Christian Monasticism has come to be regulated by religious rules (e.g. the Rule of St Benedict) and, in modern times, the Church law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek word monos, which means alone. Monks did not live in monasteries at first, but they began by living alone, as the word monos might suggest. As more people took on the lives of monks, living alone in the wilderness, they started to come together and model themselves after the original monks near by. Eventually the monks lived in monasteries. Monastics generally dwell in a monastery (monks) or a convent (nuns), whether they live there in a community (cenobites), or alone (hermits). The first non-Roman area to adopt monasticism was Ireland, which developed a unique form closely linked to traditional clan relations, a system that later spread to other parts of Europe, especially France.
Many people believe that St Patrick
was the one responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland. Although he made a major impact on Christian Ireland he certainly wasn't the first to arrive here. St Palladius
was the first Christian to arrive in Ireland sent over from Rome by the Pope in 430AD, two years previous to St Patrick's
arrival. St Palladius
wasn't as successful in converting the Irish and Celtic druids to Christianity as St Patrick
. St Patrick escaped Ireland 6 years after being kidnapped; he became a priest and then a Bishop. He returned to Ireland after having visions to become a Christian missionary and helped spread Christianity to the people of Ireland.
The traditional founder of the monastic movement is said to have been St Finnian of Clonard
(548) who had received training in Wales. He was undoubtedly a great founder and teacher. But there were many before him. Patrick's relation to the monastic life is unclear though interesting. Some deny he founded any monasteries on the grounds that bishops came first and monks later. Yet St Patrick was firmly in favour of the dedicated life; he refers to it four times. Most explicit is his statement that, 'The sons of the Irish and the daughters of their kings are monks and brides of Christ'. But even if this only referred to individuals not communities - and this is not clear- for a bishop in the 5th C to be so positive is unusual. His companion St Tassach
(470), founder of the church at Raholp just 2 miles from Saul, is said to have spent 7 years on Rathlin O'Birne off the coast of Donegal with other hermits before 500. If so this is of extraordinary interest. St Enda
(530) spent many years first as a hermit, founder of a monastery and teacher of many on Inishmore, the main island of Aran Co Galway. St Donard
(507) at Maghera Co Down is said to have had a hermit's cell on top of Slieve Donard in the Mountains of Mourne. St Forthchern
(5C), who is said to have been a bishop and then a hermit in Meath, may have been the teacher of Finnian. St Buite
(523) founded Monasterboice in Co Louth. St Senan
(546) evangelised West and South Clare and he and his disciples founded many places around the Clare coast and on the islands of the Shannon estuary. There are also several remarkable women saints from the early period, St Gobnait
(5C) at Ballyvourney (Co. Cork), St Arraght
(5C) at Killaracht and Monasteraden (both Co. Sligo), St Monnina
at Killevy (Co. Armagh) (517), St Brigit
(524) at Kildare, St Bronagh
at Kilbroney, Rostrevor (Co. Down) and St Ita
(570) at Killeedy (Co. Limerick).
(597) was perhaps the most prolific founder of monasteries of all. Born at Garten in Co Donegal, he was of royal blood, of commanding stature and evidently of great charisma. He eventually left Ireland for Scotland where, from this base on Iona, he evangelised among the Picts.
The Irish monasteries continuously produced large numbers of missionising teachers and scholars in Europe, and remained the center of classical scholarship until the Viking invasions from 875 onward. However the movement founded nearly 150 monasteries outside Ireland from 575 to 725, so clearly the majority of its recruits and teachers did not continue to be Irish emigrants.
Commonly Irish monasteries were established by grants of land to an abbot or abbess, who came from a local noble family. The monastery became the spiritual focus of the tribe or kin group. Successive abbots and abbesses were members of the founder's family, a policy which kept the monastic lands under the jurisdiction of the family (and corresponded to Irish legal tradition, which only allowed the transfer of land within a family).
