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Cistercian Abbeys: ASSAROE

Name: ASSAROE Location: nr Ballyshannon County: Donegal
Foundation: 1178 Mother house: Boyle
Relocation: None Founder: kings of Tirconaill
Dissolution: + 1597 Prominent members:
Access: Accessible to the public

Assaroe was founded in 1178 and was colonized with a group of monks from Boyle. Some sources give the founder as Roderick O’Cananan, prince of Tirconaill; others name Flaharty, who killed Roderick in battle in 1188. In 1184 the monastery was dedicated to God and St. Bernard by Flaharty O’Muldorry, lord of Tirconaill, so it can be assumed that he was at least patron of the abbey at this time. Flaharty was to die at the abbey in 1197, aged 59. The monastery was located on a hillside overlooking the estuary of the River Erne, about three-quarters of a mile north-west of Ballyshannon. The Latin title of the monastery represents the name of the local river: ‘Samarium’. In 1227 the abbot of Assaroe was involved in the ‘conspiracy of Mellifont’ (1216-1228) and his immediate deposition was decreed. In 1268 the abbot of Assaroe was deposed for refusing to attend the Cistercian General Chapter for twelve years. Donal Mor O’Donnell, king of Tirconaill, became a monk at the monastery and was buried within the grounds in 1241. The O’Donnell family seems to have been closely associated with the abbey from this time.

Aedh, son of Donal O’Donnell, became a monk at the monastery and died there in 1333. The monastery was burnt in 1377, and John O’Donnell and his son were slain there in 1380. Many were killed when the O’Donnell stronghold at the monastery was attacked in 1388. The abbey suffered still further at the hands of local rivalries when it was plundered by Niall Og O’Neill, King of Tyrone, in 1398. Following the Dissolution, the monks continued to reside at the monastery, despite the fact that the abbey estates were granted out to English lords soon after the Reformation. The monks had few resources and little financial aid; for them life must have been extremely tough. In 1558-9 the income of the house was valued at a meager £21. Assaroe survived in this fashion until the end of the fifteenth century; it was only after the flight of the earls in 1607 that the last of the monks were said to have been driven out. The site of the old monastery is now occupied jointly by a graveyard and a farmyard. The only part of the abbey to survive is the west end of the church, including a section of the south wall and part of the west gable. The remains are accessible but heavily overgrown.