Grey Abbey church, Northern Ireland

(Last Updated On: July 11, 2019)

We are in Northern Ireland mostly because we have friends here. This is a good thing for many reasons, including the fact that they have taken my rather scatter-brained ideas about what we would like to see and do and turned them into a fabulous three-day itinerary.

The first stop on that itinerary is Grey Abbey, a Cistercian abbey founded in 1193.

Unfortunately, it is only when we reach the abbey that I discover I didn’t put my freshly charged battery back in my camera and that I don’t have my spare with me. How can I be so stupid?!? Lane immediately hands me his new camera, but I am in a funk (and stay that way longer than I care to admit).

I owe my apologies to Andrew and Lesley for being such a crab, not only because this is a serene and beautiful place, but because Lesley has gone to the trouble of arranging a tour of the Abbey and its Physic Garden for us.

We start with the sunny medicine garden, a neatly maintained space overflowing with greenery and flowers. Stephen, the caretaker responsible for this, takes us around the garden. He encourages us to touch and smell various plants and warns us to keep our distance from others, all the while explaining how each would have been used by the monks who lived here in the past.

The abbey church is though to be the first Gothic structure in Ireland. As we walk through the ruins of the church and its supporting structures, Stephen brings to life a history of destruction and rebuilding, ending finally with the rather crude (and very obvious) repairs made in the late nineteenth century to stabilize the remains of the main structures. Inappropriate repairs aside, it is an evocative place.


Sir James by pirates shot and therefore dead.

By them in the sea solemnly buried.
12 March 165½

To the sub-aerial elements.
Devouring Hades! the ever hungry earth,
Would’st and shall eat up all that’s of thy birth,
Fal’n in thy lap, by Death of any kind.
But whom the Waters drink and lost day find:
Step to 1st Corinth. ch. 15 v. 51.

Yet graves and waves must all such guest restore
At that great day to live for evermore:
Tho’ he’s deceas’d, his noble acts and name
Longer than this can last, shall live by fame.
Prov. Ch. 22. V.1 .Eccl. ch.7 v. 5

Thus angels sung, glory to God on high.
Peace upon earth, good will tow’ards men may be,
So always pray, and always pray ought we.

Hsec pio animo, Filius ejus, Unions,
Mense Aprilis Anno a Salvatore Mundi Nato, MDCLII.
Excogitavit ilium lugebatque Londini.

At my full height my length did not surpass
My father’s shadow, as at noon it was.

Cannina mea tribuunt, Fama perennis erit.

The Abbey came into the hands of the Montgomery family early in the 1600s and remains such today. As we walk around the ruins it is a little startling to come across new memorials. The past and present are still bound closely here and, like the monastery at Clonmacnoise yesterday and the ruined temples of Thailand and Cambodia, this is still a living sacred space.

At the far end of the cloister area, Stephan notes that the 18th century mansion visible through the trees is Rosemount House. He claims the extended Montgomery family is not only associated with this Abbey, but also the producer of our Australian “house” wine back home.

Whether that is the case or not, Rosemount House isn’t part of the tour, so instead we circle back around the abbey church to the tumbled headstones and memorials that fill the graveyard.

Thanks to our friend Andy for letting me use some of his photos in this post.

Next post: Ambling in Greyabbey Town

London and Ireland itinerary

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