Fethard, Ireland

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Situated a short distance south of Golden, Athassel Abbey, built in the 12th Century, was the most impressive achievement of the Augustinians. One of the country’s most extensive monasteries, its courts cover nearly four acres. The church is dedicated to St. Edmund, King and Martyr. It was founded by William Fitz-Aldhelm de Burgho, who established the Burke dynasty that became very influential in Co. Tipperary and beyond over the following two hundred years.

Following the death of Strongbow, Henry II wished to pursue a more peaceful policy in his governance of Ireland. In 1176 he sent his kinsman, the aforementioned William de Burgho, to govern in his name, and he charged him with replacing the harsh diplomacy of the sword with the serenity of religion. The Priory at Athassel was quickly established by William, and the years that followed saw the Abbey flourish into a centre of great spiritual and political importance.

The Structure

The Church is over 200 feet in length, and the building was altered and renovated over the course of three hundred years, roughly from 1200 to 1500. The nave had vaulted aisles supported by columns, and at the crossing of the building was built a tower. Two side chapels were placed in each transept, and all around the walls are groups of tall, slender lancet windows. Entrance to the choir is gained through a splendid 13th Century doorway, which was originally richly decorated with marble moulding. Interior decoration of the church elsewhere is quite plain, however, in comparison to more elaborate, contemporary, local buildings, such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dominic’s Abbey, both in Cashel, and Holycross Abbey. To the south of the nave was the cloister, and the usual associated buildings that one finds in a significant monastery: refectory, parlour, sacristy, chapter house and infirmary. The Abbey was well defended by a surrounding wall and gatehouse, complete with portcullis, which was accessed by a bridge.

The Abbey was twice burned, first in 1329 by Brian, King of Thomond, and again in 1581, by John Fitzgerald of Desmond. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th Century the property was granted to Thomas, Earl of Ormond. The buildings were subsequently neglected and fell into ruin, and are now in the care of the Office of Public Works. The nave of the Abbey is today used as a cemetery, and among the many bodies laid to rest in the chapel is that of William de Burgho, the man who established Athassel over 800 years ago.

Artwork Comments

  • binjy
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