Friday, 10 June 2011

Athassel Abbey Co Tipperary





     Above Image: The Cloister

       Above Image: The Stone roof



    Above Image: The eerie stone carvings

      Above Image: The Medieval Bridge


        Above Image: The gate is locked. The wooden stile
                           can be seen to the right of the gate


Athassel Abbey was founded for the Augustinians by William Fitz-Aldhem deBurgho in 1192AD. It grew over the next three centuries to become the largest Abbey in Ireland. It covered almost four acres of land and so important was it, that a town grew up around it. the Town has now disappeared but the remains of the Abbey express the greatness of this site. It is off the beaten track and not as heavily advertised as other Abbeys so don't be surprised if you find yourself alone on your visit.
Throughout it's history it was burned twice. Once in 1329 and again in 1581. Finally it was dissolved in 1537 and lands granted to Thomas the Earl of Ormond who neglected the Abbey and subsequently allowed it to fall into ruin.
When you first lay eyes on the Abbey, it looks fairly innocuous, lying in a cattle pasture. It is only when you reach its Gatehouse that you begin to perceive how huge this site was. There are vaulted Aisles in the Nave along with gravestones dating from de Burgho himself up to recent times. We saw a grave stone dated 2008, so the Abbey was still used for this purpose up to modern times.
You enter the Abbey by way of a medieval bridge which crosses a now dried up tributary of the nearby Suir river. You will need to cross a wooden stile in the fence to the right of the padlocked gate. Once in, you will see right through the nave and the vaulted archway to the Alter at the rear of the Church. The Church is almost 200 feet in length and there are two side Chapels in each Transept.
We have come across large Monastic sites before, Bective and Fore Abbeys for example, but we have never seen such an awe-inspiring structure as this. My wife likened it to the Grandeur of Glastonbury Abbey. It is a hidden gem and a must visit. You could literally spend hours here as there is so much to see.
There are a set of stone steps which lead to a two tiered stone roof from which the views of the Galtee mountains are spectacular. This roof also overlooks the cloister below.
One aspect of this visit has been left for last. There is a distinct atmosphere about the place, especially within the church. It is to say, a little unsettling, as if you were being observed. Outside the walls are nothing but the grazing cows, but within....we're not sure. Watched and followed, that's what it felt like. The eerie statues in the church of St Joseph and a headless boy Jesus, now worn by time, look almost ghostly. All of this is not to say that we wanted to leave quickly, we didn't, but there is most definitely something strange afoot.
To find Athassel take the N74  from Cashel towards Tipperary Town. When you enter the Town of Golden and cross the Bridge over the Suir, take the first turn left. It is a country road and narrow but you can park as we did opposite the gate leading into the meadow in which Athassel is situated. Don't block any of the gates as there is a working Farm here. You can access the locked field by climbing over a stile built into the wall, but tread carefully across the meadow as it is littered like landmines, with cow pats!

9 comments:

  1. I just recently visited Athassel and know what you mean about the `distinct atmosphere' there. My wife and I both felt as though we were being accompanied silently through the ruins. No bad feelings at all but, as you say, `a little unsettling'. Magnificent ruin. Incredibly beautiful - especially in the early morning mist. Thanks for the post here. I found your piece quite interesting and well written and your photos are much better than my own. Nicely done. Cheers.

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    1. Hi Joshua

      Thanks for your kind comments and looking in on the blog. Truly one of my favorite spots in Ireland. Cheers to you too for taking time out to comment.

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  2. I have fished the river Suir beside the Abbey for over 46 years, sometimes walking back across the bridge well after midnight to the car , I can attest to the 'distinct atmosphere' you described ,it is not a frightening experience , but you do know that you are not walking alone !
    Michael O'Reilly

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    1. Good to hear from you Michael. Yes a bit unsettling there. I know it had a turbulent history and someone described it once as "A Thin Place" presumably a thin veil between this world and the next. A strange feeling nonetheless and a really impressive ruin.

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  3. Great post. I found it researching a blog post about our recent visit. It really was an incredible ruin, but I have to say we didn't feel any otherworldly presence. Maybe it's because we were there on a bright, sunny day!

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments on the blog Cory. It seems different people have different experiences but nonetheless what we all have in common is that we enjoyed the visit!

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  4. Great historical reading, I recently visited the abbey with my partner and we were in awe of the vastness of the site. I must say like previous visitors we too felt as if we were being watched, but not in a threatening way. We couldn't figure out what the cave like structure were, we thought some sort of wine cellar or food storage pantry. Maybe you can shed some light on this. Truly mystical place well worth visiting.

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    1. Hi thanks for your kind comments. I'm not sure about the cave like structure. In which section of the Abbey did you spot this? If it was inside the Abbey walls it probably was some sort of storage area

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