Ireland was a rural society of chieftains living in the countryside. There was no social place for urban leaders, such as bishops. In Irish monasteries the abbot (or abbess) was supreme, but in conformance to Christian tradition, bishops still had important sacramental roles to play (in the early Church the bishops were the ones who baptized new converts to bring them into the Church). In Ireland, the bishop frequently was subordinate to (or co-equal with) the abbot and sometimes resided in the monastery under the jurisdiction of the abbot.
Irish monasticism maintained the model of a monastic community while, like John Cassian, marking the contemplative life of the hermit as the highest form of monasticism. Saints' lives frequently tell of monks (and abbots) departing some distance from the monastery to live in isolation from the community.
From 600s AD the Irish monasteries and their schools "multiplied exceedingly", and the three largest monastery/schools in Ireland--Clonard, founded by St. Patrick's collaborator St. Finian
; Bangor, founded by Comgall, and Clonfert, founded by the famous Navigator St. Brendan
--numbered 3000, 4000, and 3000 monks. There were at least 40 other foundations significant enough to have long histories; one, Clonmacnois, seems to have had 7-800 monks. If the average of the monasteries numbered only 200 monks or nuns, there were nearly 20,000 in the monasteries. The ratio of lay brothers and sisters--from families having their children educated at the monastery schools, craftsmen working for the monasteries, etc.--to monks and nuns was at least one to one; in Gaul in the next century it was apparently often three to one, including the pupils of the school. Thus a monastery population which may have reached 40,000 out of a population total estimated to have been 250,000 (though some 19th Century Irish Franciscan scholars claimed it was much higher). This gives an idea of an extraordinary "education density" in that society, and also an idea how such large numbers of Irish monks missionized Scotland and Northumbria (beginning with Columba in 565) and then the huge territory of Gaul (beginning with Columban sometime between 575 and 590). "All saints whose origins could not be traced, were supposed to have come from Ireland," says Montalembert.
Irish monastic rules specify a stern life of prayer and discipline in which prayer, poverty, and obedience are the central themes. Yet Irish monks did not fear pagan learning. Irish monks needed to learn a foreign language, Latin, which was the language of the Church. Thus they read Latin texts, both spiritual and secular, with an enthusiasm that their contemporaries on the continent lacked. By the end of the seventh century, Irish monastic schools were attracting students from England and from Europe.
Irish monasticism spread widely, first to Scotland and Northern England, then to Gaul and Italy. Columba and his followers established monasteries at Bangor, on the northeastern coast of Ireland, at Iona, an island north-west of Scotland, and at Lindisfarne, which was founded by Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria.
A few years after Columba went to Scotland, Columban (or Columbanus) with 12 disciples crossed from Ireland to Gaul, arriving on the Coast of France (I think in 575; there are several possible dates) establishing their first foundations in the valley of the Seine. Now came the turning point, and an even greater flowering of the Augustinian monastic movement and its schools.
The Irish by 625 had founded 80 monastic centers in Ireland, Scotland, Northumbria and Wales. The most important were Bangor and Armagh in Ulster; Clonard in Meath; Glendalough in Leinster; Lismore in Munster; in Connaught, the west of Ireland, Clonmacnois and Clonfert of St. Brendan
the Greek scholar and navigator of the North Atlantic (the Irish monks regularly sailed to Greenland, and probably at times to Newfoundland); the important schools in Scotland and Britain are named just above. Now, between 575 and 725 in Continental Europe, the Irish monastic movement founded 113 monasteries and schools in France and Switzerland; 26 in Germany, 10 in Austria, and three in the north of Italy. Several thousand monks followed Columban from Ireland, and already by the time of his death in 615, he and his immediate followers had founded 40 monasteries and begun to establish the same teaching process throughout this huge region, formerly Roman Gaul, now the Merovingian kingdoms of Neustria, Austrasia, Armorica (Brittany), and Bavaria, the region the Lombards had conquered, and the regions of the Frisians and Saxons east of the Rhine. This is the future Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne and successors to the 12th Century. The map shows the extraordinary spread and density of this Augustinian teaching movement during this time. Looking at this map of the "Columban" movement, think by contrast of the relative handfuls of Benedictine monasteries founded in Italy and Spain by the order of St. Benedict
from 500-650; recall that by 725 all of the Columban monasteries had become Benedictine under instruction of Gregory and his successors in Rome (evidently without any dispute or resistance). It is clear that the "Columban" movement is the origin of the universally dominant Benedictine monastic order of the 8th-11th Centuries.
