Grey Abbey

County Down

This Cistercian abbey was founded in 1193 by Affreca, wife of Norman knight John de Courcy, the builder of Carrickfergus Castle, in thanks for surviving a stormy sea crossing from the Isle of Man. The small visitor centre explains Cistercian life with paintings and panels; there's also a herb garden full of medicinal plants once cultivated by the monks. The abbey's church, in use until the 18th century, was the first in Ireland to be built in the Gothic style.

In the visitor centre (moved inside for protection) is a sandstone effigy, possibly depicting Affreca. Even if the visitor centre is closed, the ruins are well labelled with informative signs. The grounds, overlooked by 18th-century Rosemount House, are awash with trees and flowers on spreading lawns, making this an ideal picnic spot.

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