Monasteranenagh Abbey (Manister an Aonaigh), Monaster South, Co. Limerick.

Location – Monasteranenagh Abbey is located roughly 4km east of Croom, on the banks of the River Camoge near the R516 in the townland of Monaster South. Part of the abbey is in a field next to the road, while the main body of the abbey is located another field in. The co-ordinates below are taken from the main abbey.

OS: R 55046 40782

Longitude: -8.6630014

Latitude: 52.516857

Description and History – While what remains today is impressive, it was clearly a much larger abbey in its day. The abbey was founded in 1148 by the King of Thomand, Turlough O’Brien, and was founded as a Cistercian daughter-house to Mellifont, and dedicated to St. Maria de Magio. Although founded as an abbey it was the backdrop for resistance against the Anglo-Norman invasion, likely due to its close connection to the O’Briens. In 1228 the abbey was partially fortified against the Anglo-Normans, and in 1370 Monasternenagh was the site of a battle between the O’Briens of Thomond, aided by the Mac Con Maras, and Anglo-Norman forces commanded by the Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzMaurice FitzGerald. While the exact location of the battle is unclear it appears to have been centred around Monasteranenagh. It was a victory for the O’Briens who then went on to sack Limerick city. Records show that the monastery was heavily in debt, and in 1302 it owed £209.6.8 to Ricardi of Lucca. The abbey was eventually suppressed in 1539-40. It was once again the scene of further bloodshed when it was the location of a battle during the Desmond Rebellion, when 40 monks are said to have been slaughtered by Sir Nicholas Malby, although the veracity of this story is debatable considering the abbey had been suppressed some 40 years previously. Some activity did continue, however, at the site as later modifications show. Many of the outbuildings were demolished in 1807 by a Mr. White of Mainster, who used the material for other building projects. 

As you approach the abbey from the road you will first meet a small ruin which is listed as a church, but is possibly a guesthouse for the abbey. Little remains of this structure and it sits next to small burial ground for unbaptised children. It is surrounded by a post-1700 wall, and measures approximately 25m x 6m. It has also been used a graveyard for local people into the 20th century. While the main abbey is still impressive, huge sections of it have been completely destroyed, and not visible above the surface. The church was constructed between 1170 and 1220, along with the remaining chapterhouse, and represent some of the earliest Gothic architecture in Ireland. The church originally had three side-chapels in each transept, but these have been destroyed. The nave was aisled with large arches on either side, and lancet windows can be seen throughout. Decorated stone remains in-situ including foliated capitals carved in sandstone. The cloister, along with other now missing buildings, can be seen on aerial photographs.

Despite much of the building being destroyed it still feels imposing, and must have been impressive in its day. It is definitely well worth exploring, and spending time here to get a sense of the structure.

Difficulty – It is a little tricky being so far in from the road, and weather can influence the accessibility being so close to the river. Bring wellies, and be careful of electrified fences and cattle. As always, seek permission from the landowner. 

Date of Visit – 25th April, 2010.

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The remaining wall of the possible guest-house as you enter the site.

Note the mix of modern graves and markers for unbaptised children. 

The surrounding wall is modern.

From the guest-house you begin to approach the main abbey from the north-west.

Originally an internal wall, the missing sections would have formed an aisle in the main church.

You can see where the wall once extended from. 

Inside the church.

The sudden use of sandstone on the pillar and remains of the arch really stands out.

I can't make head nor tail of this!

There are all sorts of interesting capital stones here. Many of them are in different styles, which would support a multi-phase development of the site. Some have been partially covered by later building works, and poke out of gaps here and there. It makes me wonder what is still completely covered over. 

The remaining south aisle.

From the east.

A more modern vault at the site.

The east gable of the chapter-house.

Viewed from the chapter-house.

Parts of ruined walls are dotted around the site, part of now-destroyed buildings.

The chapter-house.