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