BOYLE Location: nr Boyle County:
Roscommon Foundation: 1148 Mother house:
Mellifont Relocation: c. 1156, 1158-9, 1161 Founder:
MacDermots of Moylurg Dissolution: - 1589 Prominent members:
Donchad O’Daly Access: Heritage of Ireland - Open to the public
Boyle abbey was first founded in 1148 under the patronage of the
local ruling family, the MacDermots of Moylurg, and was colonised
with monks from Mellifont. The first monks originally settled at
Grellechdinach under Abbot Peter O’Mordha. The community moved
to Drumconaid c. 1156 and then to Buniffi c. 1158-9. The final move
was to Ath-da-Larc on the river Boyle in 1161. It seems that this
was the site of an earlier monastery, also known as Ath-da-Larc,
but no remains of it survive and it had probably died out before
the community from Mellifont arrived. It is not known what caused
the community to move three times; interference from the lay world
or the unsuitability of the terrain are thought to be two possibilities.
The Latin name of the abbey represents the local river: ‘Bellium’,
the Boyle. Scant resources and the impediments of war meant that
the abbey took a very long time to complete. In 1202 construction
was interrupted when the abbey was seized by an alliance of English
and Irish troops under the command of William de Burgo and Cathal
Crovderg O’Conor. The church was finally consecrated some
time between 1218 and 1220; almost sixty years after the first stones
were laid. Boyle was one of the main instigators in the ‘conspiracy
of Mellifont’ (1216-1228); in 1227 the General
the Abbot of Boyle and in 1228 the abbey was affiliated directly
with Clairvaux. It is argued that it was at this time that some
of the monks from Boyle joined the Premonstratensian foundation
on Trinity Island, taking with them their manuscripts and learning.
In 1235 Boyle was attacked and plundered by English forces under
the command of Maurice Fiztgerald and McWilliam; they took possession
of the abbey, seized all goods, vestments and chalices belonging
to the abbey and stripped the monks of their habits in the cloister.
The abbey was subject to further attacks during the feuds between
the warring MacDermot and O’Conor clans.
No reliable sources concerning the annual income of the abbey
survive, although a list of lands drawn up in 1569 indicate that
one of the most richly-endowed religious houses in Ireland. It
is not clear exactly when the abbey was dissolved; the Act of Dissolution
had little impact in Moylurg which was then outside the royal sphere
of influence. Following the Dissolution the abbey was affected
a succession dispute amongst the MacDermot clan, one faction included
the abbot of Boyle, also king of Moylurg. In 1569 Queen Elizabeth
granted the property to Patrick Cusack of Gerrardston, County Meath.
It is unlikely that there was still a functioning community in
at this time, although Tomaltach MacDermot was still abbot in 1577.
In 1584 Glaisne O’Cuillenain, abbot of Boyle, was executed
in Dublin, after refusing to renounce his allegiance to Rome.
abbey was probably suppressed shortly after this incident. In 1589
a lease of the abbey was granted to William Ussher and from 1592
the monastery buildings were used as barracks, known as ‘Boyle
Castle’. In 1607 King John built ‘a great castle’
at Boyle; the monastic buildings were extensively altered and rebuilt
in order that they could be put to military use; the east range
was completely demolished. It was for this reason that the abbey
was besieged in 1645, during the Cromwellian wars.
Though mutilated during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
when it was used to accommodate a military garrison, Boyle abbey
has been remarkably well preserved. The abbey has one of the finest
Romanesque churches of the Cistercian Order in Ireland, and the
thirteenth-century tower remains intact to a height of over sixty-foot.
Built over sixty years, the abbey church exhibits features of
the Romanesque and Gothic periods: the most notable being the row
of rounded arches on one side of the nave which faces a row of
arches on the other side. Some parts of the abbey were built in
the austere style of the classical Cistercians whilst the western
part of the nave has been carved with elaborate designs. Seven
of the capitals in this section of the church were ornamented
animals and human figures, the work of the so-called Ballintober
Master. There is also a stylised beast head carved into the sedilia.
The abbey is the recorded burial place of twenty-one MacDermots,
thirteen of them kings of Morlurg, and of twelve known members
the royal family of Boyle. Abbot Donchad O’Daly (d. 1250)
is considered a medieval poet of special merit. He is now spoken
as the Ovid of Ireland.
The site is now managed by Heritage of
Ireland and the recently restored gatehouse now houses an exhibition
visitors centre. The site is open to the public at regular times
throughout the year.