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Nendrum Monastic Site (County Down)

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Down - Nendrum Sundial

The Nendrum Sundial - Time to Pray

© 2006 Bernd Biege licensed to About.com, Inc.

The Bottom Line

Nendrum is the one proof you need that Irish monks liked their solitude - situated on Mahee Island in Strangford Lough the monastic site is not easily accessible. In Saint Mochaoi's days you would have needed a boat and fairly calm waters. The saint founded the monastery in the 6th century, getting away from it all was his ideal. Which leads to the 21st century visitor using a meandering road across several islands and more than once wondering whether he is lost yet. But the long drive is worth every minute.

Pros

  • One of the few monastic sites virtually untouched by later developments.
  • Stump of a round tower and a monastic sundial are on view.
  • Small visitor center provides very good introduction to the history of Nendrum.
  • Interesting drive to Nendrum - literally through Strangford Lough.

Cons

  • Out of the way.
  • Ruins are not too overwhelming for casual visitors.

Description

  • Nendrum is reputed to have been founded by Saint Mochaoi in the 6th century on Mahee Island.
  • The monastery was surrounded by the concentric walls of three cashels with a church and round tower in the middle.
  • Forgotten for several centuries, the site was only rediscovered in 1844 by William Reeves.
  • Excavated between 1922 and 1924 by H.C. Lawlor, finds are in the Ulster Museum and the National Museum of Ireland.

Guide Review - Nendrum Monastic Site (County Down)

If you head out from Comber you might imagine a straightforward drive to Nendrum. Far from it ... though the distance is not great as the crow flies, you (unlike the proverbial) cannot disregard Strangford Lough. So your journey will take in a few islands, you will cross some bridges and even pass a medieval castle before you arrive at Nendrum.

Upon arrival the best idea would be to seek out the small visitor center. This is not a bells, whistles and multimedia center but a rather conventional affair. But it will introduce you to the site in a comprehensive and very accessible way - even giving you an impression of what Nendrum might have looked like in its heyday. The strange history of a collective amnesia regarding the location is also told - Nendrum was simply forgotten about for centuries, despits being mentioned in the "Martyrology of Oengus". Out of sight really was out of mind here!

Today the excavated site is extensive, but the actual remains are small. You see the stump of a round tower, some walls and extensive earthworks. Maybe to most striking artifact is the reconstructed sundial - which was designed to remind the monks of the three main times of daily prayer. With the Irish weather not exactly known for its endless sunny spells a back-up system must have been in place.

The views from Nendrum across Strangford Lough are great, by the way - you might just imagine a Viking longboat coming up for a spot of pillaging ...

Ultimately the remote location and limited appeal of Nendrum may make it seem less tempting to many travelers. But if you are interested in Ireland's monastic past and happen to pass, make sure to take the detour and a good look.

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