Keenaghan Monastery ruins in the townland of Tievealough is said to be one of the oldest in Ireland.

Joe O’Loughlin, Joe Magee and Marie Neill have completed extensive work on the history of the monastery, which can be read in full on Joe O’Loughlin’s website.

“This sacred place with the adjoining walled cemetery alongside Keenaghan Lough has a long history. Destroyed by Cromwellian forces in the early 1600s, Keenaghan Abbey had for several hundred years been the focal point for Christianity in the ancient Kingdom of Mulleek.”

According to local folklore, the Monks in Keenaghan had a strong connection with a church in Toura, in the townland of Slawin on the south side of the River Erne. 

Information on the website described how the priests from Keenaghan crossed the River Erne from the townland of Carrowkeel on the north shore of the river, to the townland of Corrakeel on the south shore, to say mass, assist in the administration of the sacraments and preach the gospel to the flock in the church at Slawin. 

“The cemetery in Slawin is very similar to the one in Keenaghan, but there are no longer any of the old church walls to be seen. 

“There are still traces of the route used by the monks while travelling between both sites. This pathway is known locally as ‘the Dean’s walk’. Tradition also has it that there was a school building which was attached to Keenaghan on the farm in Druminillar.”

The Keenaghan Monastery has been in ruins for hundreds of years, but the east gable and part of the walls are still standing. 

Over the years, this graveyard had succumbed to briars, nettles and bushes, completely hiding the graves and headstones. Some of the headstones had fallen down and others lay broken. 

However, thanks to the willingness of local residents, this graveyard took on a new lease of life. In the spring of 1965, Tommy O’Loughlin from Belleek – whose ancestors are buried in it – organised a group of local men, who stepped in and did a wonderful job of clearing the site. 

“They came, the men with the scythes and hooks, weatherbeaten outdoor men, who worked steadily at their own pace. With the aid of edged tools and with the determination of those who worked the fields, the task was undertaken.

“The crack of blade on stone brought forth blessings on the dead, uncovering the resting place of old friends and of long forgotten families. It stirred memories of a past age, recalled the wit and fun of other days.

“The moon rose above the eastern gable wall with its unique stone window frame, designed to give the maximum of natural light to the interior of the building. 

“Order was restored and headstones stood proud and free, the living giving dignity to the dead. The oldest headstone was that of Edward McGoldrick, who died on March 6, 1732, aged 47 years.”

Some reports say that Keenaghan Monastery was founded by St. Molaise, who died in 563. There is no evidence to support this theory, but it is known that along the south of the Erne, St. Ninnid operated from the Moy at Bundoran in the west and as far as Derrylin in the east of Co. Fermanagh. 

In Toura, a hill and a holy well bear his name; he lived in the 6th Century. He was a contemporary of Molaise, so there is a possibility that Molaise was indeed connected to Keenaghan. 

It needs to be borne in mind that early church settlements were constructed of wood, and thatched, so no trace of them remains. During the Viking period, all such structures would have been destroyed. 

From the Vikings, over a period of 300 years, the native Irish learned many crafts and skills, one of these being the erection of stone buildings. As a result of this, many abbeys and church buildings were built in the Twelfth Century.

“Having been established about 880, Keenaghan would have suffered further Viking raids, as they did not finally leave Ireland until about 1200.

“Keenaghan – the name means ‘a mossy place’ – was part of the ancient old Kingdom of Miodbholg, now the modern Mulleek.

“The abbey continued as the principal place of worship for the inhabitants of Mulleek, a territory that stretches from the Boa Island to the Donegal/Fermanagh Border at Belleek.

“Its destruction took place during the Cromwellian period, in or about 1650. Cromwell himself did not operate in Fermanagh; this was left to his son-in-law, General Ludlow, who destroyed much church property in 1652.”

For upwards of 400 years Keenaghan Abbey was the focal point for Christianity in the ancient Kingdom of Mulleek.

With the Plantation of Ulster in 1610, all of the territory of the ancient Kingdom of Mulleek that had been for hundreds of years under the control of the Abbey Assaroe was granted to the Blennerhassetts, who built their castle on Rosbeg. 

In 1671, Sir Augustus Blennerhassett sold the estate to an Enniskillen merchant – James Caldwell.

Keenaghan Abbey, the lake and the surrounding land, which was the most fertile in the district, was an important part of the Caldwell Estate. For further information on Keenaghan Monastery, see v