Knockmoy Abbey is a Cistercian abbey in the village of Abbeyknockmoy in County Galway. Founded in the late 12th century by Cathal Crovdearg O’Connor, the last great King of Connacht, the abbey is one of the best-preserved examples of 12th century church architecture in Ireland. 

Knockmoy Abbey, also known as The Monastery of the Hill of Victory, was established in 1189-90 by Cathal O’Connor, who was later buried in the abbey in 1244. He invited Cistercian monks from Boyle Abbey in County Roscommon to settle in Knockmoy and follow the strict rules of their order. The abbey was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist.

The abbey prospered under the patronage of the O’Connor dynasty and became a center of learning and culture. However, it also faced several challenges and conflicts throughout its history. In 1200, the abbey was plundered by William De Burgo, a Norman lord who later became the Earl of Ulster. In 1228, it was attacked again by another Norman lord, Richard De Burgo. In 1440, the abbot of the abbey was censured by his superiors for allowing his hair to be washed by a woman. In 1483, he was accused of setting fire to the abbey.

The abbey survived the Reformation and continued to function as a monastic community until the 17th century. However, after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the abbey was confiscated and given to the Blake family in 1652. The monks were forced to leave and the abbey fell into ruin. The last abbot of Knockmoy died in 1725.

Despite its decay, Knockmoy Abbey still retains many features that showcase its artistic and architectural significance. The abbey consists of a church nave, chancel, transept and two chapels. The layout reflects its Cistercian origins, with an emphasis on simplicity and austerity. However, some elements also show influences from other styles, such as Gothic and Romanesque.

One of the most remarkable features of Knockmoy Abbey is its medieval fresco, which is one of the last surviving examples in Ireland. The fresco is located on the wall of the chancel and depicts scenes from the Passion of Christ. It probably dates from around 1400 and was painted by a local artist using natural pigments. The fresco is faded and damaged, but some details can still be discerned, such as Christ’s crown of thorns, Judas’ kiss and Peter’s denial.

Another notable feature of Knockmoy Abbey is its sculptural decoration, which can be seen on various capitals, corbels and tombs. The sculptures depict human and animal figures, floral motifs and geometric patterns. Some of them are humorous or grotesque, such as a man biting his tongue or a monkey playing a harp. Some of them are symbolic or religious, such as a lamb or a cross.

The abbey also contains several tombs, some of which belong to members of the O’Connor family or other local nobles. One of them is inscribed with one of the very few late medieval stone inscriptions written in the Irish language. It reads: “A prayer for Tadhg O’Kelly who had this tomb made”. Another tomb is decorated with coats of arms and heraldic devices.

Knockmoy Abbey is open daily and free of charge. There is no visitor signage or facilities on site. Knockmoy Abbey is a fascinating place to explore for anyone interested in medieval history, art or architecture. It offers a glimpse into the life and culture of a Cistercian monastery in Ireland and reveals some secrets and stories that are not widely known. If you are looking for a hidden gem of Irish history, you should visit Knockmoy Abbey.


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Knockmoy Abbey



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