The ruins of the Cistercian Abbey at Abbeyshrule were once part of a much larger community of buildings, not visible today except for the outline stones of quite a few foundations. This was the first Cistercian site in Longford County, and the fifth in the country following the first very successful settlement at Mellifont.
The Abbeyshrule monastery was funded by the O’Farrell family, and the site is scenically located along the River Inny, just east of Ballymahon. The name comes from the English word “abbey” and the Irish word sruth, which means “river,” because of its close proximity to the river. The graveyard adjoining the abbey contains the remains of a large number of ancestors of today’s southern County Longford families. It also contains the shaft of the only high cross discovered in County Longford.
Monks carrying the traditions of the Cistercian order first came to Ireland at the request of St. Malachy of Armagh in 1140 A.D. He discovered the order in other parts of Europe while making a pilgrimage to Rome.
Upon their arrival in Longford County, the Cistercians recruited local people to become monks and help build and run the community. The Cistercians conducted free schools, and taught the locals more advanced methods of agriculture. They also built corn mills on the river, and some of them can still be seen at Abbeyshrule, which later became one of the principal centres in Ireland for this activity.
The abbey was one of the largest in the area, rectangular with a square tower, and a unique spiral staircase near the cloisters. It contained many cells along with a chapel, sacristy, pantry refectory and kitchen.
The nearby river was used for transportation and communications, as there were few roads in those days. It functioned until the Tudor Era, when it was closed during the suppression ordered by Queen Elizabeth I.
After the closure, control of the property was given to Robert Dillon, Earl of Roscommon.
Today, in addition to the site of the abbey, the Abbeyshrule region is also home to the county’s only airfield, where flight lessons are given and a yearly festival is held for flight enthusiasts. The area also offers excellent angling opportunities in the rivers and Royal Canal, where roach, pike, bream, perch and trout are plentiful.