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Manister Abbey
Mainistir an Aonaigh

      The parish of Manister is situated about 3 miles from Croom in County Limerick. It derives its name from the foundation of a monastery in the middle of the 12th Century. The remains of this once magnificent abbey dominate the archaeological landscape of the region and every year, students of both architecture and history, as well as many casual tourists, come to study and admire the monastery and its environs. (Previously Manister had been known as Kilmargy)


      In 1148 A.D., the King of Munster, Turlough O'Brien, defeated the Danes at the nearby fort of Rathmore. He gave thanks for his victory by establishing a monastery in the region of 1151. He chose a superb site on a flat limestone rock on the eastern bank of the Commogue River. The monastery was dedicated to the glory and honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and it was donated to the Cistercian Order of Monks, who had just previously established the magnificent monastery at Mellifont, in County Louth. Turlough O'Brien made sure that the monastery was handsomely endowed and it rapidly became famous for its wealth and sanctity. In fact, the abbot of the monaster was honoured by the Pope who sent a mitre as a token of his satisfaction. The abbot was also granted a seat in the great councils of the kingdom. The abbey was extended and enriched during the reign of Dónal Mór O'Brien (1170-1194).

      The political importance of the monastery is underlined by the fact that the abbot was a Lord of Parliament and records also show that in the first half of the 13th. Century the abbots were involved in a number of lawsuits, one of which involved an abbot who had sold land belonging to the monastery and another about the succession of abbots.

The First Battle of Manister
      From its early years the monastery was plundered by Danes but a particularly devastating attack on the monastery occured in 1307. A party of Norman noblemen which included Gerald, Earl of Desmond, and his sons were visiting the abbot when they were attacked by O'Brien of Thomond. The Earl, his sons and his noblemen were captured and those who had helped them within the abbey were put to death. The monastery itself was considerably destroyed in the attack.

The Second Battle of Manister
      In 1579, the monastery was again subjected to considerable destruction. In that year, Sir John Fitzgerald, brother of the Earl of Desmond, assembled a force of 2000 Irish and Spanish, headed by Father Allen, a legate from the Pope. They were assisted by the abbot of the monastery. The army assembed on the nearby plain. They were engaged in battle by Sir William Malby, at the head of 150 cavalry and 600 infantry and were defeated with great slaughter. The defeated Irish and Spanish fled and took refuge in the nearby abbey. The English cannons, however, were turned on the abbey and large sections of it were destroyed, including the rectory and cloisters. The surrounding wall was completely razed to the ground. Malby's victory was total and the entire monastic community was put to the sword.

      The Earl of Desmond, himself, had witnessed the entire battle from a hill, a mile distant (now called Tory Hill). Having seen the annihilation of his brother's forces, he chose not to get involved and retired in haste to his strong castle at Askeaton.

      The monaster, though it never recovered its original importance, existed until the dissolution, and with all its possessions was granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Henry Wallop, who fitted up the choir for a parochial church.

      The ownership of the abbey changed hands regularly from then on and dilapidated gradually over the years. The belfry fell in 1807 and the chancel vault collapsed in 1874, bringing with it much of the fine east window.







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      A more detailed account of the history of Manister and its Abbey can be obtained by reading the text of a presentation delivered by Mainchín Seoighe (Mannix Joyce) in Manister Abbey on August 14th., 1992. Click here to view the full text of his speech.




Photographs: Adrian Ryan & Dan Quain

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