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Nendrum Monastic Site.
Co Down.

Go to Ecclesiastical Sites in County Down.


Nendrum is a pre Norman monastic site, it is said to have been founded by St Mochai who was the son of Bronagh and grandson of Diuchu, the tribal leader in County Down who gave his barn to Patrick to use as a church, Diuchu is said to have been the first person in Ireland to be baptism by St. Patrick.

The monastery is situated on Mahee island on the north western shore of Strangford Lough. The first references to it can be dated to the beginning of the 7th century and continue until a fire in 976 AD perhaps a Viking raid when the abbot was burned in his house.

In the late 12th century a small Benedictine monastic cell was founded on the site, but by 1306 the monastery appears to have been abandoned for Tullynacill (Hill of the Church) on the mainland.

The information below is taken from the Annals of Ulster.

496 Expugnatio Duinn Lethghlaissi (the storming of Down Lethglaisse).
498 Expugnatio Duinn Lethghlaissi.
The same source records the death of Mo-chai of Naendruim at both 496 + 497.

The site was excavated by H C Lawlor between 1922-24, the evidence he found suggested that some of the huts may have been used for crafts including Bronze working. Lawlor reconstructed the base of the church, the stump of the tower and the sundial, during the excavations he found the foundations of many circular huts, within the outer concentric stone rings.

The image below show an artist impression of how the monastery may have looked when it was in use.

In 1999 excavations took place on the foreshore at Nendrum on what was thought to have been a fish trap, it was discovered that it had in fact been a tide mill, used by the monks to grind grain. Subsequently it was dated to 619 AD, this makes it one of the earliest tide mills in Europe and also the first horizontal, the image above shows an artists impression of how the mill may have looked.

During the excavations three distinct phases of development have been identified, the first 619 when the mill was built the second phase has not as yet been dated, the third phase has been dendrodated to 788. Two granite millstones 830 mm (32 inches) in diameter were recovered the lower one intact, the upper broken, the paddles three of which were recovered were carved from oak, it is not known how many there were in total, it is thought there may have been as many as twenty-four.

Monastic orders clearly had a thorough understanding of engineering and hydrodynamics, monks at Assore Abbey in County Donegal also utilized water power to grind their grain. Other saints associated with the building of mills were, St. Seanus, St. Ciaran, St. Fechin of Fore Abbey in County Westmeath.

See also Water Power in Ireland and read about engineering on a massive scale when some 1,400 years later, in 2008 a tidal electric generator was installed in Strangford Narrows.

Read about tide mills on Wikipedia.

Visit this site for an in-depth description and images of the excavations and findings at Nendrum.

Monastic Sundial.

The sundial stands on the south west corner of the church, it was used to determine the three main prayer periods terce, sext, nones

Mahee Island
Strangford Lough
Co Down
Tel +44 (0)28 9054 3037
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Go to othe Ecclesiastical Sites in County Down.