A whole series of new rural monastic foundations on great rural estates under Irish influence sprang up, starting with Columbanus's foundations of Fontaines and Luxeuil, sponsored by the Frankish King Childebert II. After Childebert's death Columbanus traveled east to Metz, where Theudebert II allowed him to establish a new monastery among the semi-pagan Alemanni in what is now Switzerland. One of Columbanus's followers founded the monastery of St. Gall
on the shores of Lake Constance, while Columbanus continued onward across the Alps to the kingdom of the Lombards in Italy. There King Agilulf and his wife Theodolinda granted Columbanus land in the mountains between Genoa and Milan, where he established the monastery of Bobbio.
Columban, like Columba, was devoted with music and poetry. He was so concerned with the beautiful singing of Psalms by his monks that his Rule varied the number of Psalms sung at Nocturnes and Matins year-round, according to the change in the length of the night; and specified the singing of all of the Psalms in the course of each week. Columban wrote a monks' boating song for travelling on the rivers of Europe or across to Ireland, known as the Carmen Navale, or Song of the Boatmen, which has stanzas of two rhyming lines and a repeated, highly rhythmical third line.
Vikings started attacking Irish monasteries famous for learning in 795 A.D., even though monks sought to be nonviolent. One monk wrote about how he did not mind the bad weather one evening because it kept the Viking's from coming. The monks eventually had to leave Ireland because the Viking attacks became too harsh; they fled from Ireland, and many monks finished their lives in a Continental abbey. Even though those monks and other monastery inhabitants had to leave their Irish homes, the rest of Europe benefited from the monks living in European countries: an abbot from Ireland became a bishop in Salzburg and a man named Dubthach copied a book of Priscian's grammar. A second period of intensified Viking activity began with the return of large Viking fleets to Waterford in 914 and to Dublin in 917, regaining control of these important trading ports. Settlements were further established at Limerick and Wexford as the Viking wars continued until the middle part of the tenth century. Over time the Vikings settled into Irish life as merchants and seamen, and the Irish formed alliances with them in their own continued internal struggles.
The Cistercian order, founded in 1098 in Burgundy, was a pan-European institution in the 12th century, and its arrival in Ireland is one of the key moments in the Irish history. By the mid-12th century, Irish monastic life (as in many other places) had become significantly less austere and more corrupt than in earlier days. In 1140 Maelmhadhog O'Morgair, better known as St. Malachy
, the great reforming bishop of Down and at one time Archbishop of Armagh was travelling to Rome. Attracted by the fame of St. Bernard
he visited Clairvaux and was so impressed that on arriving at Rome he petitioned the Pope's permission to resign his bishopric and enter Clairvaux as a novice. This permission was refused but on his return journey he left some of his companions at Clairvaux to be trained in Cistercian life with a view to founding a monastery of the Order in Ireland.
chose a site for his proposed monastery five miles north of Drogheda in Co. Louth. This land was in the territory of Donnachadh Ua Cearbhaill, king of Airghialla who donated not only the land but also the materials for the building of the new abbey. The first group of monks, the Irishmen trained by St. Bernard
at Clairvaux, accompanied by some French monks who were to direct the building of the new abbey, arrived in 1142. Initial difficulties arising from the French design of the abbey, which interrupted the work, were settled by St. Bernard and St. Malachy and the construction was resumed and continued until completion in 1157. Before that date, however, St. Malachy again called at Clairvaux on another journey to Rome in 1148. While there he was struck down by fever and died in the arms of St. Bernard on 2nd November.
Within eleven years of its own foundation, Mellifont founded seven daughter houses. It was later to found an eighth.
