Monastic Ireland.








Display site:

Monasternenagh (Abbey)

also known as: Mainistir an Aonaigh; Magium

Order: Cistercian

The exquisite carving, almost hidden by rough masonry of the nave at Monasternenagh abbey, survive as a glimpse of this once-powerful abbey. The abbey as it stands today, on grassland and often surrounded by cows, belies its colourful, and often controversial, history.
show more...

Dedicated to: Blessed Virgin Mary
Diocese: Limerick
Affiliated to: Mellifont

Barony: Pubblebrien/ Coshma/ Small County
Civil Parish: Monasteranenagh
Kingdom/Lordship: O'Brien
Access: Extensive ruins on private lands.

Site Description: The abbey was conceived on an ambitious scale. It would have been the largest stone building for miles around and is thought to have been the model for St Mary’s cathedral Limerick. As originally built c. 1170–1200, it comprised a cruciform church with aisled nave and domestic buildings ranged around a southern cloister. In common with its mother house, it had a vaulted presbytery and three vaulted chapels projecting eastward from the transepts – an architectural composition inherited from the Cistercian heartland in Burgundy. The liturgical importance of the east end was highlighted by complex arch mouldings and delicate foliate sculpture, becoming plainer towards the west end of the church.

The changing fortunes of the abbey are reflected in a major contraction of the church, either during the later medieval period, or perhaps following the Dissolution. This was achieved by shortening the nave and blocking off the transepts. The south transept was subsequently converted into a fortified tower house. In later centuries the domestic ranges were used as a quarry for local farm buildings, so that now only the church and chapter house remain standing.

Main events in the history of this site

1148Foundation - The monastery was founded in 1148 by Turlogh O’Brien (Toirrdelbach mac Diarmata Ua Briain), King of Thomond.
(Gywnn and Hadcock, Med. Houses, 141) 
c.1174 - Abbot of Monasternenagh, Donatus, witnessed a grant to Gill Abbey, Cork c. 1174. 
1200 - Nov. 1: The K. grants and confirms to the abbey and monks of Blessed Mary de Magio of the lands etc. which they have of the gift of the K.’s ancestors, of their benefactors since the K. arrived in Ireland, and of the Kings and Princes as well of the Irish as of Franks, to hold in frankalmoign, free from all secular service, according to the liberty of the Cistercian order (see Article 1) 
c.1209 - Abbeyfeale was united to Monasternenagh as a cell or grange. The abbey of Kilshane was united at an earlier stage. 
1227, July 23 - King Henry III granted special protection to the abbeys and abbots of Mellifont, Graignemanagh, Holycross and Magio, and their tenants. 
1227 - Following the Conspiracy of Mellifont, the abbey of Monasternenagh was made subject to Margam in Wales.
The number of monks was probably fixed in 1228 at 36, with 50 laybrothers, as at Jerpoint. 
1228Rebellion of monks at Monasternenagh - As recorded in the Letters of Stephen of Lexington, the Irish monks at Monasternenagh expelled the abbot and all English and other monks who had been sent to restore order following the Conspiracy of Mellifont the previous year. The Irish monks prepared and provisioned the abbey for a siege, building a fortified tower above the altar. The ringleader of the rebellion was a nephew of the King of Thomond. Hubert de Burgo, Bishop of Limerick, sent armed help, the abbey was captured, and the offending monks were excommuicated. The abbot and monks who had been driven out were restored, and the fugitive monks who later returned were absolved. 
1229, September 10 - The justiciary is ordered to try the case of Maurice de Londres against the Abbot May, touching two knights fees in Glenogra, unless it be held by the king's charter. 
1234, June 19 - Maurice Fitzgerald, the justiciary, was called on to try another suit between the same parties (Donatus being Abbot), regarding Ballihodor, Enaghcully etc, which had been heard before the Cistercian chapter. 
1237, 2 May - Adam, Abbot of Monasternenagh, complains that Maurice de Londres (of London) had pleaded against Abbot William, who had retired, and Abbot Donatus, who had been deposed, and then pleaded while the abbacy was vacant to the detriment of the Abbey, until Adam was promoted to be Abbot. 
1272 - In 1272, the abbots of Monasternenagh and Abbeydorney changed places without authority. 
1276 - The archbishop of Cashel complained to the chapter general about the abbot of Monasternenagh, who was deposed in 1282. 
1291 - In the roll of receipt of Easter term, 50s is reported as having been received from the Abbot de Magio (Monaster Nenagh), ‘for grace’ on Saturday, 12 May. A second entry relating to Monasternenagh in the roll of receipt for Michaelmas term records that on Wednesday, November 26, Adam de Dermeho, Abbot de Magio (of Monasternenagh), paid 40d. for plevin of Nicholas Butevyleyn.  
1302 - 6 - The Ecclesiastical Taxation of Ireland valued the houses of Magio at 60l. 13s. 4d, with a tenth valued at 6l. 0s, 16d. 
1302, February 22 - The Abbot of Magio prayed the King (Edward I.) to grant him terms for payment of £209 6s. 8d., due by the convent to Gerard Gymbard, and other members of the Ricardi company of Lucca, which was exacted from the abbot because the chattels and debts of the said merchants had been taken in to the king’s hands. The king wrote from Roxborough ordering the justiciary to give favourable terms because of the poverty of the house. 
1304 - Isaac Abbot of Mage granted to John Fitzsimon Bathe “the whole grange of Grangenaw for the space and term of thirty years, paying annually thereout forty cronnogs of bread corn, twenty of pease and beans, and twenty of oats, all properly cleansed and winnowed, and also that he should pay suit and service at their court of Mage twice every year”, and “if the said John, his heirs or assigns, should at any time be amerced in the said court the fine should not exceed 6d.” 
1307 - William, the Abbot, granted to Robert, Bishop of Limerick, all the land which Laurence O’Senyk held in Camysbeg, for the term of twenty-nine years, at a rent of 50s. 
+ 14 minor events. Show minor events

