Mellifont Abbey , County Louth

Mellifont was , in medieval times, one of the most important monasteries in Ireland , the motherhouse of the Cistercian order and building of exceptional beauty and grandeur. The ruins you see today do no justice to this former glory, but they're still pretty impressive. So have a look on any tours of Ireland.

At its foundation in 1142 - the inspiration of St Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh , who did much to bring the early Irish Church closer to Rome - Mellifont was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. Malachy's friend St Bernard, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux in France, did much to inspire the work , and sent nine of his own monks to form the basis of the new community. The abbey took 15 years to build , and you can gauge something of its original size and former glory by imagining the gargantuan pillars the once rose , finishing high among a riotous sprouting of arches and vaulted ceilings , from the broad stumps remaining today. For nearly 400 years Mellifont flourished , at its peak presiding over as many as 38 other Cistersian monasteries throughout the county, until in 1536 all of them where dissolved by Henry VIII.

One hundred and fifty monks fled from Mellifont, and the buildings were handed over to Edward Moore , ancestor of the Earls of Drogheda, who converted the place into a fortified mansion. In 1603 the last of the great Irish Chieftains, Hugh O'Neill , was starved into submission here before eventually escaping to the Continent in the Flight of the Earls. Mellifont , meanwhile, went into gradual decline. it was attacked by Cromwellian forces , and then used as William's headquarters during the Battle of the Boyne , before eventually falling so far as to be pressed into service as a pigsty in the 19th century. A great history to experience on Ireland tours.....a must see attraction.