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Drumlane Abbey

Drumlane abbey is an ancient ruin in a scenic location overlooking a lake, accessed via a narrow country laneway, 4 miles / 6.5km from Belturbet, County Cavan. A truly hidden gem, the abbey lies just outside the small rural village of Milltown, and is accessible only via a narrow country laneway. Saint Mogue , who has close associations with County Cavan, was long believed to have established the original monastery on this site in the 6th century. However, evidence suggests it may have in fact been established by Saint Columba, one of Ireland's earliest and best-known Christian evangelists. Today, the ruins of later structures, as well as the original round tower are visible.

  • Most notable are the Round Tower and the church, from medieval times
  • They contain some interesting carvings of birds, bishops, abbots, and kings, all adorning the door and window areas

Although the abbey originated in early Christian period, the Augustinians from Kells controlled it from the 13th or 14th century onward. It is also the site of two graveyards -- a medieval one, within the walls of the monastery, and a recent one (still used) just outside it.

Round Tower

Drumlane’s most impressive feature is its circular round tower, which is the most well preserved part of this ruin, and is believed to date from around the year 555. Round Towers of the early medieval period in Ireland were built as protective enclosures. The monks would have stored their valuables and sacred text in this tower. The only entrance would have been high above the ground, so that a ladder was required, which was then raised into the building upon attack. If under threat, the monks would drop buckets of boiling tar from the tower on to their attackers, who in turn would try to starve the monks out.

Mortality Symbols

Also of interest to visitors are the mortality symbols seen on graveyard headstones. Mortality symbols usually took the shape of a skull and crossbones, signifying death, flanked by a coffin and a bell, which represent a funeral, an an hour glass, which represents time running out. These symbols give an insight into how Irish people in the late medieval period felt about the prospect of death.


Drumlane Abbey. Image: Gerard Lovett

Mortality symbol on a headstone at Drumlane. Image: Gerard Lovett


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