Abbot Prowte et alia

The principal late 16th century English tactic to destroy the Gaelic clan system was known as ‘surrender and re-grant’. Under it Gaelic leaders would submit ..

…. to the Crown and pay homage and in return, would receive a ‘grant’ of their lands back and perhaps, an English title, to boot. 

The English agent Nicholas Bagenal is believed to have been instrumental in facilitating this tactic, by persuading Conn Bacach O’Neill to accept the policy. Indeed his later promotion to Marshall of the Queen’s forces in Ireland, and Lord of the manors of Newry and of Mourne followed in consequence. Whether or not you would choose to celebrate Nicholas Bagenal on this account would depend largely on your own political outlook today!

The Iveagh Magennis leaders Donal Og and Arthur were among the first to submit to Henry VIII. The latter proposed – as against Henry’s determined will to dissolve and seize the lands, buildings and assets of Newry’s Cistercian Monastery – that instead it be ‘converted to a college for secular priests’. For a few years it was. The then Abbott John Prowte (incidentally the name Prunty is still common in Mid-Ulster) became a warden of the college and the remaining monks (by name, Art McGillebury, Donal McGillebury and Eneas O’Sheyll) became vicars choral.

Henry, and the ministers of his minor successor, Edward VI would brook no rival. Two years later in August 1550 two inquisitions were ordered. They tell us that the abbey contained a church with a steeple, a chapter house, a dormitory, a hall, an orchard and a garden. These were seized but that the monks continued to hold some position was testified to by ..

a. the appearance, on the contested 1568 Map of Newry, of the name of Patrick Creely (or variation) – thought by some to be the resident abbot. In any event ..

b. the name Creely is listed in 1630 as being the last Cistercian Monastery monk of Newry


That certain families dominated the position of monk is testified to above!

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland (Co Down, 1834-6 p. 108-9) notes, in relation to the Elizabethan (two monarchs later) era in Newry …..

‘.. during her reign one of her generals arrived there with troops and took possession of these lands, destroyed the convent and put some monks to death on a hill near to Newry, which has ever since been called Monks Hill’.

Are we in Newry about to write the monks of the Cistercian Monastery out of history along with the ancient Gaelic clans and their chiefs?

Is this the price of appeasing certain elements determined to immortalise the fugitive murderer, Bagenal? That Nicholas Bagenal worked to build up the town of Newry is undeniable but we need a sense of perspective here (something the alleged cartographer Robert Lythe certainly lacked!).

We need to think twice about naming our new museum after Bagenal!

 … Bagenal Dynasty I … 

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