Tintern Cistercian Abbey

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Cistercian ((O Cist/ Ordo Cisterciensis)
Founded: 1200
Founded by: William Marshall the Elder (d.1219), 1st earl of Pembroke
Also known as: Tintern Minor, Tintern Parva (little Tintern), Tintern de Voto (of the Vow)

The Place

Tintern abbey, once one of the most powerful Cistercian foundations in Ireland, lies on the western shore of Bannow Bay in Co. Wexford.  The Hook Head peninsula is richly endowed with natural and cultural heritage, which also contains the formerly wealthy Cistercian abbey of Dunbrody and the preceptory of the Knights Hospitaller at Kilcloggan, also known as Templetown.  The abbey was founded in 1200 by William Marshall (d.1219), the 1st earl of Pembroke, in fulfillment of a vow to found an abbey if he landed safely ashore after a treacherous sea crossing from Pembroke in western Wales.  Its name, Tintern de Voto means ‘Tintern of the Vow’, referring to Marshal’s pledge. It was a daughter house of Tintern Major, from Monmouthshire in Wales, the second Cistercian abbey founded in Britain and first in Wales, and so was also known as Tintern Minor or Tintern Parva, meaning ‘little Tintern’.  The abbey was colonized with monks from Tintern Major and received endowments that included 30 carucates of land (about c. 9,000 statute acres), although by 1536, it has been estimated that Tintern’s land holdings would have amounted to more than 50 carucates (c. 15,000 statute acres).   The abbots of Tintern were peers and sat in parliament until 1447 when they were exempted from future attendance due to the costs of rebuilding the abbey.  The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536 and it passed into the possession of the Colclough family, who held it until the 1950s.

The People

William Marshal is widely regarded as one of the most famous personalities of the medieval western world, a well renowned courtier, tourneyer and the embodiment of the chivalrous knight.  He was also a powerful magnate, empire builder and administrator, and became one of the most influential and important figures in medieval Ireland.  Having been born the fourth son of a minor noble, John Marshal of Hamstead, Berkshire, William Marshal went on to become a famous and successful tourneyer, competing  on the tournament circuit in France and the Rhineland.  He became a favourite of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (d.1204), wife of Henry II of England (d.1189) and fought with Richard II of England (d.1199) on crusade and in Normandy.  He married Isobel, daughter of the wealthy and powerful Richard de Clare (d.1176), earl of Pembroke, more commonly known as ‘Strongbow’.   William obtained the lordship of Leinster from his wife, much to the annoyance of John I of England (d.1216).  It was during a trip to Ireland that William was nearly lost in a storm.  He vowed to found an abbey if he reached shore alive. True to his oath, he founded the abbey at Tintern in 1200 “for the love of God and for the health of my soul and of Isablla, my wife, and our children and for our souls of all our ancestors and successors.”


Ireland was to become William’s stronghold during his difficulties with John, which led to his exile in Ireland from 1207-1213, during which time the king stirring up trouble in Leinster against William and Isobel.  However, upon securing control of Leinster, William set in motion a substantial campaign of economic, social and administrative redevelopment of the lordship, which saw the construction of a number of military castles at Ferns, Carlow, Kilkenny, Old Ross and Callan, and religious foundations at Kells, Tintern, Duiske, Kildare and New Ross.  William was recalled by John in 1213 to aid him during the Barons’ War.  In 1216, he became protector of Henry III (d.1272), aged only nine when crowned.  He died in 1219 and was buried as a Knight Templar in the Temple Church in London.  He was the subject of a bibliography, Histoire de Guillaum le Maréchal, produced four years after his death – a rarity in the middle ages, especially considering his lack of royal blood.


