Inislounaght was, it seems, colonised with monks from Mellifont
some time between 1147 and 1148, althugh there remains some confusion
as to whether or not it was a daughter-house of Maigue. The monastery
was situated about 300 yards
from the river Suir, and the natural beauty of the area is reflected
in the abbey’s Irish name: ‘Inis Leamhnachta’
(island of the fresh milk). Its Latin name is simply a translation
of the name of the river, ‘Surium’, and the abbey
was often known as ‘Suir’.
The Suir was a major traffic
artery and the monastery was not therefore immune from the commercial
world outside its walls. During the 1220s Inislounaght became
involved in the ‘conspiracy of Mellifont’ (1216-1228)
and the abbey became a centre of rebellion against the Cistercian
In 1227 affiliation of the abbey was transferred from Monasteranenagh
to Furness and a monk of Furness was
abbot. This sparked off a rumpus for the monks of Inislounaght
refused to admit their new abbot. A represnetative of the Order
was sent to investigate matters but upon his arrival was ambushed
by the prior; he was severely wounded and the boy accompanying
him was beaten.
Stephen of Lexington was shocked by the wickedness of these actions
and decided to visit the abbey himself. The monks finally admitted
him and he remained at the abbey for three days to restore discipline.
In 1249 a colony of monks was sent from Furness to Inislounaght
so that authority could be strengthened. At that time the number
of monks in the community probably matched Jerpoint, thirty-six
monks and fifty lay-brothers.
A fourteenth-century poem, entitled Land of Cokaygne, written
in old English in the Franciscan friary of Kildare, satirises
in an Irish Cistercian monastery. The poem depicts the Cistercian
way of life as one of comfort and delight, of delicious food and
of sensual pleasure. It is thought that this poem was a critique
of life at Inislounaght abbey for it refers to its Irish name ‘river
of sweet milk’. However, this luxury did not last for long.
By the end of the fourteenth century the abbey was heavily in
and in 1467 it was reported that the church was badly in need
By the time of the Dissolution the house was on the verge
with a community of just five. In 1541 the annual income of the
house was valued at meager £39. The last abbot, James
Butler, surrendered the abbey in April 1540. In 1541 the royal
reported that the church could be demolished; the other monastic
buildings were deemed necessary for the use of the local farmer,
Thomas Butler. In 1542 Thomas was created Baron of Caher with grants
of this abbey and Caher priory. In 1577 the property was transferred
to Cormac M’Teige M’Carthy.
The ruins were still visible
in the mid-eighteenth century but today there is no sign of the
abbey. However, the Protestant church at Marfield incorporates
some fragments of the old abbey; the east window may have been
from the abbey church and a Romanesque doorway dates from c. 1180
– 1200. A tomb slab is built into the wall of the churchyard,
decorated with an elaborate cross and inscription.