09 Jun Grey Abbey, County Down
Thanks to being retained for parish worship for much of the 17th and 18th centuries, more remains of Grey Abbey church than of many other Irish monasteries. Built on Strangford Lough, it is set in mature parkland and has an atmosphere of monastic calm. The Abbey was founded in 1193 by Affreca, daughter of Godred, the Norse King of Man, and wife of John de Courcy, Norman conqueror of Ulster. It was probably built by the same Anglo-Norman masons who raised the great castles of Carrickfergus and Dundrum.
The Abbey’s masterpiece is the West door, an elaborate multi-arched confection of dog-tooth moulding supported by two clusters of carved pillars. A memorial on the nave wall recalls the fate in 1652 of Sir James (Montgomery) ‘by pirates shot and thereof dead, by them i’th sea solemnly buried’.
Grey Abbey is a hidden gem that is worth a visit on your tours of Ireland.