After the dissolution, Tintern abbey and its manors were held in reserve, with its outlaying lands rented to various tenants, in an effort to prevent its lands being sold or leased to “any but men of honesty and good disposition to Civilitie”.  In 1551, a lease of the abbey was granted by Edward VI (d.1553) to Thomas Wood in acknowledgement of his services to the king.  The lease was purchased from Wood by Anthony Colclough (d.1584) from Bluerton, Staffordshire in 1562.  Colclough had to carry out repairs to the abbey after attacks from the local Keatings of Kilcowan.  In 1566, his lease was extended on the condition that he fortified the abbey and maintained three English horsemen and four archers or arquebusiers (soldiers armed with arquebuses, late medieval long guns).  Anthony Colclough’s military career lasted over forty years in Ireland, during which time he served as Constable of Wexford, Constable of the Marches and Constable of Ferns Castle.  He was knighted in 1581, three years before his death.

Sir Thomas Colclough (d.1624), eldest son of Sir Anthony, was knighted in 1592 and continued his father’s work developing the Tintern into a family stronghold.  He married twice, first to Martha Loftus, who was a member of the reformed church, as were their 12 children and second to Eleanor Bagenal, who with her four children were all Catholics.  Upon Sir Thomas’ death, he left Tintern to his eldest Protestant son, with other estates in Duffry going to his eldest Catholic heir, providing the Colclough family with a double lineage of both Catholics and Protestants.  This was to prove beneficial to the family over the coming decades in the preservation of the estate, as the owner could be changed depending on the prevailing political winds – if lands held by Catholics were to be confiscated, they could simply put a Protestant family member forward as the owner and preserve the estate.

The unusual religious composition was to have a last effect on the Colclough family. Caesar Colclough (d.1766) was widely regarded as a benevolent landlord who provided shelter for Catholics during periods of Catholic suppression.  He established a non-denominational school for boys in the area and contributed to the cost of Ballycullane Catholic church.    The walled garden, forests and mills were developed by John Colclough (d.1807).  Tintern Village stood in the way of John’s plans extended lawns and gardens, leading him to establish the town of Saltmills nearby, where the tenants of Tintern Village were moved to as their leases came up for renewal.   He was to die following a duel in 1807.  Tintern Village was finally demolished in 1814.


Why visit?

Tintern abbey was one of the most powerful Cistercian abbeys in Ireland soon after its foundation in 1200 till its dissolution in 1536.  The Colclough family resided at the abbey from 1576 until 1959 before it passed into the care of the Commissioners of Public Works in 1963.  Excavations and conservation work were carried out between 1982 and 2007, with further work carried out after a fire in the visitors’ centre and tea rooms in the summer of 2012.  The main surviving structures at Tintern abbey are the church, with its nave, chancel, crossing tower and south transept chapels – these had been converted to domestic use by the Colclough family.  The conventual buildings did not survive, save for the gateway from the west cloister range, which was included in a later coach house.  A short stone bridge with crenelated parapet spans the Tintern River, with a second bridge and 18th century mill house at the mouth of the river on the L4041 Curraghmore to Tintern road.  The woodlands around Tintern abbey, the estuary of the Tintern River and Bannow Bay are significant nature reserves, home to protected wildfowl, whiskered bats and deciduous beech.


What happened?


1200: Tintern abbey, known as Tintern de Voto was founded by William Marshall the Elder (d.1219), 1st earl of Pembroke and populated by Cistercian monks from Tintern abbey in Wales, known as a Tintern Major.  The charter of confirmation was granted by John I of England


1228: Stephen of Lexington was supported by Tintern and he held an assembly of Cistercian abbots here at the end of two visitations of Irish abbeys


1253: The abbot of Graignamanagh, also known as Duiske, Co. Kilkenny was appointed conservators of Tintern


1277: The abbot of Tintern was sued for not attending the chapter general for many years


1308 John, abbot of Tintern, sued the prior of St. John’s, Kilkenny, for the church of Saints Evin and Mary in New Ross – he obtained it for a fee of 60s


1309-10: Edward II (d.1327) ordered his treasurer to obtain payment from the abbot of Tintern for £12 owed to Theobald de Wykys for thirty crannocks corn (A crannock was a unit of dry capacity, ranging from 8 pecks (a peck was a quarter bushel)


