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Inch Abbey Church
 

County

Down

Coordinates

N 54° 20' 11.28"   W 005° 43' 47.58"

Nearest town

Downpatrick

Grid Ref.

J 47623 45462

Map No.

21

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

11

Date of visit

Tuesday 28 May 2019

GPS Accuracy (m)

2
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The abbey ruins seen from the south-southwest.


At last! I longed to come here for a long time, but for some reason or another I never succeeded.

Inch Abbey was built by John de Courcy between 1180 and 1188 in atonement for the destruction in 1177 of the Erenagh Abbey, which had been built in 1127.
Along with Grey Abbey, Inch Abbey is the earliest example of Gothic architecture in Ireland and the finest example of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Ulster.
After its foundation it was soon colonised by the monks from Furness Abbey, in Lancashire.

The site was of religious interest in the centuries before, when an earlier monastery, probably founded in 800, and called Inis Cumhscraigh, was present here. This monastery was attacked and plundered by the Vikings led by Sitric in 1001 and and again in 1149.

At those times the site, where the abbey is, was still an island, as the name suggests.

Inch Abbey lies on the north bank of Quoile River, north of Downpatrick.
The layout of the building is typical of Cistercian abbeys, with a cruciform shape and a low square tower at the crossing.
The overall length of the church is 52 metres, with two transepts on either side of the site where the square tower was. The transepts had a pair of chapels each.
The chancel has three wonderful and impressive pointed windows. The south-southeast wall of the chancel has two tall windows (one of which has partially collapsed), a triple sedilia (in bad conditions) and a piscina.
Two other intact tall windows are in the north-northwest wall of the chancel, along with two rounded niches in the wall which might have been used as places for sacred images.
In the northwest corner of the north transept there are the remains of a circular tower with a collapsed spiral staircase.
The church is aligned to the east-northeast (70°).
A cloister was on the southeast side of the church, but today nothing remains of it.
On the same side of the church, to the northeast of the cloister, there were the domestic buildings (vestry, chapter house, parlor and day room). The kitchen and the refectory, where the monks would eat, are to the south of the cloister.

Traces of other buildings, like a well, the bake house and a guest house can be seen to the southwest of the ruins towards the river, an infirmary was at the east of the complex.

By the early 15th century the monks community had largely diminished. The burning of the abbey and the collapse of the central tower were all elements that led to a downsize of the church, which is visible today with a southwest wall built halfway the overall length of the original building. The plinths of the piers for the aisles in the nave are still on the ground.
On a smaller scale, the life at the monastery continued until it was dissolved in 1541, during the suppression of the monasteries under king Henry VIII.

The place is quiet and silent, we could almost feel the atmosphere of when the monastery was still working.

When we arrived to the abbey, a bunch of funny people dressed like warriors were swarming among the ruins. They were part of those crazy "Game of Thrones Tours" which are tormenting the area. Fortunately they left quickly!


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