INCH Location: nr Downpatrick County:
Down Foundation: 1180 Mother house:
(Erenagh) Furness Relocation: None Founder: John
de Courcy Dissolution: 1541 Prominent members:
Access: Accessible to the public
Inch abbey was founded by John de Courcy in recompense for burning
down the abbey of Erenagh in 1177. The remaining monks of Erenagh
appear to have had this new monastery founded for them in 1180,
when they were affiliated to Furness Abbey in Lancashire. It
that Furness sent brethren to help build the abbey and provided
additional brethren to strengthen the community in 1187,
of essential buildings had been completed. The effective result
was the replacement of an Irish community with a largely English
There had previously been a monastery at Inch, called Inis-Cumhscraigh.
It had been established in AD 800, was plundered by the Vikings
in 1001, raided by the Irish in 1149 and had become defunct by
1153. In 1177 the surrounding district was conquered by John
and it is thought that the monastic buildings may have been completely
destroyed at this time. The site of the earlier monastery was
in the area of the parish graveyard, north of the present ruins
of Inch Abbey. From the time that the monks arrived from Furness,
the monastery remained a centre of strong English influence, refusing
to accept Irish men into the community. In 1318 the monks of
were accused of hunting Irishmen with spears and singing Vespers in the evening.
The abbey church was constructed in the gothic style c. 1200.
The presbytery is dominated by lancet windows and the clustered
in the chapel was far more sophisticated than any that existed
in Ireland at that time. After 1400 the church was truncated,
gothic church was reduced to a singular rectangular chapel and
the transepts were cut off by a solid stone screen. The remodeling
have been prompted by the collapse of the tower, and may also have
been a practical response to financial hardship.
The value of the abbey at the time of the Dissolution is unknown,
but it is likely to have been a very small figure. The abbey was
in 1541 and the site was granted to Gerald, earl of Kildare. By
the nineteenth century the ruins were badly ruined and overgrown.
In 1914 excavation and repairs were carried out and many of the
architectural details were restored in cement. The east end of
abbey is now well preserved and there are seven tall lancet windows
in the presbytery which date from the gothic period. However,
ruins become progressively sparse towards the west of the church
and nothing but the foundations of the nave remain. The walls of
east and south range of the claustral buildings survive to a degree;
nothing remains of the west range which may never have
been built in stone.
In the 1870s a considerable quantity of stained
glass exhibiting foliage and animals was found inside the chancery,
although there is no trace of animals or figures in the stonework.
The ruins are situated on an islet in the Quoile Marshes and
are accessible to the public.