Mungret Abbey, Limerick, Ireland

Mungret has been an ecclesiastical site since at least 551, when a monastery was founded by Saint Nessan, however some historians interpret the date as being much earlier, even as early as the fourth century which would predate St Patrick. Whatever its origin Mungret’s importance would have been amplified by its location on the Slighe Dhala which was one of Ireland’s ancient roads linking west Munster to Tara, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. There are many interpretations of the name Mungret but the most widely accepted is Mong Ghairid which is interpreted as ‘short swap’ or ‘morass’, this is believed to refer to the marshy land between Mungret and Limerick City. The ecclesiastical site of Mungret grew to a population of around 1,500 monks with six churches and a variety of outbuildings and homes to provide for the monks and also the many trades people, labourers and students who would have been drawn to the site. One of the earliest recorded figures was an abbot named Bodbgal who was killed in battle in 757. Like many of Ireland’s early monasteries and abbeys Mungret was raided four times by Vikings between 820 and 843. The importance of Mungret can be evidenced by the King Bishop of Cashel, Cormac MacCuilleanáin, who in 902 bestowed three ounces of gold to the monastery. A fire badly damaged the abbey in 1080 and further damaged by a raiding party of Ulstermen under Donal MacLouhglin in 1088 and again by Murtagh O Brien in 1107. After the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 Mungret began to decline as it was not chosen as the centre for the new diocese that had been created, nearby Limerick was chosen. The monks tried to resist this move and continued to try and place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Archbishops of Cashel. The monastery was dealt a further blow in 1179 when the King of Munster, Donal Mór O Brien granted Mungret Abbey and its lands to the Bishop of Limerick, Brictius, the Bishops of Limerick made Mungret into their own manor and without an income the monastery began to fail. The abbey became a parish church for the Canons Regular of the Order of saint Augustine.

There are the three remaining structures at Mungret, the largest church is said to be of a pre-Norman date around 1100. It was rebuilt twice during the 13th century, it is divided into three parts, the chancel to the east dating from the 13th century, the nave in the centre of an unknown date and the western part of the ruin which dates from the 15th century. The square tower was added in the 15th century for the priests’ living quarters. The abbey church stayed in use as the Church of Ireland church until 1822. The smaller rectangular church with three small windows is known as Old Mungret Church and dates from around 1100AD. The final structure at Mungret is known as St Nessan’s Church or the Monastery Church, located to the north of the abbey and built in the 12th century.

One of the most interesting tales relating to Mungret is echoed countless times in the Duchas schools collection and it is from there that I am taking the following interpretation, “A dispute arose between the Mungret and Cashel students as to who were the most learned. It was determined that the matter be settled by the students of the Monasteries to meet and have a literary contest. It was decided to hold that at Mungret. The scholars of Mungret although learned were afraid of the scholars of Cashel would put to do them. So they made up a plan to defeat them. On the morning of the contest many of the Mungret men disguised as washerwomen stationed themselves at a stream that flowed through the monastery grounds right in the path by which the other scholars had to pass. The Cashel scholars when they came spoke to the washerwomen and they answered them in Latin and Greek. The knowledge of languages the washerwomen had frightened away the Cashel competitors and left the day to the Mungret Scholars. The stream is still pointed out in the dip which occurs in the Limerick road between Hogan’s Cross Ballinacurra and the hill from which the College is seen.”
Recorded 1937 by Teacher Mrs B. Mulroy from a Michael Hayes, aged 92, a farmer from Mungret.

GPS: 52.63403, -8.67549

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