Mellifont Abbey, Louth, Ireland

Mellifont was the first Cistercian Monastery in Ireland and was founded in 1142 by Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh. By the mid-12th century monastic life in Ireland, as in the rest of Europe, had become less austere and very corrupt. In 1140 while on his way to Rome Malachy stopped at Clairvaux in France and was so impressed by the more rigid and severe lifestyle of the Cistercian order. Malachy invited them to Ireland to set up the monastery at Mellifont to try and reform the prevailing debauchery of the other religious orders.

Mellifont and the Cistercian order grew in prominence over the next century becoming the parent of over 35 other monasteries in Ireland. Mellifont itself was home to as many as 400 monks and in 1152 hosted the Synod of Drogheda which was attended by bishops and kings. The Irish monks at Mellifont quickly fell out with their French counterparts leading to the departure of the Clairvaux monks. When the French monks left Mellifont it became known for the lax attitude of the monks and insubordination was rife. In 1223 Pope Honorius ordered that all offenders should surrender their office and in 1228 sent Stephen Lexington to investigate the abuses which led to the resignation of the abbot. The next 200 hundred years were a time of considerable peace however the monastery was attacked by local nobels in 1494 and was badly damaged.

When King Henry VII dissolved the monasteries Mellifont was demolished and sold, a fortified manor house was built on the site in 1556 by Edward Moore. After his failure at the Battle of Kinsale in 1603 Hugh O’ Neill, the last great Irish chieftain was given shelter here by Sir Garret Moore, the Treat of Mellifont was agreed between the English crown and O’Neill in the abbey grounds. Later in 1690 William of Orange used Mellifont Abbey House as his headquarters during the Battle of the Boyne. Monks did remain in the grounds of the Abbey for many years and the death of the last recorded abbot was in 1743.

Sadly very little of the original monastery remains visible at Mellifont. A 13th century lavabo (where monks washed their hands before eating) stands beside some beautiful Romanesque arches. A 14th century chapter house also stands in the abbey grounds. 

GPS: 53.74252, -6.46618

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