The Cistercian Order of monks was founded in Citeaux, France in 1098. Religion was still the driving force of western civilization and this new order was dedicated to a return to the austerity that earlier had characterized the followers of St Benedict. They had spread the gospel and the monastic influence – which some centuries earlier had permeated Europe out of Ireland – far and wide. Rome saw the Cistercians as an important weapon against complacency and corruption in the monasteries.
Christianity in Ireland had strayed somewhat from the discipline and influence of Rome. St Malachy in Ireland was an important religious reformer. On one occasion when he was summoned to Rome for guidance and instruction, he stopped off at Citeaux. He was so impressed by the monks that he determined to invite them to set up some houses in Ireland. In 1142 a number of Cistercian monks did exactly that at Mellifont. Two years later a house was established in Newry. By the end of the twelfth century they had 27 establishments the length and breadth of Ireland.
Most, including that at Newry lasted for four hundred years until the Tudor monarch Henry VIII coveted the lands, wealth and influence of the Church and decided upon the ‘dissolution of the monasteries’.