The daughter houses of Mellifont developed as follows, Bective
(1148), Inislounaght (1148), Monasteranenagh
(1148), Grellachdinach (1148), Boyle (1161), Kilbeggan (1150) and Newry (1153). These abbeys, in their turn, sent out new foundations which brought the total number of monasteries tracing their filiation through Mellifont to 28. The orientation of the Cistercians towards agriculture and pastoral activities pleased the people very much. The great Irish monastic tradition had burst into flower again; the future looked bright indeed.
The Cistercians whore white habits and lived strict lives. After one novice year the monks took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. The monks farmed land directly, not for profit, only to maintain themselves. Their days were centred on a rigorous routine of prayer, labour, silence and self-discipline. The Cistercian churches are generally simple cruciform buildings with flat-ended rather than apsidal presbyteries and transeptal chapels, and their interior and exterior wall surfaces tend to be undecorated. The strict statutes of the Cistercian order forbade any form of decoration that would distract the monks from prayer, buildings and furnishings were supposed to be plain and simple. However some of Cistercians houses soon became so successful in their agricultural activities that they became wealthy. Within a very short period it appeared that the Irish Cistercian order had impaired strict rules.
Within thirty years of the founding of Mellifont an army landed on the Wexford coast in 1169. The Norman invasion of Ireland had begun. The Normans were not opposed to Cistercian monastic life and as they advanced they confirmed the existing abbeys in their titles to their properties. They, themselves, founded new Cistercian abbeys, bringing communities from England and Wales to occupy them. As time passed, however, they sought to use the monasteries as centres of Norman influence by having Norman monks appointed to all positions of authority in them and, in some cases, expelling Irish monks and replacing them by men brought in from foreign monasteries. When the Normans arrived in the country in 1169, ten Irish Cistercian monasteries had already been established. Most of the other abbeys that post-dated the Norman landing were founded from these pre-Norman houses. Some of the more prominent abbeys were, however, of Norman-British affiliation, such as the two County Wexford abbeys of Dunbrody and Tintern, the County Kilkenny abbey of Duiske (Graiguenamanagh) and Owney Abbey in County Limerick. Also, a few of the Irish abbeys, including Saint Mary's, Dublin, which had been in existence before the Norman invasion, finding themselves later in the centre of the British sphere of influence, became anglicised, and remained so until the monastic suppressions.
The Dominicans first arrived in Ireland in the year 1224, just three years after the death of St Dominic and the arrival of the friars in England. Two foundations were made in Ireland that first year; one in Drogheda and one in Dublin. Less than one hundred years previously the Anglo-Norman invasion and conquest of Ireland had begun. The Dominican friars initially made foundations in those regions of Ireland under Anglo-Norman control, but they soon established themselves in the Gaelic parts of the island also. The division within the Irish Church generally (along cultural and linguistic lines: Irish and French/English) was present in the Order right up till the 15th century Observant movement.
Twenty four Dominican communities were founded in Ireland in the thirteenth century. They were Dublin (1224), Drogheda
(1225), Waterford (1226), Limerick (1227), Cork (1229), Mullingar (1237), Athenry
(1243), Tralee (1243), Newtownards (1244), Coleraine (1244), Sligo
(1252), Athy (1253), Roscommon
(1253), Trim (1263), Arklow (1264), Rosbercon (1267), Youghal
(1269), Derry (1274), Rathfran (1274) and Kilmallock
(1291). Only five of these communities had Gaelic founders.
The Observant movement (a movement of reform) swept through Europe and through the different orders of friars at the end of the fourteenth century. The Irish Dominican vicariate did not escape from this development, but in practice the reform was observed more by individual friars than by the institutions. A number of new communities were founded through the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, mostly in the West of Ireland, i.e. were Gaelic influence was strongest. They were Cloonshanville
(late 14th century), Portumna
(1414), Longford (1420), Toombeola (1427), Urlar
(1486), Galway (1488), Clooneymeaghan (1488) and Ballindoon
(1507). Portumna and Longford were founded as houses of observance.
