From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 47, May 18, 1833
The celebrated Abbey of Holy Cross, has been introduced to the readers' notice in our 42d number, in which we have given a view of the beautiful tomb there, which is supposed to be that of its founder. We now proceed to lay before our readers a more detailed account of its history.
This magnificent ruin, which is generally considered as one of the finest remains of the pointed style of architecture in Ireland, is situated on the river Suir, about two miles below Thurles. It was originally founded in the year 1182, for Cistercian monks, by Donald O'Brien, King of Limerick, and not by his son, Donogh Cairbreach, as stated by Archdall, Ledwich, Gough, and other compilers, as may be seen from the foundation charter, which still exists, and is given at length in the Monasticon Anglicanum, beginning thus: "Donald, by the grace of God, King of Limerick, to ail Kings, Dukes, Earls, Barons, Knights, and Christians of whatsoever degree throughout Ireland, perpetual greeting in Christ." This Charter is signed by Christian, Bishop of Lismore, Legate of the Holy See, in Ireland; M. Archbishop of Cashel, and B. Bishop of Limerick. According to Mr. O'Halloran, in his "Introduction to the History and Antiquities of Ireland," the abbey was erected in honor of a piece of the true cross, which Pope Pascal II., about the year 1110, sent as a present to Murtough, monarch of Ireland, and which was covered with gold and set with precious stones. For this fact, however, no historical evidence has as yet been adduced; but it is not improbable that a present of this kind was made to one of the Munster Kings by the Papal See, as we have notices in our annals of the same period, of presents to some, of the other Provincial Kings of Ireland, of supposed pieces of the cross; and it is certain that a relic of this description has been preserved with reverence in this abbey from a very remote period, and exists even to this day. On this account, as it appears, it was from its very foundation endowed with peculiar privileges and very extensive possessions and the original charter of the founder was confirmed in 1186, by King John during his visit to Ireland, as appears by the following record of the 20th of Edward I. (A. D. 1320.)
"Edward, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitain, to all to whom these presents shall come Greeting. Know ye, That brother Thomas, abbott of the church of Mary of the Holy Cross, near Cashel, came into our Chancery of Ireland the day after the feast of Michael the Archangel, in the 13th year of our reign, at Cashel, and exhibited in our said Chancery a certain charter not cancelled, nor in any respect vitiated, under the seal of John, formerly Lord of Ireland and Earl of Morton, in these words: "John, Lord of Ireland and Earl of Morton, to all Justices, Barons, &c., as well French as English, Welsh and Irish, and all other liege men of Ireland, Greeting. Know ye, That, for the love of God, and for the salvation of my own, and the souls of ray predecessors and successors, I have granted and given, and by those presents do grant and give, to God and the blessed Mary of the Holy Cross, and to the Cistertian monks serving God there, in free pure and perpetual alms, the underwritten lands, as fully and freely as Domnald O'Brien, King of Lymbrick, gave and granted, and by his charter confirmed, to the Cistertian monks of the Holy Cross; to wit: Kelkaterlamunu, Ballydubal, Ballyidugin, Ballygirryr, Ballymyoletobin, and Ballytheloth, Gardath, Ballaschelagh, Ballythoughal and Ithologin. These lands I have given for the salvation of my soul, and those of my predecessors and successors, and for the souls of my soldiers who lie there. To enjoy peaceably, with all liberties and free customs, without any secular exactions, in fields, ways, forests, fisheries, &c., I have also granted, that they shall be free from all mulcts in My courts, for what cause soever they shall be amerced, and also free of all toll whatever; they shall also sell or buy, for their own use, throughout my land of Normandy, England, Wales and Ireland ; and that their lands be not put in plevine. Witnesses, A. bishop of Ferns ; John de Courcey, de Angulo, Riddell, Chancellor; and David of Wales."
The charter of John was also confirmed by King Henry the Third, in 1233, who, on the 30th of September, took this house into his royal protection, and renewed that protection in 1224 , and subsequently, as we have already stated, by King Edward III., in 1320, and by King Richard II., in 1395.
In a general Chapter of the Order, in 1249, the abbey was subjected by the Abbot of Clairvaux, to that of Furness, in Lancashire.
This abbey is said to have been a daughter of the abbey of Nenagh, or Maig, in the County of Limerick ; and the abbot, who was a baron of parliament, was styled Earl of Holy-Cross, the lands of the abbey being an earldom, distinguished by the name of the County of the Holy Cross of Tipperary, and which enjoyed, as Camden informs us, "peculiar privileges, in honour of a piece of our Lord's cross formerly kept there." He was also usually vicar-general of the Cistercian order in Ireland.
William O'Dwyer was the last abbot; and in the fifth of Elizabeth, the abbey and its extensive possessions, were granted to Thomas, (not Gerald, as Archdall and Ledwich state,) Earl of Ormond, in capite, at the annual rent of £15 10s. 4d.
It appears from Camden, and other writers, that the crowd of persons who thronged to this abbey from reverence to the holy relic preserved there, was incredible ; nor were these persons exclusively of the lower or middle ranks of society, but included the greatest nobility of the land. In 1559, the great O'Neil made a pilgrimage here, as did one of the Desmonds in 1579.
We have already stated that this identical piece of the cross still exists ; it is in the possession of the Roman Catholic clergy of the place, and is described by Doctor Milner as being about two inches and a half long, and about half an inch broad, but very thin. It is inserted in the lower shaft of an archiepiscopal cross made of some curious wood, and inclosed in a gilt case. We shall give a drawing of it in a future number. The Doctor also informs us that this relic was preserved from sacrilege in the reign of Henry VIII. by the Ormond family, and by them transmitted to the family of Kavenagh, a surviving descendant of which has deposited it in the hands of its present keepers.
We have limited ourselves, in the present notice, exclusively to the history of this great monastery; but we shall return speedily to this interesting abbey, with further illustrations, and an accurate description of its architectural details,—our present view, which represents the least striking portion of the building, namely the nave, being wholly insufficient to give a just idea of the extent, grandeur, and variety of those magnificent ruins.