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Nendrum Monastic Site, Mahee Island

A visit to Nendrum Monastic site at Strangford Lough
Nendrum Monastic Site, Mahee Island
Ruins of the church at Nendrum

We are having a few weeks of glorious weather right now. Any time the sun comes out for an extended spell in Ireland it’s important to make the most of it. Rest of the summer could be a wash out.

Took a drive after dinner down to Mahee Island and Nendrum. It’s a really interesting spot that’s steeped in early Medieval history. There’s not much walking to be done, it’s a private Island apart from Nendrum - but you can wander up past Mahee Castle, a small ruined tower house, then down the country roads across a couple of the islands. It’s a beautiful part of Strangford Lough, farmland to one side, then looking across and up towards Scrabo Tower and Newtownards.

Looking up from Reagh Island towards Scrabo Tower

Nendrum itself was apparently founded in the 5th Century, though what stands is from the 7th Century on. They say St Patrick, the man that got pretty much everywhere on Ireland had his hand in the founding of Nendrum. It’s actually pretty likely in this case, being close to Saul and Downpatrick. On one of his days out he met a young boy, Caolan, who became a disciple of the Saint. Caolan converted the local chieftain, MacCuill then established a church on the Island. Caolan was know as Mochaoi, later becoming a saint. The island then took its name from him. His death is recorded as being in 497.

Nendrum Monastery would have held significant religious and cultural importance. St. Patrick, renowned for spreading Christianity across Ireland, established monastic communities throughout the island during the 5th century.

One of the notable figures associated with Nendrum is St. Finnian of Movilla. Finnian, a disciple of St. Patrick, spent time at Nendrum before establishing the prominent Movilla Abbey in Newtownards. Movilla Abbey became a significant monastic complex, fostering religious learning and attracting scholars from far and wide.

Opposite the entrance to Nendrum once stood the worlds oldest recorded Tide Mill. The tide mill itself is no longer present, but you can see some stones of the foundation.  While the specific details of the tide mill on Mahee Island have faded into history, it is intriguing to imagine the bustling activity that once unfolded there, with the rhythmic sounds of the mill mixing with the ebb and flow of the tides of Strangford Lough.

Looking down the lough from one of the cashels

The Lough itself used to be known as Lough Cuan, the quiet lough. Then came the Vikings. Things got pretty fractious to say the least. Sites like Nendrum were prime targets. Strangford comes from Norse meaning “fjord of the strong currents”. It was probably around the time of the viking raids that the structures we see the remains of were built. Why they decided to build a huge round tower is beyond me. Would have been a huge beacon to any Viking ship. I guess they felt it provided safety, though the last recorded of the pre-Norman abbots was `burned in his own house' in 974, presumably a Viking raid.

You enter the gate at the outer cashel and head up the hill towards were the church and round tower stood.

view of the remains of the round tower from outseide the middle cashel

There's not much left and quite a bit was likely rebuilt by the landowner who rediscovered it in the 19th century. It's a really beautiful spot though. Through the inner Cashel is the Church along with a medieval sundial which would have been just outside the entrance to the church. In the path leading to the entrance there are stones marking the graves of the priests who worked and lived here.

Nendrum offers a glimpse into the lives of the monks who once lived here, firing the imagination and showcasing the craftsmanship and devotion of those who built and inhabited this place.