The scant remains of the North Abbey of Youghal, also know as the Priory of Our Lady of Graces stands in the grounds of a still operating cemetery. This Dominican priory was founded in 1267 by Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, the second baron of Desmond, whose maternal grandfather, Maurice Fitzgerald had founded the Franciscan Friary of South Abbey, Youghal. Thomas went by the nickname ‘Ape’ due to an unusual occurrence in his childhood as mentioned in the ‘Desmond Pedigree’, ‘This Thomas, being in his swadling cloaths accidentally left alone in his cradle, was by an Ape carryed up to the battlements of the monastery of Traly, where the little beast, to the admiration of many spectators, dandled him to and froe, whilst everyone ran with theire beds and caddows, thinking to catch the child when it should fall from the Ape. But Divine providence prevented that danger ; for the Ape miraculously bore away the infant, and left him in the cradle as he found him, by which accident this Thomas was ever after nicknamed from The Ape‘.
The Priory was initially dedicated to the Holy Cross, but was changed to ‘Our Lady of Graces’ in the late 15th century following the re-discovery of a small ivory statue of the Madonna and Child. The statue had originally been brought from Europe to Ireland in 1304 by the Archbishop of Cashel, Maurice O’Carroll. When O’Carroll died in 1316 the small statue was buried with him in the Dominican church in Youghal. For over 100 years the statue was forgotten until a Dominican friar said that the Virgin Mary had appeared to him in a dream and asked that the statue be removed from the tomb. The statue was moved to the Priory, now renamed ‘Our Lady of Graces’ and became a site of pilgrimage for Christians. The statue was venerated and many miracles were ascribed to it.
In the aftermath of the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII gave the priory to Sir Walter Raleigh who ordered the buildings and the shrine to be demolished. Bad luck hindered the demolition, one workman falling from the roof and another dropping dead just as the work started. One of the Fitzgerald’s, Honoria, was able to rescue to statue, it was kept in a silver case made for it in 1617, over time it came into the possession of the Dominicans and moved to its permanent home in St Mary’s Church, Popes Quay, Cork.
In 1587 most of the priory was pulled down by Sir Walter Raleigh and in 1602 he sold it to Richard Boyle. The western gable and a few other remnants of this once important site are all that remain.
GPS: 51.95733, -7.85541