Abbeylara Cistercian Abbey
Abbeylara Cistercian Abbey is located 3.5km south-west of the town of Granard. Like many other monasteries in Longford, the abbey was likely to have been built on the site of a much earlier Christian church. In Abbeylara, it is said that the original Mainistir Lerha (abbey of Lara) was founded by St. Patrick himself, who appointed St Guasacht its first abbot.
The Cistercian house was founded in 1205 by Richard de Tuite, the Norman knight who built the motte in Granard; deTuite is said to have been interred here after his death in 1211 caused by a falling tower in Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
The abbey was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as was typical of Cistercian houses and it was a daughter house of the St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin, which colonised the monastery in 1214. This grew to be an abbey of some importance in the region, owning extensive lands and parish churches.
The monastery was dissolved by 1550 and in 1552 a lease of lands including the monastery was granted to Richard Nugent, Baron of Delvin.
The ruins largely date from its 13th century foundation, however, repairs and changes dating from the 15th century are evident. This is supported by the fact that in 1410 and 1435 the Pope allowed funds to be raised for its repair through the selling of ‘indulgences’.
One of the most interesting features of the church interior is what appears to be a sheela-na-gig, which is located on the south wall. Sheela-na-gigs (Síle na Gig) are grotesque carvings depicting wizened hags, usually nude and displaying their sex in a prominent manner.
The majority of these date from the middle ages and are usually associated with church buildings. They are thought to be talismen guarding the faithful against the temptations of the flesh.
Externally, the main living space for the monks would have been in the cloister, located to the south of the chapel. The cloister held ranges of rooms positioned around a central open space known as a ‘garth’.
The cloister hosted spaces for study and meditation as well as sleeping quarters.
The abbey is surrounded by an historic graveyard with a range of stone memorials dating from the 16th century to the 20th century.
The abbey and graveyard are open to the public