In 1226, as St Francis lay dying (he was canonized in 1228), a small group of his followers were already on their way to Ireland. They landed at Youghal, Co Cork, and from there made progress through the country. Franciscans or Grey Friars (from the colour of their habits) lived simple life dedicated to God and their purpose was to minister to the poverty stricken masses both spiritually and physically. Dedication to the gospel, penance, respect for creation, harmonious relations with the whole family of creatures; all these touched a chord in the Irish psyche, for these were characteristics of the native Irish saints too, whose lives were remembered and their names invoked in every townland in the country. Franciscans houses were initially in towns, particularly in towns under Anglo-Norman control, although they were established in Ennis (Co. Clare), a Gaelic area, as early as the 1240s. The Franciscans established over a hundred houses in Ireland during the 13th and early 14th centuries, mainly in midland and southern towns. This number includes over thirty houses of the Third Order Franciscans. The Third Order Regular of Saint Francis undertook particularly pastoral and educational roles. Having arrived in Ireland by 1426, they had 46 houses by 1536 with one in Hospital, Co. Limerick. Kileenagallive, near Emly, was founded for the Third Order by King Edward IV before 1461 and in use by the First Order from 1615 to 1625, and again from 1676 until 1690. The Observant reform movement, which followed a strict form of the Franciscan rule, led to a new wave of foundations in the 15th century, particularly in the south and west.
The Carmelites came to Ireland in 1271 and their first friary was built on the right bank of the Barrow River at Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow towards the end of the reign of Henry III (1272). The Black Castle, now in ruins, which dominates the river crossing, was an Anglo-Norman fortress built in the previous century when the Normans coming up the coast to the Avoca River from their early base near Bannow Strand had invaded and taken much of the surrounding lands. The Carmelite friars who were to make up the community at Leighlinbridge were Normans from the Carmelite Province of England where the two principal friaries were at Aylesford and Hulne. The Carmelites had appeared in the Western Church only a few decades before, when then living as hermits on Mount Carmel some time between 1206 and 1214 they received a Formula Vitae or Rule of Life from St. Albert, who was the Patriarch of Jerusalem. At the time he was resident at Acre near Mount Carmel, due to the Muslim incursions into the Holy Land. Because of the same invasions the Carmelites about 1238 were forced to migrate to Europe - to Cyprus, Sicily, Italy and eventually to England.
It is clear that some Carmelites joined Crusaders returning to their own home countries. In 1242 some were brought to Hulne in England by Sir William Vesey and to Aylesford by Sir Richard Grey of Codnor. The two knights were on the Crusade under Richard of Cornwell who landed at Acre on 11 October 1240 and had set out on their return journey for England on May the following year. The Carmelites were brought by their patrons before the King around Christmas and were granted permission to remain in England and to make foundations. The later close connection between the King and the Carmelite Order is clear from grants made to the Carmelite friaries in England and Ireland during the following centuries. A royal mandate was given to the Carmelites to pray for the King and royal family.
It was from these friaries, by this time forming the English Province of the Order, that the first Carmelites came to Leighlinbridge and built their house near the Black Castle on a site supplied by the Carew family. From the beginning their situation must have been perilous. The first Carmelite friars who made up the community at Leighlinbridge were Normans; but the Irish would have joined them very soon because of the nature of their mission in the Church. However Irish members were not appointed to higher offices. Before the end of the thirteenth century, at the invitation of local powerful families or individuals, Carmelite foundations had been established at Dublin in 1274, at Ardee about 1280, at Ballinasmale
, Co. Mayo about 1288, at Kildare 1290, Drogheda about 1297, Burriscarra
, Co. Mayo in 1298 and Loughrea
and Thurles about 1300.
In the thirteenth century the Carmelites in Leighlin were reimbursed by the Government for maintaining armed men within their close to protect them against the Irish who had destroyed the bridge in order "to prevent the transit of the King's faithful people." By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Carmelites like other mendicants had made more foundations throughout the country. In 1302 John Cheffyn wished to give a half acre and William Bolyt a quarter acre to the Carmelites at Leighlinbridge. The Justiciary, John Wogan, had to hold an inquiry on 3 December 1302 to ensure that "such a gift would not be at a loss to the King", indicating that the land was government property.
