The ruins of this 13th century monastery are situated on the approach to the County Longford village to which it give its name. Abbeylara means "Abbey with the little rath / fort". Little of the abbey remains today. There nice arch that still stands supporting one side of what was once the main church. There is a winding staircase still intact. On the south wall is a very weather-worn statue that appears to be a Sheela-na-Gig.
A Sheela-na-Gig is a carving of a female that is depicted displaying her (exaggerated in size) vulva. Architectural grotesques, similar to gargoyles, they are found almost exclusively in Ireland and Britain. Around two-thirds of all Sheela-na-Gigs (over 100 carvings) are in Ireland alone.
There is no clear consensus about the function of Sheela-na-Gigs. Some scholars argue that they warded off evil spirits; others say they warned against female promiscuity. Another theory is that they were a link to the pre-Christian past, when Celtic fertility godesses were worshipped throughout Ireland. Many historians dispute this theory, and point out that most Sheela-na-Gigs appear on Anglo-Norman buildings, which were erected from the 10th century onward by people unconnected with Ireland's pre-Christian past.
The Abbeylara Sheela-na-Gig is a weather-worn statue that requires A LOT of imagination to still see its figures. Some claim it is Ireland's only known Sheela-na-Gig with a baby at its womb. The statue is so defaced, however, that it is unclear whether it is definitely a Sheela-na-Gig at all.
Founded in 1210 by the Anglo/Norman Tuite family, its monastic buildings were completed in 1214. Sir Richard Tuite was buried at the site. The abbey was colonised by Cistercian monks from St. Mary's abbey in Dublin.
In 1315 Bruce, Edward, brother of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, seized the abbey and spent the winter there. The Cistercian monks returned in 1316.
Sometime later, Abbeylara became the burial place of the O’Farrells, the local ruling clan.
In the 16th century, the last abbot, Richard O’Farrell, surrendered the monastery, its land and possessions to the British Crown in accordance with Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries Act. By that time, the abbey buildings were mostly in ruins, but it still held 5,000 acres of land, which was turned over to the Crown.
Abbeylara abbey ruins. Image by Jonathan Billinger via Geograph