||Situated on the Millisle
road B172 just over
a mile (1.6 km) southeast of Newtownards. Movilla or Mag-Bile is one
of Ulster's most important abbeys, founded in 540 by St Finnian, on
the site of an earlier Druidic Collage, Finnian's name means 'White
headed' this may stem from his fairness in youth or the colour of
his hair in old age. He was a local to eastern Ulster, a royal member
of the Dal Fiatach tribe, his grandfather was Ailill a brother of
Dichu, who had given Patrick his barn at Saul to use as a church.
He received his early education
at Nendrum on the western shores of Strangford
Lough then called Lough Cuan, Nendrum was founded by Mochai a grandson
of Dichu, he then moved to Candida Casa, now Whithorn in Galloway,
this monastery had been founded by Ninnian in 398. After returning
to Ireland he founded Movilla which was to become one of Ulster's
most important monasteries. Finnian is credited with bringing the
first copies of the scriptures to Ireland. St
Colmcille received part of his education at Movilla before moving
to Clonard in County Meath. Movilla was plundered by
the Vikings in 825.
It is interesting to note the
close family connections between the founders of the early monasteries,
these people were invariably drawn from the family of the ruling
clan, who used the church to consolidate their position at the head
of society, and further enhance their social standing, as well as
giving them unrestricted access to the facilities the monasteries
had to offer, not forgetting that they would be seen to be directly
connected to the new god.
It was re-founded in the twelfth
century by the Normans as an abbey of Augustinian Canons, and survived
until the suppression of the monasteries in the 1540's. The ruins
visible today date to the second founding, with fifteenth century
additions, only one slab remains of St Finnian's church, this bears
an inscription asking for a prayer for Dertrend.
In the side wall is set several medieval
grave covers or coffin lids, these 13th century coffin lid are to be found
in the coastal areas of county's Down and Carlow, occupied by the Anglo
Normans, and are particularly prevalent around Newtownards, which may
have been the centre of their production the local Scrabo sandstone being
ideal for the purpose. They are trapezoidal in shape and carved with foliate
crosses some with a swords or shears, the sword indicating the grave of
a man and the shears that of a woman.
The abbey along with other in the
area were burnt in 1569 by Brian O'Neill to prevent them falling into
the hands of the English, under Sir Thomas Smith, who was attempting to
take control of east County Down after it had been granted to him by Elizabeth
I of England.
Nothing remains of the claustral