1341:  A monk from Tintern was thrown into prison in nearby Dunbrody over a land dispute


1346: Abbot Roger Codd was deposed by the abbot of Tracton, who had been commissioned to make a visitation by the abbot of Tintern Major. David Furlong was appointed to replace him


1355: Abbot Thomas de Wyggemore accused William de Ross, abbot of Dunbrody and a number of other individuals of criminal acts against Tintern, including the imprisonment of one of its monks, Thomas Herhyn, and the theft his horse and forty shillings


1356: Abbot William Walsh accused the abbot of St Mary’s, Dublin of robbing heifers, corn, oats and the common seal of the abbey, of which he was also acquitted


1356:  The abbot of Tintern Major in Wales was refused permission by the abbot of Tintern de Voto to visit the daughter house in accordance with Cistercian rule, forcing him to appeal to the Edward III (d.1377) for help in the matter


1356-7: The abbot of Jerpoint was accused of forcibly expelling Thomas, abbot of Tintern and of imprisoning several of his monks, stealing horses and other felonies.  He was acquitted


1380: The act forbidding ‘mere Irishmen’ being professed was enforced


1381: The abbot of Tintern was appointed to collect the subsidy of £8 in the diocese of Ferns for the raising of men-at-arms and archers for the defence of the county


1447: The lands were much wasted as a result of attacks and burnings from the local Irish and outbreaks of sickness.  As a result, the abbot had incurred great personal expense in rebuilding the house and so they were excused from attending parliament


1471: Nicholas Furlong and John Young pretended to be the successors of the previous abbot Thomas Young and sought to alienate the possessions of the abbey so that it would have been ruined.  However, their grants were found null and void by parliament, thereby preventing the ruin of the abbey


Pre 1536: A large amount of lands belonging to Tintern were alienated before the dissolution of the monasteries


1536: The abbey was suppressed on 6 May, along with Bective abbey, Co. Meath and nearby Dunbrody abbey


1537: John Pore (Power), last abbot of Tintern was granted a pension of £15


Up to 1539: The monks were still in residence at Tintern


25 July 1539: The abbey and its lands were seized, including the cloistral buildings and 2,066 acres of land, two water mills, a ferry and an interest in ten churches that amounted to £93 3s. 8d.


1541: In January, the jurors reported that the abbey church had been parochial from time immemorial and that all the other buildings were necessary for the farmer.  The lands amounted to 2,370 acres, some tenements, three mills, a ferry and interest in ten rectories, valued at £99 18s. 4d. However, the total valuation entered for Tintern was £59 18s. 4d. due to the destruction of recent wars with the Kair/ McArte or Cavanaghs


1548: The property had been leased out to a number of people who were over £473 in arrears by this time


1576: Sir Anthony Colclough received a fee-farm grant of the abbey and most of its lands.  It was held by his descendants until 1959


1635: Sir William Brereton visited Tintern during his tour of Ireland, describing the converted abbey as “a fair, large, stately house and of great receipt”


1641: During the 1641 Rebellion, over 200 local Protestants took refuge at fortified Tintern.  It was taken by Catholic forces under Dudley Colclough, an act that kept Tintern under the control of the family.  It returned to the care of Protestant members of the family in 1649, when Dudley Colclough was banished to Connacht by Oliver Cromwell


1723: The estates of Tintern and Duffry were united for the first times in a century when the last of the Catholic line of Sir Thomas (d.1624) died without a male heir.  Caesar Colclough of Duffry Hall inherited the entire estate


1798:  John Henry Colclough, a descendent of Sir Thomas and Eleanor Bagenal, was hanged on Wexford Bridge for his part in the rebellion


1807: John Colclough, who had developed the walled gardens, mills and forests around Tintern, was killed in a duel


1963: The abbey, outbuildings and crenelated bridge were placed in the care of the Commissioner of Public Works


1982-2007: Excavations and conservation was carried out at Tintern Cistercian abbey


2012: The OPW visitor centre and tea rooms that occupied part of the 19th century outbuildings were destroyed in a fire