Established in 1161, the Boyle Abbey in Co. Roscommon was the first successful foundation of Cistercian monks. Previously, Cistercian monks had unsuccessfully attempted to settle in the province of Connacht on three separate occasions. Although it remains unclear exactly what caused the community to move three times, the two most common possibilities presented tend waiver between interference from the lay world, or the unsuitability of the terrain. There is evidence that leads many historians to believe there was a previous monastery built even earlier than the erection of Boyle Abbey in 1218, however, all physical evidence of such a structure has been lost.
Cistercian monks desired a simple, utilitarian lifestyle, and portrayed that in their architecture. These monks sought to live in remote sites, far from settlements. In a heavily quoted passage from his Apologia, written in 1124, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux denounces the elaborate religious architecture of the period, stating, "In short, there is such a variety and such a diversity of strange shapes everywhere that we may prefer to read the marbles rather than the books." The Cistercian Abbeys remained the most noted for the purity of their architecture, which can be seen in Boyle.
Boyle Abbey exemplifies medieval architecture, while also providing some slight variances. The structure took an extremely lengthy amount of time to construct, beginning in 1161, the building was not consecrated until somewhere between 1218-1221, nearly 60 years after construction was first started. In 1202, 20 years prior to the building's completion, the building was sacked by the Anglo-Norman adventurer, William de Burgo. Due to the length of the construction, Boyle Abbey possess both Romanesque and Early Gothic elements.
The monastery was laid out according to the usual Cistercian plan, around a central cloister garth. To the immediate north of this lies the church, with the chapter house and abbot's parlor on the East side, and the kitchen and refectory on the South. The dormitory and a church sat on the North side of a roughly rectangular cloister area, with a chapter house for meetings of the monks on a second side, and a kitchen and refectory on the third (with access to clean water from the river, sitting immediately behind this side). The gatehouse lay on the West side, as did public access to the church. The last of these remains the best preserved part of the immense complex, featuring a barrel-vaulted 12th centry chancel, with 13th century lancet windows above the crossing. Contrary to the Cistercian's disapproval of ornament, many of the corbels and capitals, especially those to the West end of the church, are carved with elaborate designs, some featuring humans and animals, although it is unclear who these carvings depict.
Upon paying our €4/person entrance fee (which we found to be well worth paying, and incredible cheap!), a lovely gentleman gave us a brief history of the building, and a scavenger hunt-esque sheet providing us with the location of all remaining carvings on the building.
If you're in the area, or even if you're within an hour of the area, I completely recommend visiting this fantastic piece of history. For more information on Boyle Abbey visit this website: