JERPOINT Location: nr Thomastown County:
Kilkenny Foundation: 1163-1165 Mother house:
Baltinglass Relocation: None Founder: Donal
MacGillapatrick Dissolution: 1540 Prominent members: Access: Office of Public Works - accessible to
The foundation date cannot be verified but it is generally accepted
that Jerpoint was founded between 1163 and 1165 by Donal MacGillapatrick
I, King of Ossory. Romanesque architecture in the eastern arm of
the abbey church also favours this date. However, Jerpoint was
officially recognised as part of the Cistercian Order until 1180,
when it was made a daughter house of Baltinglass. There is some
debate surrounding the abbey’s history before this date,
some believe the community was Benedictine others say that the
had been Cistercian from the time of the foundation. The abbey
was situated beside the river Eoir or Arrigle, not far from its
with the Nore. The Latin name of the abbey, ‘Jeripons’,
apparently refers to the bridge over the river Eoir. The construction
of the stone church was begun not long after the initial settlement
and finished c. 1200-1210. Jerpoint had two daughter houses, Killenny (1162-5) and Kilcooly (1184).
In 1217 the Cistercian General
Chapter organised a general visitation of Ireland
in order to investigate
disturbing reports about the conduct of some their Irish brethren.
When the visitor arrived at Jerpoint he was greeted with a riot,
in which four other abbeys were involved. The abbot of Jerpoint
was held responsible and soon after deposed. In 1227 Jerpoint
made subject to Fountains and
in 1228 Stephen of Lexington deprived Abbot Brendan of his title
and ordered him to go to Fountains
two years. After Stephen of Lexington visited Jerpoint in 1228
he drew up a long list of rules and regulations to be carefully
by the Cistercian monks of Ireland. Stephen was clearly unimpressed
with what he had found at Jerpoint: too much idle chatter, eating
and drinking, too much concern for personal belongings and too
much contact with outside world. Specific information concerning
regulations was also amongst the criticism directed at Jerpoint
At the time of Stephen’s visitations the number of religious
at Jerpoint was fixed at thirty-six monks and fifty lay-brothers.
The abbots of Jerpoint sat as peers in parliament. By end of the
thirteenth century Jerpoint was heavily in debt to Italian merchants
as a result of the practice of forward buying (receiving payment
in advance of production, in this instance of wool). In 1289 the
monks owed the firm of Bendinus Pannyth of Lucca almost £430.
In 1374 Jerpoint complained to the bishop of Ossory that it was
so impoverished by war between the Irish and the English in the
region that it could not fulfill its obligations of hospitality.
In 1442 the abbey was granted an indulgence for the repair of the
cloister, dormitory, bell-tower, other offices and the chapel
St. Moling. However, in relative terms the abbey was not as hard
up as it seemed. At the time of the Dissolution the annual income
of the abbey was valued at £87, making Jerpoint one of the
richest Cistercian abbeys in Ireland, and comparable in value
the smaller Cistercian monasteries in England. In 1539 the Lord
Deputy proposed that the monastery should continue, the monks
into a secular habit and the monastery serving as a house of hospitality.
It seems the proposal was dismissed and the abbey was surrendered
by the last abbot, Oliver (Grace), in 1540. In 1541 the royal commissioners
reported that the roof of the chancel had already been thrown
that the nave had served as a parish church for some time prior
to the Dissolution. The commissioners also ordered that the cloister,
dormitory and adjoining buildings should be demolished, and the
others left for the local farmer.
Following the Dissolution the property was granted to James Butler,
Earl of Ormond. In the early years of the nineteenth century the
Cistercian ruins of Ireland became popular with the romantics.
In 1823 the ruins of Jerpoint abbey inspired a nostalgic poem
‘Lines Written at Jerpoint Abbey’. Today there are
extensive ruins including the church (c 1160-1200) and an imposing
tower added in the fifteenth century. The six bay nave has alternating
square and cylindrical piers, following the design at Baltinglass,
although this design was abandoned in the final two bays in favour
of octagonal piers. This was probably the result of a lengthy
disjointed period of construction. The sacristy, chapter house
and parlour also remain but the south and west ranges are far
The cloister arcade was reconstructed in 1953. The capitals are
decorated with human faces, animals, grotesque beasts and flowers.
There is even a carving of a man with stomach ache. The sculpted
images belong to ‘the common stock of motifs used by Gothic
craftsmen throughout the British Isles’, and it is thought
that the statues date from c. 1400. The church also contains
of tombs and grave slabs, including two fine effigies of ecclesiasts.
The tomb of Bishop O’Dulany (d. 1202) lies in the church
transept. On the chancel are faded wall paintings depicting
of saints. The site, two kilometres south of Thomastown, has been
in the care of the Office of Public Works since 1880. The ruins
can be accessed by the public at all times.