Inch Abbey is a large, ruined monastic site north-west of Downpatrick. The site was originally on an island in the Quoile Marshes. The pre-Norman Celtic monastic settlement here was in existence by the year 800. In 1002 it was plundered by the Vikings. The Vikings plundered the settlement again in 1149. Its large earthwork enclosure has been traced from aerial photographs. On the ground, the early bank and ditch can be followed along the line of trees on the eastern boundary of the site, and partly along the western boundary. The buildings of the early monastery would have been made of timber.

Inch Abbey was established as a Cistercian house by John de Courcy and his wife Affreca. Inch was erected as an act of repentance for the destruction of the Abbey at Erinagh by de Courcy in 1177. It was colonised directly by monks from Furness Abbey in Lancashire in 1180, along with some of the monks from Erinagh. The Cistercian monastery was located near to the river in the southern area of the Early Christian earthwork enclosure.

The Cistercian precinct was enclosed by a bank and ditch extending north and south from the parish graveyard to the river and east to west up the valley sides. The buildings are mainly of the late 12th century and the 13th century. The church was built about 1200, in the Cistercian cruciform plan with a low tower at the crossing, an aisled nave to the west and two projecting transepts each with a pair of chapels. Only the impressive east window remains. The chancel wall has three well proportioned pointed windows. There was an altar in each of the rib-vaulted transept chapels and in the north transept is a door out to the monk's cemetery (no longer visible) and a tower with broken stairs in the north-west angle. On the stone plinth of the north transept's exterior north wall a number of incised symbols can be seen which are mason's marks. The high altar was under the east windows and in the south wall are the remains of triple sedilia (seats for the priests) and a piscina for washing the altar vessels.

The church is north of the cloister, divided in use between the monks to east and lay brothers to west. The cloister was surrounded by a series of rooms for meetings, work, sleeping, eating and storage.

The community of monks was probably never very large (suggested by the small chapter house), and this may have led to the decision to reduce the size of the church by walling off a smaller area to the east end. Some continuity was maintained with the 13th century work by reusing a fine door of that period as the west door of the reduced church. In the 15th century, when the monastic community was smaller, the church was altered. Through the walling in of the chancel and first bay of the nave, and blocking off the transepts, a much smaller church was created and the rest was abandoned. The cloister walks to the south have disappeared, but foundations of the east and south ranges remain, as well as outlying buildings toward the river. These include an infirmary and a bakehouse with two ovens and a well nearby.

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Founded: 1180
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

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User Reviews

Darrell Brighton (2 years ago)
One of the locations for Game of Throne's. Very quiet with great views over the river to St Patrick Cathedral. Wheel chair friendly with good parking but no facilities.
Carol Kubicki (2 years ago)
A serene spot that, if you are lucky, you will have to yourself.
Janet Mark (2 years ago)
Beautifully keep piece of history. A quiet spot to relax and enjoy the ruins of a once large building.
Hugh Caffery (2 years ago)
Great site. Neat and tidy. Super for a picnic or a quiet chill
Andy Williams (2 years ago)
Just a totally tranquil space to go and soak up the history of the place. Take a picnic but don't leave it alone as the crows will have away with it. The adjoining graveyard is always worth a wander too
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