Across Ireland lie several remains of former monasteries and abbeys, including numerous Cistercian monasteries. However prevalent these historical spectacles are throughout the country, Melifont Abbey in Drogheda, Co. Louth stands out among the rest. Why is that you might ask? Because it was the very first Cistercian abbey to be built in Ireland, as it was erected all the way back in 1142 on the command of Saint Malachy, the first native Irish saint to be canonised by the Catholic Church.
The French architectural design of Melifont Abbey was followed in the build of several other famous monasteries in Ireland. And yes, if you’re wondering, it was occupied by real monks for hundreds of years!
Once upon a time, hundreds of monks and lay brothers lived, prayed and worked in Melifont Abbey. In fact, right up until its closure in 1539, it was the main abbey in Ireland but there’s only a small portion of the original abbey that remains to this day. However small the remains are, one really amazing feature, a lavabo, which would have been used by the monks who occupied the abbey in the 13th century to wash their hands, still stands tall. Some arches and a 14th century chapter house where the monks would have congregated for talks and readings, also remain.
Melifont Abbey is famous for far more than being the first abbey that was built in Ireland. Oh yes, it was home to some key figures in Irish history and served as the stage for some crucial moments in Irish history too. In 1603, the infamous Treaty of Melifont was agreed between Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and the English Crown in the grounds of the abbey. The Treaty of Melifont was the treaty signed to put an end to the Nine Years War between the English and Irish during the British invasion of Ireland between 1594 and 1603. Furthermore, in 1690, William of Orange used Melifont Abbey House as his headquarters throughout the Battle of the Boyne. William of Orange, for those of you who don’t know, was the King of England, Ireland and Scotland and was in power from 1689-1702.
A visit to Melifont Abbey is a must for anyone who wants to stand afoot the scene of several key moments in Irish history. The Cistercian monks are responsible for some of Ireland’s most important scriptures and very rarely will you be able to see the ruins of a monastery as old as Melifont Abbey anywhere in the world. You’ll find yourself standing in awe as you observe the remaining structures of the abbey, especially the lavabo and chapter house. As visitors stand in the chapter house, it’s said that one can almost envision the monks sitting around reading and writing scriptures.
Although the original abbey is in ruins, an on-site monastic guesthouse has been built to offer a place of retreat and prayer for visitors to Melifont Abbey. This guest house is ran by real, practising Cistercian monks so you’ll find that the spiritual and religious roots of the original abbey are still ever present. A trip to Melifont Abbey is a really unique experience offering visitors the ability to soak up Irish heritage and history, admire ancient architecture and indulge in some spirituality all at once.