Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tintern Abbey, County Wexford

Tintern Abbey was said to have been founded in 1200 when the powerful Norman knight William Marshal set out to pay his first visit to Ireland after his inheritance as Lord of Leinster. However his ship was struck by a storm off the east coast and was close to foundering. He vowed to God that if he safely reached the shore he would found an abbey wherever he landed. He managed to get ashore at Bannow Bay in County Wexford, and Marshal kept his vow, granting 3500 hectares to the Cistercian order to establish an abbey. Hence why Tintern was occasionally called 'Tintern de Voto' or 'Tintern of the Vow'. As the Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall was also the patron of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire in Wales, he brought monks from the Tintern in Monmouthshire to settle in his new foundation in Wexford, which they also named Tintern in honour of their original home.

Tintern was a wealthy and powerful Cistercian foundation, thought to be the third wealthiest Cistercian abbey after Mellifont and St. Mary’s in Dublin. Tintern would have followed the standard format for all Cistercian Abbeys in Ireland based on the ‘Mother House’ of Mellifont. The cloisters were positioned at the south, and were surrounded by a range of domestic and spiritual buildings, with a cruciform shaped church to the North. Excavations have revealed a number of these features, including the discovery of a thirteenth-century sewer. Although a little unpalatable to some (ahh the glamorous life of an archaeologist), this stone lined drain produced real insights into thirteenth century life, and particularly the diet of the monks. They ate cereals, apples, figs, raspberries, sloe berries, hazelnuts, beef, mutton, pork and goat. They also had seafood with evidence being discovered for mussels, oysters, cockles, and whelks. This shows they had a rich and varied diet that was probably far above what the general population would have enjoyed in the thirteenth century. 

I'm particularly fond of the unusual sandstone gargoyle heads that run along the northern side of the chancel wall of the church (facing the carpark). I'm sure one or two of them look familiar from a night out in Coppers!

Close up of the decorative heads
Like most other Irish monastic sites Tintern became private property after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s during King Henry VIII’s reign. The lands were granted to Anthony Colclough, an army officer and he and his descendants made extensive changes and modifications to the Abbey to change it from a Cistercian place of worship into a fashionable but fortified home.

One of the most identifiable features of Tintern is the lovely castellated bridge over the head of a stream and tidal inlet. It dates to the eighteenth century. Nearby is the remains of a large limekiln which shows some of the more industrious activities needed on a large estate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Tintern is a lovely place to visit. It is free to enter and is under the auspices of the Office of Public Works. Please see here for more information on opening times You’ll find Tintern roughly 16km south of New Ross off the R734, or 29km from Wexford off the Wexford to Ballyhack road R733.

I hope you enjoy our blog posts. Ireland has such a wealth of great heritage sites to visit and I hope to cover more around the country. Next week I’ll be visiting sites in Ulster, particularly in Counties Derry, Donegal, Antrim and Fermanagh so if anyone has any suggestions for places to visit I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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