People associated with this site

Henry III , king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine

John , King of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou

Donnchad Cairpreach mac Domnaill Móir O'Brien (Ó Briain) , King of Thomond

Turlough (Toirrdelbach mac Diarmata Ua Briain) O'Brien (Ó Briain) , King of Limerick, King of Thomond (Founder)

Stephen of Lexington , Cistercian Abbot successively of Stanley, Savigny and Clairvaux

Bibliographical sources

5 Printed sources

show sources

Archival sources

British Museum (The National Library of Ireland also holds a microfilm copy), 'Cartae, qua Johannes Rex confirmavit Abbatie S. Marie de Magio in Hibernia, omnes terras et tenement', (Document),

British Museum (The National Library of Ireland also holds a microfilm copy), 'Mandate of the Abbot of Citeaux to the Abbot and Convent of Margam to take over the filiation of the', (Document), (View website)

Related articles on Monastic Ireland

1. 1200: The K. Grants and confirms the abbey and monks of Blessed Mary de Magio, Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Volume 1, pp. 21 - 22
2. Letter from Stephen of Lexington regarding the redistribution of the houses previously affiliated to Maigue (Letter 77), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
3. Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot of Maigue (Letter 74), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
4. Report of Stephen of Lexington of the rebellion at Maigue. (Letter 89), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
5. Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot of Maigue (Letters 90 and 91), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
6. Letters from Stephen of Lexington to the King and Queen of Thomond (Letters 92 and 93), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Letter from Stephen of Lexington concerning the new affiliation of houses involved in the Conspiracy of Mellifont (Letter 78), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot of Shrule (Letter 55), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot ofSt. Mary\'s Abbey, Dublin (Letter 98), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Bishop of Chichester (Letter 69), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Council of Abbots (Letter 22), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982
Stephen of Lexington to the Abbot of Clairvaux (Letter 24), Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O\'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982

Images of this site

Interior, west wall, two round-headed windows with mouldings

Letter from William, Abbot of Nenay (de Magio) to William, Abbot of Holy Cross

Monasternenagh, General View from the NE


Monasternenagh, Interior, NW crossing pier, W face, capital, seen from S.

Monasternenagh, The abbey was reduced in size by blocking the transept arches and inserting a new W wall enclosing the two E bays of the nave in the later middle ages.

Seal of the letter from William,Abbot of Nenay (de Magio) to William, Abbot of Holy Cross


View of Monasternenagh from the north-west

Monasternenagh, Interior, NW crossing pier, W face, capital, seen from S.

Limerick, OSI Grid:R5504340771
View site details on the National Monuments Database[new window]