Out and about in Ireland’s Heartland – Drumlane Abbey

Here’s a little gem we came across last summer.

Located just outside the village of Milltown, County Cavan is the monastic site of Drumlane (Drumlane comes from Droim Leathain meaning broad ridge hill). And what a location it is! – sitting amidst Cavan’s lake and drumlin landscape, overlooking the lovely Derrybrick Lough, this must have made a wonderful place of retreat.

drumlin, from the Irish word droimnín (littlest ridge) is a small oval- shaped hill formed by the movement of glacial sheets.

The area has been inhabited since prehistory. Some of the first inhabitants lived on crannógs – artificial islands – in the lake below the Abbey.

It is hard to say when the first monastery was founded here. We do know that in the late 6th century St. Mogue was closely affiliated with the site, but it is now believed that the site was constructed some time earlier in the century and most likely by St. Colmcille.

What’s in a Name!!

We need to get this sorted before going further…When reading up on the place, I came across references to Mogue, Máedóc and Aidan – all the same gentleman. For a man of the cloth he seems to have had a surprising number of alter egos! Bear with me here……

Aodh was/is an Irish name (anglicised to Hugh).

mo =my.… put mo before a name and it becomes an affectionate prefix: Moaodh = my dear Aodh or such…

óg = young and would be a suffix (after the name – mainly to distinguish between parent and child with same name).

So Mo Aodh Óg = my dear young Aodh

Mo Aodh Óg is shorted to Mogue or Meádóc =

Meanwhile, Aidan is also diminutive form of Aodh.

Clear as mud – I know! – moving on……..

Mogue was a local – born in County Cavan around 560. He studied in Wales under St. David before coming back to Ireland as a bishop. At some stage he returned to Drumlane and died in nearby Co. Leitrim around 632. He led an austere life by all accounts and was known for his visions and premonitions.

A very brief history of the place:

The monastic establishment at Drumlane was recognised as quite a sizable community. The original timber-built, thatched settlement was probably surrounded by an enclosure and would have included a church and accommodation for the Abbot, monks and travellers. It would have been self-sufficient with its own crops and livestock.

There is little on record from its early years but there is a written account of a Viking attack in 836.

The twelfth century saw a lot of Church development in Ireland. The old Celtic monastic system was replaced and the country was carved into dioceses and archdioceses. Drumlane became an Augustinian Priory.

Over the next few hundred years, the area was the site of ongoing feuds and battles between rival clans and the abbey would have found itself periodically under attack, most notably in 1261 when it was badly damaged by fire.

In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries saw the abbey disbanded. Land in the area was granted to English and Scottish ‘planters’. For the next few centuries, Drumlane church was used for Anglican worship. By 1821 a new parish church had been built nearby and the old church was finally abandoned and left to decay.

The Church

The surviving stone church was built in the 13th century and extended in the 15th. It is surprisingly large for a church of that era. You will find the remains of carved doorways, stone heads and bits of decorative masonry within the walls.

Round Tower

Round Towers are of Christian origin and were built throughout the country between the 5th and 13th centuries. Their exact purpose is unclear but they would have symbolized a monastery’s importance and wealth. They may have served as bell towers or watch towers. Because the entrances are always found well above ground level, it is generally believed that they stored valuable manuscripts and relics as well as being places of refuge in time of attack – the only access being by ladder which was then withdrawn up into the tower.

Next to the church is a remarkably intact Round Tower. As with all buildings in the settlement, the original structure would have been wooden. The Augustinians replaced it with stone when they arrived in the 12th century. It looks as though it were built in stages – the lower section has well cut stones fitting tightly together while the upper part seems less refined. It would have been much taller and roofed of course. The entrance is about 9ft from the ground. I only read afterwards that there are carvings of birds to be seen in the brickwork…

The Monastery

The monastery would have been quite extensive in its heyday but the main priory building no longer exists – its foundations are still to be seen in a nearby field, down towards the lake. There was an underground passageway connecting the monastery and the tower (but it was closed at some stage for safety reasons).


The graveyard, which was once the burial ground of local chieftains, is still in use today.

Believe it or not……..

The parents of St Mogue visited the site before his birth, and had a vision about what was to come for their son.

When St Mogue returned to Drumlane he had premonitions of the many battles that would later take place in the region between rival clans.

He fasted here for 7 years, taking just a drink of milk every third Sunday!!

The monks left a cache of valuable treasures in nearby lakes, including a bell, chalice, and trunk of sacred books.

The church bell lies at the bottom of Drumlane Lake and can be heard ringing once every seven years.

It is unlucky to remove any stones from the Abbey. A farmer once took stones to build a byre. The following morning the byre had collapsed. He rebuilt and the same thing had happened. In the end he returned the stones!


Small Stuff

Getting There:

You’ll probably need a car for this one. It’s a 1 hour 45 mins drive from Dublin.

Duration at site:

1 hour max.

Entrance fee:

There is free access to the site.

Make a day of it…..

Combine it with….

Killykeen Forest Park (Distance, 18kms)


Cavan Burren Park – (about 50kms)


Florence Court House (33kms)

Planning on spending a few days in the region?

We’ve stayed in Slieve Russell Hotel (10 kms)


Lough Erne Resort (50kms)

26 thoughts on “Out and about in Ireland’s Heartland – Drumlane Abbey

    1. Its a nice little place for a wander – and probably usually deserted I reckon so most visitors would have it to themselves. XXXMarie

  1. Such a lovely posting, Marie. Well done! I have never been to Drumlane but it’s now another addition to the vast number of places I want to see within our own beautiful country alone! May I recommend the new series on RTÉ 1 and the Player: The Burren, to anyone who has enjoyed this!

    1. Glad you enjoyed Inez…. there are so many little local treasures scattered about the countryside….
      Thanks for that – I’ve missed it but heard it being discussed on radio this afternoon so will definitely follow up on it. XXXXMarie

  2. I love a ruined abbey, the old stones are always so evocative. And this one is in a beautiful setting 🙂 I particularly like the shot where you’ve frames some old gravestones and the green grass of the cemetery through an abbey arch!

    I was interested in all the different names for the saint too. Aiden caught my eye but I then realised this is a different St Aidan from the one associated with Lindisfarne. Fascinating nevertheless 🙂

    1. I’d never heard of him – under any name – until researching this!!! He’s mostly associated with the south east of the country I think. Its a lovely spot isn’t it….

  3. Great post and wonderful photos, Marie. I am looking forward to experience Ireland’s Hidden Heartland. Looks like it’s a beautifully unspoiled part of the island where life moves at its own pace. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

  4. Love the stone work – that tower is amazing. We were quite fascinated with them. And everything is so lush and green with those beautiful vistas and rolling hills.

    1. I love the variation in stonework. Disgusted I didn’t know about the bird carvings though!!! The hills make for a very different – and rather odd- landscape… XXXMarie

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