In the fifteenth century the Irish Carmelites seem to have been experiencing a difficult financial period especially around the 1430s since the contributions asked by Rome were the smallest. For some reason the Province had no representative at some of the General Chapters during this century. At the General Chapter held in Avignon in 1451 John Soreth was elected Prior General and held the post for twenty five years, working indomitably for the reform of the Order. He is acknowledged as one of the greatest Prior Generals of the Order. He was beatified in 1866.
The Augustinians or Black Canons (from the colour of their habits) arrived in Dublin some time before 1280, after having received in 1259 the approval to move there. As well, they settled at four other Irish centres by 1300 within the territory in Ireland that was controlled by the English kings: Dungarvan
(1290), Drogheda (1295), and Cork
and Tipperary (1300).
The first Augustians there were men brought from England, for it was the invading Norman families from England who settled in Ireland from 1169 onwards and supported these early mendicant communities. These families desired education for their sons in the English language from English-speaking friars. The existing monastic schools attached to churches and cathedrals taught in the Gaelic language. Of the first thirteen Augustinian houses established in Ireland by the year 1241, all but one of them formed part of a semi-circular sweep from Drogheda near the borders of Ulster to Adare near the River Shannon. This line reflected somewhat accurately the extent of English culture and domination in Ireland at that time.
Unlike the Orders founded by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi, the Order of Saint Augustine appeared slow in establishing itself among the native Irish areas outside the area of English domination. The Augustinians initially worked only among the English settlers, and looked to England to obtain new members for the community. By the middle of the 14th century, there were thirteen houses of the Order in Ireland, making Ireland both the most numerous but the poorest section of the English Province. These Anglo-Irish Augustinians became uneasy with their direct supervision from the leadership of the English Province in London. Note that the above defence of Augustinian rights in Ireland was the work of the Anglo-Irish, since up to that point in time the Order had not penetrated greatly into Gaelic (native Irish) areas.
Beginning in the first half of the fifteenth century, however, a change happened. From that point onwards, there was a great benefit enjoyed by the Order in that unfortunately would not also be present in England. The Augustinian Observance movement had begun in 1387 at the famous monastery of the Order at Lecceto near Siena, Italy. Observantine reformers insisted on strict adherence to the Rule of Augustine and the Constitutions of the Order, that is, a return to the original spirit and practice of the Order. From Italy, the movement spread to Ireland, introduced by a friar named Charles, who was apparently surnamed O'Hara.
On 19th September 1423, O'Hara was authorized by the Prior General, Agostino da Roma, to establish a house of the observance at Banada, County Sligo (which eventauted in 1432, after which some other Irish houses also became observantine). According to one historian, the observant movement, initiated in this way, was adopted in other Augustinian houses in the country. This example was also adopted by the Dominicans and Franciscans, and put new life into the Irish Church. The adoption of the observant or strict way of Augustinian life did not of itself save the Order in Ireland. After all, Martin Luther was a member of the observant congregation of Saxony before he rejected the authority of the pope and went his own way.
The victory of the Gaelic element in Ireland was signalled in 1547 when Hugh O'Malley, the first superior of the convent at Murrisk, was appointed Vicar Provincial of the Augustinians in Ireland by the Augustinian Prior General. The first record of a Vicar Provincial in Ireland is for the year 1360, although it is not known if this person - John Dale - was in fact the first person to hold this position. The supply of English Augustinians to Ireland was reduced. The Anglo-Irish Augustinian presence thus declined, and eventually ceased completely. As this happened, all was not well in the Irish priories of the Order. In 1393 the Prior General received complaints from the English Provincial of quarrels and disputes in some of the Irish houses. These were based on cultural differences between the English-born and the Irish-born there, the Anglo-Norman conquerers and the native Irish. This was a common phenomenon in all religious orders, for previously in 1310 and 1366 the Norman parliament in Kilkenny had instructed religious houses located amoung the Norman English to deny admission to candidates who were not of English stock.
