Mellifont Abbey – Ireland
If you close your eyes and stand very still…you just might hear them. Between the wind whispering through the trees and the gurgling voice of the nearby River Mattock, it’s sometimes possible to make out the voices. Low voices murmuring prayers and supplication to God. Their soft chants echo over the ancient stones and bring us back to 1142. Here in the picturesque hills near Drogheda in County Louth stands the ruins of Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian abbey in Ireland.
Worship in Ireland
Those of the Cistercian order are often called White Monks, in reference to the color of the cuccula or white choir robe worn by the Cistercians over their habits – as opposed to the black cucculas worn by the Benedictine monks. The keynote of Cistercian life was a return to literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict which emphasized peace (pax) as well as prayer and work (ora et labora). The Cistercian monks tried to replicate monastic life exactly as it had been in St. Benedict’s time. The most striking feature in the reform was the return to manual labor, especially working in the fields, a special characteristic of Cistercian life.
The fields around Mellifont Abbey certainly would have been fertile ground for growing the food necessary to feed the 100 monks and 300 lay brothers living there during the late 1100’s. While the history of the abbey was mostly a peaceful one, William of Orange used Mellifont Abbey House as his headquarters during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Nooks and Crannies
Wandering through the ruins, it’s fun to peer inside the many hiding places and wonder what might be hidden there. The deep crypt, walled tunnels and hidden nooks in the chapter house excite the imagination and remind us of a history so long ago.
Not much remains of the original structure, except the lavabo where the monks washed their hands before prayers and the chapter house, but it’s possible to trace the original ground plan. The original Romanesque arches are still intact and the detailed carvings are impressive.
Mellifont Abbey is a beautiful place for quiet contemplation and as part of the day of exploration. The Visitors Center is open 10-6pm from May 28th- September 2 and is located 10km north-west of Drogheda off the R168 (Drogheda-Collon Road). This area just north of Dublin is rich with history and lends itself well for a wonderful day trip by car. For another interesting stop along The Valley of The Kings, see Hill of Tara – A Magical Place Photo Essay.
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I love how you described Mellifont Abbey and gave us a sense of the place. I, too, would enjoy peering into the hiding places and wondering what had been there. Beautiful.
Thanks Donna! Sometimes it’s really fun to visit these ancient sites and just try to get your mind around the history…so very old, but so beautiful. Thanks for stopping by!
This just got added to my list of mystical places to visit in Ireland- I’d not heard of it before. I’ve had some pretty wacky experiences at other holy sites there. We once tried to find the Hill of Tara pre GPS and Internet days and failed miserably. Will have to try again,
LOL! We know what you mean – we tried to find this place on our last visit 3 different times and our GPS told us a different way each time! We finally got so frustrated we went to another ruins site. But this time, no problem at all. Maybe the GPS gods were looking out for us! 🙂
I know that when the time comes for me to visit Ireland and Mellifont Abbey, I will reread your post and wander the site imagining the monks amongst the ruins.
I know you’ll love it! Ireland is really a magical place to visit – thanks for stopping by!
Mellifont Abbey looks an amazing place to visit.
Such a peaceful spot – and like most of the ruins in Ireland, you can just go and wander all day at no cost. A fun way to explore history!
This post is so beautifully written. You’re right that the voices of the past can be heard in these places when we listen closely.
Thanks Betsy! That’s something we really love about Ireland, the history is so much a part of the place, everywhere you look. Being from a young country like the Us, sometimes it’s hard to get my mind around just how old things really are here. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
What incredible stonework. I loved your photos!
Thanks so much Irene! We were fortunate to have a few hours of sunny weather (you know Ireland) so we ran out and did some exploring in the sunshine, lol!
Hoping to go to Ireland soon. Thanks for some more inspiration!
Thanks for stopping by! Ireland is now one of our very favorite places…so green and historic…and the food is yummy! 🙂 I’m sure you would love it!
I enjoyed this visit to Mellifont Abbey with you. I’ll check it out next time I’m in Dublin. FYI, I just blogged about another old Abbey in England that you might enjoy, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2015/04/sights-to-see-fountains-abbey-england.html
Thanks Carole! I will definitely take a look – I just LOVE the old abbeys and the history around them. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy yourself next time in Dublin! 🙂
I just love visiting these type of places when traveling. Absorbing the history and culture is an important part of the journey. Thanks of sharing the history of the Mellifont Abbey hope to visit it someday.
It’s definitely worth a visit! So incredibly peaceful and beautiful… 🙂
With your wonderful description you carried us back hundreds of years, it felt like we were right there with the monks. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for stopping by! I just LOVE exploring these ancient places 🙂
I’ve only been to Ireland once, and visiting castles (and ruins of castles) was on my must-do list. And it looks like you had similar weather!)
Jane, we have been SO lucky with the weather – I was worried about the rain, but it’s been beautiful! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