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Cistercians Abbeys: NEWRY

Name: NEWRY Location: Newry town County: Down
Foundation: 1153 Mother house: Mellifont
Relocation: None Founder: Maurice MacLoughlin
Dissolution: 1538/1550 Prominent members:
Access: No remains

Newry was founded in 1153 by Maurice MacLoughlin, king of Ireland, and was colonised by monks from Mellifont . The abbey was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, St. Patrick and St. Benedict. Apparently Finan O’Gorman, abbot of Newry, succeeded O’Dubhin (d. 1148) as bishop of Kildare and assisted in the synod of 1152. Based on this evidence it has been suggested that there may have been an earlier monastery at Newry, which did not become Cistercian until 1153. However, this argument has been refuted by Stalley who believes that the dedication to St. Benedict has misled some scholars. The Latin name of the abbey, Viride Lignum, meaning ‘the green tree’, was derived from a yew tree which was said to have been planted by St. Patrick himself. In 1162 the abbey library and the yew tree were destroyed by fire. In 1215-16 the abbot was threatened with deposition for not attending the Cistercian General Chapter and in 1227 the abbot was deposed for participating in the ‘conspiracy of Mellifont’. In 1536 abbot John of Newry conducted a visitation of Holycross Abbey and was extremely critical of what he found. He drew up a list of nine regulations to be closely followed in the future, some concerning the conduct of services, others the moral behaviour of the monks. These are regarded as a valuable insight into the daily life of an Irish Cistercian monastery on the eve of Dissolution.

At the time of Dissolution there were only three monks living at Newry and the annual income of the abbey was valued at just £35. In 1538 Newry was converted into a secular college, and thus managed to evade closure for a few years. The abbot took the title of provost, or head. In 1550 abbot John Prowle voluntarily surrendered Newry to the Crown. Two years later the property was granted to Sir Nicholas Bagenal, marshal of the royal army in Ireland. A chapel survived on the site until c. 1744 at which time the abbot’s house had seemingly been converted into a private residence. The site was cleared towards the end of the eighteenth century in order to make way for the construction of the modern town of Newry. Today there are no visible remains of the abbey, although a stone carved with a cross in low relief is built into the walls of McCann’s bakery, which lies on part of the site. Several streets are named after the monastery, for example, ‘Abbey Yard’.