The Benedictine monasteries went on to make considerable contributions not only to the monastic and the spiritual life of the West, but also to economics, education, and government, so that the years from 550 to 1150 may be called the "Benedictine centuries". By the 12th century most early monasteries in England had adopted the rule of St Benedict. In Ireland however the early monasteries were more independent and they remained in their original form into the medieval period. Benedictine monks were also present in Ireland, including some at Christ Church cathedral in the late 11th century, but they had surprisingly few houses there compared with England, where they enjoyed the patronage of the Normans. Only two Benedictine communities are well known: Fore in Co. Westmeath
(a late 12th century foundation of the Anglo-Norman de Lacy family) and Downpatrick in Co. Down. In modern times two Irish Benedictine abbeys are well known beyond the monastic world: Glenstal and Kylemore. The nuns came to Castle Kylemore in 1921, but have a continuous lineage that dates back to the foundation in Ypres (Belgium) in 1665 of a monastery specifically established for Irish nuns in exile. The first group of Benedictine monks arrived in Glenstal by train on 13 May 1927. It was also a castle built by the Barrington family in the 1830s.
Other Orders such as the Tironesians or the hermit-like Carthusians made little impact in Ireland. A few very ruined churches of the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers remain. They were connected with the crusaides of the 12th and 13th centuries and were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders. The Templars' existence however was short-lived; when the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded. The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages. Little remains of the 7 houses in Ireland of the rather more austere Premonstratensian regular canons who wore white habits since they based their constitution on the Cistercian monks. The Order of the Holy Trinity was founded in the area of Cerfroid, some 80 km northeast of Paris, at the end of the 12th century. The only Irish Trinitarian house is in Adare, Co. Limerick. Founded in 1230, it was all but destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries but was restored by the Earl of Dunraven in the 1800s.
Suppression of Monasteries
Hopes were blighted within a century of the great rebuilding. In England, King Henry VIII set in train an investigation of the monasteries of his realm and having established that they were too wealthy and were either badly run or no longer served a useful purpose, he decreed that all religious houses worth less than £200 a year were to be suppressed and handed over to him. This was in 1536. The Dublin Parliament immediately rushed through an Act of Suppression. Soon thirteen Irish religious houses were gone, their property given to the Crown. They included five Cistercian houses. In 1539 Henry decreed the closing of the bigger monasteries.
Amongst the best preserved and most famous in Ireland:
- Glendalough Monastic Site, Round Tower, Co. Wicklow It was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Set in a glaciated valley with two lakes, the remains include a superb round tower, stone churches and decorated crosses.
- Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly Clonmacnoise was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnois, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who studied under St. Finian at the famous Clonard Abbey.
- Jerpoint Abbey, Cistercian, Co. Kilkenny It is perhaps the finest representative of the Cistercian abbeys. The splendid cloister, the most richly carved in Ireland, and the impressive tomb sculptures.
- Askeaton Franciscan Abbey, Co. Limerick The cloisters in the abbey are amongst the finest to be seen anywhere, they measure 204ft and are carved from limestone which was brought from cannon island on the Shannon estuary.
- Fore Abbey, Benedictine, Co. Westmeath The only remaining Benedictine abbey in Ireland. Abbey ruins, holy wells, a ruined medieval mill and church plus an extravagant newer church create a unique place.
- Gallarus Oratory, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry It is the most perfect example of the boat shaped oratories associated with the Dingle peninsula.
- Kilmacduagh Monastic Site and Round Tower, Co. Galway It is well worth a visit for its ruined churches and well preserved round tower the highest surviving in Ireland (and leaning 0.5m out of perpendicular). The monastery was founded in the 7th Century by St. Colman MacDuagh.
- Sligo Dominican Abbey The site contains a great wealth of carvings including Gothic and Renaissance tomb sculpture, well preserved cloister and the only sculptured 15th century high altar to survive in any Irish monastic church.
All Monastic Sites: