to the spiritual wants of the people in their several districts. Tintern Abbey was founded in the year 1200, by the Earl of Pembroke. When in danger at sea, he made a vow that he would erect a monastery on whatever place he should first arrive in safety. He fulfilled his promise, and brought monks from Tintern, in Monmouthshire, who gave their new habitation the name of their old home. In 1224 the Cistercians resigned the Monastery of St. Saviour, Dublin, which had been erected for them by the same Earl, to the Dominicans, on condition that they should offer a lighted taper, on the Feast of the Nativity, at the Abbey of St. Mary, as an acknowledgment of the grant. The Mayor of Dublin, John Decer (A.D. 1380), repaired the church, and adorned it with a range of massive pillars. The friars of this house were as distinguished for literature as the rest of their brethren; and in 1421 they opened a school of philosophy and divinity on Usher's Island.[7]


[7] Usher's Island.—This was once a fashionable resort. Moira House stood here. It was ornamented so beautifully, that John Wesley observed, when visiting Lady Moira, that one of the rooms was more elegant than any he had seen in England. Here, in 1777, Charles Fox was introduced to Grattan. Poor Pamela (Lady Edward FitzGerald) was at Moira House on the evening of her husband's arrest; and here she heard the fatal news on the following morning, her friends having concealed it from her until then. In 1826 it was converted into a mendicity institution, and all its ornamental portions removed.