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Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford, Ireland

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Tintern Abbey is a ruined monastery in south County Wexford, Ireland, close to the town of Wellingtonbridge. It and its grounds are open to the public and are a popular attraction for visitors as well a lovely place for walks for locals.

History of the Abbey

At the start of the 13th Century, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, was sailing to Ireland. He was a Norman, a member of the warrior class who had conquered England and Wales in the 11th Century and had just started their conquest of Ireland about 30 years before this fateful sea crossing.

The boat was caught in a storm. He prayed to God for help and vowed he would build a church if he survived the storm. His boat ran ashore safely in Bannow Bay, County Wexford. In thanksgiving, he made a large donation of money and land to the Cistercian monks of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales, and many of them came to Wexford and set up a monastery there in 1203. Confusingly, they named it Tintern Abbey, the same name as their original abbey in Wales. To distinguish between the two, the one in Wales was often called Tintern Major while the one in Wexford was Tintern de Voto (Tintern of the Vow).

The monastery had 9,000 acres of land and the monks lived a life of farming and prayer until the 16th Century, the time of Henry VIII. Henry had a fight with the Church and decided to close down all the monasteries throughout England, Wales and Ireland. The closures took place in the 1530s and 40s; Tintern in Wexford went the way of all monasteries.

Although officially in the care of Sir John Croft, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, nothing was done with the buildings or land for about 20 years. Locals used the abbey as a burial ground - a hundred people were buried there at this time. Then in 1562, Henry granted the abbey and land to a soldier, Anthony Colclough (pronounced 'Coke-Lee'), from Staffordshire. The Colcloughs lived in the abbey, converting parts of it into a fortified tower-house. The parts which were not used as a house gradually fell into disrepair and became ruins.

By the 18th Century, there was no longer any need for fortification, but it became fashionable to pretend you lived in a castle, even for those who actually did. Sir Vesey Colclough built a number of walls around the estate with mock battlements, and the impressive Abbey Bridge across the sluggish, tidal Tintern River.

The last of the family was Lucy Wilmot Maria Susanna Biddulph-Colclough (1890-1983), known as Marie. In 1959 she had to leave Tintern due to ill health. In 1963, she donated the abbey and the grounds to the nation. The Office of Public Works has looked after Tintern ever since. They are gradually converting the house back to what it was like as an abbey, restoring parts of the more ruinous bits and removing 19th- and 20th-Century additions. Most of the land was sold off but 100 acres have been kept as a suitable setting for the abbey.

Tintern Today

Today, the area is a public amenity:

  • The grounds are open to all and there are a number of short walking trails marked out through them:

    • Blue trail - 0.9km, flat, even underfoot - to Colclough Walled Garden
    • Red trail - 2.4km, 50m ascent, rough paths - around the Tintern Demesne
    • Purple trail - 3.5km, 200m ascent, rough paths - forest walk
    • Green trail - 7.2km - out of estate and along public roads to local village of Saltmills and Bannow Bay

  • The inside of the abbey is open to visitors by guided tour only. The tour lasts about 45 minutes.

  • There's a coffee shop that serves reasonable coffee, cakes and lunches in a converted coach house.

  • The Colclough Walled Garden has been restored and is open to the public for a small admission charge.

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