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Manister Abbey

Monasteranenagh Cistercian Abbey
© Monasteranenagh Cistercian Abbey

Monasteranenagh Cistercian Abbey derives its name from Manister an Aonaigh, the monastery of the fair, after a fair that was held here in ancient times. Mass was celebrated here on New Year's Eve 1999, and the Abbey was lit up in honour of the new Millennium.

Chapel at Monasteranenagh Abbey
© Chapel at Monasteranenagh Abbey

The ruins consist of a church, which dates from about 1170 to 1220, and an early Gothic chapter house. The remains of what was probably the abbey's guesthouse are a short distance away. Stillborn children were once buried within the ruins of the Abbey's guesthouse.

Guesthouse at Monasteranenagh Abbey
© Guesthouse at Monasteranenagh Abbey

The ruins are quite extensive, and are in good repair. The main window frame of the church is still intact. The roof collapsed in 1874. The tower fell in 1806. Only walls and gables remain of the church. The interior of the abbey was used as a burial ground until the 1970's. The oldest headstone that we found within the abbey was in memory of Mary Duiry(?) who died in November 1782, aged 58 years. Fr James Ryan, who died 30th April 1795, aged 67 years, is also buried here.

Turlough O'Brien, King of Munster, founded a monastery of Cistercian monks here in 1148 dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Manister was a daughter house of Mellifont Abbey in Co. Louth and Manister itself had daughter houses established in Abbeydorney (1154), Middleton (1180) and Holy Cross (1181). Manister was a pre-Norman monastery, sometimes called Monasternenagh. It is believed that there were up to 1,500 monks here by the fourteenth century. In the 15th century, there were three chapels in each arm of the transept.

In 1228 the Irish monks with the help of the O'Brien's, the Kings of Thomond, drove out the abbot and the non-Irish monks, who were mainly of Norman descent. They were excommunicated for revolting against their ecclesiastical superiors. Using armed force Hubert de Burgo, the bishop of Limerick, recaptured the abbey, and reinstalled the monks who had been driven out.

Interior of Manister abbey
© Interior of Manister abbey

In 1307 Gerald, Earl of Desmond, was visiting the abbot when captured by O'Brien of Thomond. In 1540 the monastery at Manister was dissolved, although the monks were left in possession of the abbey.

In 1579 Sir William Malby led the English in a battle against the Irish and Spaniards. Sir John of Desmond led the Irish. The Spanish and Irish soldiers took shelter in Monasternenagh. The abbot helped in a battle against Malby but they lost. Malby burned the abbey.

Locals were also killed at the abbey by Malby's soldiers. The Earl of Desmond saw the battle from Tory Hill. The English fired at Irish and Spanish soldiers who were sheltered in the abbey causing great damage to the building.

However, the monastery was not destroyed until 1585, when it became the property of Sir Henry Wallop. He plundered and robbed all of its valuables, before destroying the monastery.

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