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Cistercians Abbeys: DUNBRODY

Name: DUNBRODY Location: Waterford Harbour County: Wexford
Foundation: 1182 Mother house: Dublin, St. Mary’s
Relocation: None Founder: Herve de Montmorency
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: Accessible to the public

In 1171-2 Herve de Montmorency (one of the feudal adventurers who had accompanied Strongbow in the initial invasion of Leinster) made a grant of land to the Cistercians of Buildwas Abbey (Shropshire). Subsequently a lay-brother was sent to inspect the site. Upon his arrival, he discovered a place of vast solitude and was forced to take up residence in a hollow oak tree. Nothing seems to have come of the grant until 1182 when Leonard, the abbot of St. Mary’s, Dublin, went to Buildwas to discuss the matter with Abbot Ranulph. Ranulph gave Leonard the right to take over Herve’s grant and a new abbey was founded at Dunbrody in the same year. John O’Heyne was sent as the first abbot with twelve monks from St. Mary’s, and the abbey was confirmed by Pope Lucius III (1181-5). Two or three decades passed before the monks commenced construction of the church in stone. The Latin name of the abbey is a reference to the location combined with a dedicatory formula: ‘Portus St. Mariae’, the harbour of St. Mary. Dunbrody had a strong anglophile sentiment and in 1228 one of the brothers attended Stephen of Lexington during his visitation of the Irish Cistercian houses. Dunbrody had a monastic prison on site. In 1390 David Esmond, a commissioner of Richard II, sent to investigate extortion in Wexford, was captured by the monks of Dunbrody and imprisoned for sixteen days. He was only released when he swore that he would not prosecute any of them for these proceedings.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Dunbrody’s annual income was exceedingly low, valued at £28, with a potential peace-time value of £40. In the later middles ages Dunbrody was continually exposed to attacks from the Kavanaghs, who made regular forays in south Wexford, and many of its estates were waste when the monastery was dissolved in 1536. Although the community was disbanded, the local priest at Dunbrody continued to use the title of abbot for many years to come. In 1545 Dunbrody was granted to an English soldier, Sir Osborne Etchingham. Monastic land was often used as bait to encourage English gentry to settle in Ireland and so reinforce the authority of the crown. Etchingham converted the abbey into a Tudor mansion c. 1546-7. In the early years of the nineteenth century the ruins at Dunbrody Abbey inspired a number of poems, expressing a sense of nostalgic sentiment for the old monastery. In 1852 the south arcade collapsed from disintegration and decay. The ruins are now conserved for public display by the state and the abbey houses a craft shop and small museum, including a scale replica of the mansion built by Etchingham. There are various activities at the site, including tours of the abbey, mini-golf, and a full size hedge maze.