Ireland 2019: Our Game of Thrones Tour, Part Four — Direwolves and Monks

Well, we didn’t see any monks on our GoT tour because King Henry VIII either evicted or executed all of the monks in the British Isles between 1536 and 1542 and dissolved all of their abbeys. We did tour one of these abbeys, though. We didn’t see any direwolves, either, because they became extinct thousands of years ago. We did meet the closest things to direwolves, though, after our lunch in Strangford: two large Northern Inuit dogs who passed for direwolf pups during the first season of Game of Thrones.

Two of the dogs who play direwolves on Game of Thrones. Their trainer was an extra on Game of Thrones. His father played the role of a slave-trader in the series.

Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.

Northern Inuits are a breed of dog that are the result of mixing huskies and malamutes with German shepherds.

Through the magic of CGI and green screens the direwolves appear to be twice the size of the actual dog actors. The dogs never acted in the field. They stayed at the Titanic Studios in Belfast. Human actors in the field had to learn where the exact spot of the direwolf eyes would be and then gaze at exactly that spot.

Odin and Thor are Northern Inuit dogs who played the direwolves Summer and Greywind in Game of Thrones.

We said goodbye to the dogs and drove the short distance from Strangford to Inch Abbey, situated in a swampy area about two miles north of the town of Downpatrick. A thousand years ago this area was an island in the middle of the River Quoile and the first church built on this spot around 800 AD was called Inis Cumhscraigh. Inis means island in Irish and that’s how it got its name of Inch. This monastic settlement was raided by Viking invaders in 1002 and again in 1149. There probably wasn’t much left here when John de Courcy came by in 1177.

The ruins of Inch Abbey can be found in a swampy area near the River Quoile about two miles north of Downpatrick.

There are plaques on the grounds that explain what exactly we were looking at and how it was to live in the abbey 700 years ago.

This display suggests how Inch Abbey may have looked in the 12th century.

How the Cistercian monks lived.

Inch Abbey is in the middle of St Patrick’s Trail that starts in County Antrim, goes down the east coast of County Down and ends in County Armagh. We visited the Holywood Priory and Downpatrick Cathedral in previous visits to Northern Ireland.

Dress-up time! My son-in-law grabbed his sword and donned his cloak and swore to defend the abbey to the bitter end or at least to whenever the bus would be leaving.

Four members of our tour group wander around the abbey’s chancel. Inch Abbey and Grey Abbey on the Ards Peninsula are among the earliest example of Gothic architecture in Ireland.

An Anglo-Norman knight named John de Courcy was sent over to Dublin in 1176 to help secure Ireland after it was conquered by Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow.  De Courcy got bored just standing around and so in 1177 he decided to invade Northern Ireland, apparently without the permission of King Henry II. De Courcy skirted the Mournes and  surprised the locals who were living in the area near where Downpatrick now stands and proceeded to fight his way to the conquest of what is now Counties Antrim and Down. He is credited with founding the town of Downpatrick as well as building the castles at Dundrum and Carrickfergus. De Courcy  decided to build Inch Abbey as a repentance for destroying another abbey, Erinagh, about three miles south of Downpatrick, during his campaign.

What is happening here? I must report that this is only a pose. There was no sword fighting that day among the tourists!

De Courcy built his abbey between 1180 and 1188 and brought over a group of Cistercian monks from the Furness Abbey in Lancashire, England to colonize the place. One of these monks wrote a biography of St Patrick and the story of how Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland was born here.

Did you know that GoT warriors wore caps representing the logos of their favorite sports teams? Brian is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan while I seldom go anywhere without my San Francisco Giants cap.

The group spreads out. That’s Brian on the left taking a picture of me as I walked around the ruins taking photos. The grassy area is where the abbey’s cloister used to be.

The impressive east wall of the chancel formed the backdrop for the coronation of Robb as King in the North in Episode 10 of Game of Thrones, Season One.

A 19th century restoration project resulted in a lot of cement being mixed with the original sandstone in the chancel.

These unrestored buildings are south of the cloister in the middle of the abbey.

Small remnants from a recent archeological excavation are stored in the south transept of the abbey’s church.

View from Inch Abbey of Downpatrick Cathedral where St Patrick is buried.

Soon it was time to return our swords and cloaks to the back of the bus and head out for our final Game of Thrones filming location: Tollymore Forest Park several miles west of Downpatrick. That will be the subject of my next post.

Bonus — A chant from the Middle Ages.

There were two types of monks in Cistercian abbeys. The lay brothers grew their food, baked their bread and brewed their beer and only attended two services a day. The choir monks studied, meditated and chanted most of the day. The Inch Abbey monks were brought over to Ireland from Furness in Lancashire, England. They probably spoke in French and read, wrote and sang in Latin. Here’s an example of one of their chants:

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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11 Responses to Ireland 2019: Our Game of Thrones Tour, Part Four — Direwolves and Monks

  1. Peter Klopp says:

    Warriors with sports caps, jeans and runners! I wonder what the reaction of the people of the Middle Ages would have been at such a bizarre sight. The abbey looks beautiful even completely in ruins.

  2. cindy knoke says:

    Fascinating and the dogs are gorgeous!

    • Yes, they are beautiful creatures and we even heard them howl! I think they had to learn how to do that from their trainers, though. There is a sad story to report about these dogs, however. GoT fans all over the world decided that they just had to have a dog of their own that looks like a wolf. But a lot of them were ill-equipped, ill-prepared and lacked the responsibility for taking care of large dogs like the Northern Inuit who eat a lot of food every day and require a lot of attention and a lot of space to exercise. Consequently, many of these dogs were abandoned after only a few days or weeks of ownership.

  3. disperser says:

    Interesting place . . . were those metal swords or plastic replicas? Did you have to sign a waiver before wielding one?

  4. They were metal and pretty heavy! Not sharp at all, though. No, we did not have to sign a waiver.

  5. mvschulze says:

    In the last image above, just curious about the age of the ruines in the foreground, vs. the “modern” day building in the distance – and notice the bird on the ruines oin the foreground. Love your dress-up outfits! M 🙂

  6. John de Courcy built Inch Abbey in 1177 and erected a Benedictine Abbey on what is now called Cathedral Hill in 1183. The abbey was built on top of a previous church built by St Malachy in 1124. It is thought that there have been buildings of Christian worship on the hill for about 1500 years. Down Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. There were major restorations in the 14th and 19th centuries but some portions of the Benedictine Abbey are still there. So the buildings in the foreground and background are about the same age. The only difference is that one was restored and the other wasn’t! I don’t know how old that bird is!

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