Geoffrey de Constantin founded this important monastery in 1192 a.d. and granted a charter
of lands, Churches and liberties.
Tristernagh derived from the Irish word Tristearnagh, ‘a briary place’ is situated
in the old parish of Kilbixy just two miles from Inny River Lodge. It lies just
over one mile from Kilbixy and to the south of Lough Iron. Although in ruins there
is an enormous amount of documented history and description of Tristernagh. Historians
have found it difficult to date the foundation of Tristernagh Abbey. Earliest documents
suggest that Simon bishop of Meath granted a charter licensing the building, which
suggests that the Abbey could have been built sometime in between 1190-1210. In
1200 Sir Geoffrey Constantine granted to the Canon of Tristernagh, diverse liberties
and privileges which among other things included diverse gifts of land, a water
mill in Kilbixy and another at Balrothery with two fisheries.
Tristernagh Abbey and Kilbixy Castle had a strong political influence on the colonization
process ‘they were like two spearheads on a vexed frontier’. All canons were of
Norman stock and therefore had strong Norman influence on the area. The petit Delamars,
Tuites,Laceys, Nugent’s and Flemings were among the chief benefactors of the priory
and were the prominent families in the early days of settlement.
In 1536 when the commissioners of HenryVIII presented themselves at the priory gates
they ejected the canons and closed the gates on them forever. The place was ransacked,
the gold and silver vessels used for church ceremonies were carried away and furniture
confiscated. Local legend has it that a great bell was taken and thrown into Lough
Iron so Henry VIII’s men could not confiscate it.
The last Prior at Tristernagh was Edmund Nugent, Bishop of Kilmore, who became Prior
in 1530. Nugent and five canons were promised a pension from the crown. The five
canons received the living of the churches of Ratheaspagh, Kilbiky, Tristernagh,
Sonnagh, Kilmacnevan and Imper.
During Nugent’s time a prior, O’Doherty of Connaught, with his 600 followers and
forces are said to have encamped on a hillock nearby. O’Doherty gave ground to the
Queens forces and retreated in the hope that Nugent who had sheltered him before
might do so again. On seeing the Queens forces at his heel, Nugent refused entry
to O’Doherty. This resulted in a massacre under the walls of the Abbey where few
In 1567, Captain Piers, a distinguished soldier and great favorite of Queen Elizabeth
captured Shane O’Neill. Piers received an award of one thousand marks for the part
he had taken in the assassination. In 1583 Piers was granted a life pension on account
of his wounds and retired to Tristernagh. He died in 1603 and the Tristernagh property
descended intact until it was in the hands of John Piers in 1850.
Sir John Piers was the reigning Lord of the Manor in 1807 and he tried to ruin the
marriage of Lord and Lady Cloncurry. On 19th February, 1807 the celebrated trial
of Cloncurry’s V’s Piers commenced in the court of the Kings Bench. Piers did not
appear at trial, damages were laid at damages were laid at £100,000. Piers fled
to the Isle of Man, the law caught up with him and he had to pay all he could. Ruin
and misfortune overtook John Piers and his estates were sold out.
Tristernagh Abbey is in the ownership of the Franciscan Friars and there are no
plans for its restoration in the near future.