Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Boyle Abbey, County Roscommon

Boyle Abbey is the most important Cistercian Abbey in the west of Ireland, and dates from 12/13th Century. Boyle is the 'daughter house' of Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian Abbey to be founded in Ireland. The Cistercian Order was founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Burgundy, Central France in 1098. St. Bernard believed that the other monastic orders had become dissolute and undisciplined, and he founded the Cistercians as an austere and hard-working order who focused on a life of prayer. 
The cloister area

The first monks arrived at Boyle in 1161, the powerful Lords of Moylurg, the Mac Diarmata (the MacDermotts) granted the lands to the Cistercians and became patrons of the Abbey.

In the nave looking towards the choir
Like all other Cistercian monasteries, Boyle Abbey was centred around a rectangular shaped cloister. The cloister had a covered walkway running around it known as a cloister arcade, but unfortunately nothing remains today of this feature as it was thought to have been destroyed in the Abbey's later history. A large cruciform shaped church was constructed on the northern side of the cloisters. The church is designed in typical Burgundian style with a pointed barrel vault and choir arch. An interesting feature of the church can be seen in the Nave, where you can see distinct differences in the design of the arches on the north side (pointed) and the south side (rounded), also by looking at the capitals on top of the columns that form the arches you can see some wonderful examples of medieval sculpture. These sculptures and designs are thought to have been the work of the Ballintubber Master, who copied some of the late-Romanesque design and decorated the columns with floral motifs, birds, beasts, and human figures. The picture below is one of my favourite depictions from Boyle Abbey, showing a poor dog who appears to be having a bad day of it. He is being bitten on his nose and his backside simultaneously by two other dogs. The poor fella has his tongue lolling out with the sheer bother of it all. 
Boyle Abbey was raided by the Norman Lord William de Burgh in 1202. It was recorded that he spent three days thoroughly ransacking the Abbey and its lands. The Annals of Loch Cé record that 'no structure in the monastery was left without breaking and burning...no part of the buildings of the entire monastery was allowed to the monks and brothers'.  
It was raided again in 1235 when Richard de Burgh launched his invasion of Connacht, and by the fifteenth century the importance of Boyle Abbey had began to wane.

The Abbey was one of the last to be dissolved during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII, it survived the reformation for over forty years until 1584 when the last abbot of Boyle, Glaisne O'Culleanain was executed in Dublin for refusing to renounce his loyalty to Rome. 

Boyle Abbey was then leased to William Usher in 1589, and shortly afterwards it was used as a military barracks by Elizabethan soldiers. Much alterations and damage to the abbey happened at this time, especially to the cloister area where the arcade was demolished. In 1603 it was given to Sir John King and it remained in his family until 1892. It continued to be used as a barracks until the end of the eighteenth century. But despite its long occupation as a military base, the Abbey is still a wonderful example of a Cistercian monastery and is well worth a visit.

The site couldn't be easier to find, simply head to Boyle in County Roscommon and the Abbey is well signposted. It is now under the auspices of the Office of Public Works, and you can enjoy an excellent guided tour that takes you through the fafascinating history of the Abbey. Entry costs €3 per adult, €2 per senior citizen (over 60 years), €1 for a child/student and a family ticket costs €8. For more information and opening times see http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/West/BoyleAbbey/ 

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All photographs © Neil Jackman / abartaaudioguides.com