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Old Mellifont Abbey Church
 

County

Louth

Coordinates

N 53° 44' 33.0"   W 006° 27' 57.66"

Nearest town

Tullyallen

Grid Ref.

O 01190 78078

Map No.

43

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

66

Date of visit

Sunday 14 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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Looking at the religious complex from the north door visible bottom left.


At last, after 17 years, we were able to be back to this amazing site. Actually we tried to visit the place last year, but we were very unlucky because the road to this site was closed for major works and would have opened a few days after our return to home.
The abbey was founded by St. Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, in 1142 on lands granted by O'Carrol, Prince of Oriel, and consecrated in 1157. The place was chosen because sufficiently far from the noise and the temptation of the world and the close town of Drogheda.
It was the first Cistercian abbey in Ireland and was the model for other similar abbeys.
The name Mellifont comes from the Latin "Fons Mellis", the "Fount of Honey"
What we see today are the poor ruins of a later construction, 13th century. We see the outline of a rectangular cloister garth. To its north there was the church with a long nave, an extended chancel and two transepts. A central square tower was added about two centuries later. The church building is about 50 metres long, 17 metres wide and is aligned to southeast (110°). Under the west end of the nave there are the ruins of an underground structure, a crypt, which was probably built to level the nave floor, though it's likely it had a more practical purpose. In the east range of the cloister was the Chapter House, where daily meetings of the monks were held to discuss about works and issues related to the abbey. The south range of the cloister was occupied by the refectory, where the monks had their meals, and the kitchen. The most amazing feature of all the place is the octagonal Romanesque lavabo, a place where the monks washed their hands before entering the refectory. The lavabo would have a central stone basin with a fountain where water arrived via a long lead pipe. Each side of the lavabo would have a three orders arch. Today only half of this wonderful structure survives, and it's roofless, but we have to imagine it covered with a roof, and the ceiling was a ribbed vault, with the capitals decorated with birds and leaf motifs.
The whole monastic site was enclosed in an outer stone wall. A medieval gatehouse welcomes the visitors approaching the ruins.
In the early years of the 13th century the abbey was at the heart of what is known as the "Conspiracy of Mellifont", when the abbot of Mellifont refused the admission of a group of visitors sent over to try to reform the Order from the head. This rebellion saw a fight between the Anglo-Normans abbots and the Irish abbots. This rebellion went on for ten years, during which many attempts to call the Order back to its rules were made. Even Pope Gregory IX made his attempt, until 1228 when Stephen of Lexington, an abbot from Wiltshire, was able to recontruct the Order to its main rules of austerity.
Mellifont Abbey was left with 50 monks and 60 lay brothers.
Despite this reduction, Mellifont remained one of the wealthier monasteries in Ireland and when it was dissolved in 1539, under the law by king Henry VIII, it was valued £352 3s 10d.
After the dissolution the property passed on to sir Edward Moore, whose family chapel is visible to the east of the abbey ruins.
Edward Moore converted the religious buildings in a fortified residence.
In March 1603 Hugh O'Neill surrendered to Lord Mountjoy at Mellifont Abbey.
The Abbey was also taken by sir Phelim O'Neill during his failing attempt to attack Drogheda in 1641.
King William III used the ruins of the abbey as his headquarter during the Batlle of the Boyne in 1690.
The abbey was eventually abandoned and it fell in ruin in the early 1700's. In 1727 the fifth Earl of Drogheda sold it to the Balfour family of Townley Hall until it was passed on to the State.

This visit was amazing! Wonderful sunny weather, very few other visitors around, peace and quiet, I couldn't ask for more.

We came here for the first time on May 30th, 1998.


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