Durrow Abbey, County Offaly

Little is left of this once great Abbey, founded in 553 by St Columba, or Colmcille. The Venerable Bede called it ‘a noble monastery known as Dearmach, the Field of Oaks, because of the oak forest in which it stands’.

Though it was plundered and burnt several times during the Dark Ages, its 9th or 10th century High Cross survives, as do a number of early tombstones and a well. The cross is carved with scenes from the Bible, now weathered and indistinct, including the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Crucifixion, and soldiers guarding the tomb of the 7th century illuminated manuscript, the Book of Durrow, now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1186 the Anglo-Norman lord of Meath, Hugh de Lacy, was killed here by a workman. De Lacy was overseeing the final demolition of Durrow Abbey, on the site of which he planned to build a castle, and the workman, outraged at such profanity, struck his head off with an axe.

Durrow Abbey is a real hidden gem and is worth a visit on your Ireland tours.