Tysaxon & Lindisfarne

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‘Rise up Tysaxon and take your place among the Nations of the Earth’.  Well, at least among the Monastic sites of the Island of Saints and Scholars!

The Lindisfarne Link 

Colmcille Started it All!
He was born in Gartan in Tír Chonaill “Co.  Donegal”
in 511 AD.  Died in 597 AD. – Exactly 1400 years ago –

His first monastery was built in a little oak-wood, later called Doire Cholmcille, the place where Derry city is now stands.  He also founded a monastery at Ceannanas Mór, where his little house is still to be seen. Monasteries founded by him: Derry, Kells, Durrow,Swords, Iona.  The War Book of the O’Donnells brought trouble and exile.  He only returned blindfolded to Drom Ceatt for the poets’ gathering.


The reason that Colmcille went to Iona because he had copied the war book of the O’Donnells.  He was brought to court and this was the ruling: “To every cow its calf” and “to every book its copy”.  Colmcille fought against the High King of Ireland.  The High King won and banished Colmcille from Ireland.  Colmcille founded a monastery in Iona.  It was called Í Cholmcille.  Colmcille went to Iona with thirty monks. They landed in Iona and built huts and monastery.  St. Colmcille built over sixty monasteries in Scotland.  The Book of Kells was created in Iona by the Irish Monks but finished in Kells because of the threat of the Viking invasion.  Because it was finished in Kells it was called The Book of Kells not The Book of Iona.  It is a beautiful copy of the Four Gospels and can now be seen in Trinity College Dublin.
Colmcille died in Iona in 597 AD. (1400 years ago)


The King of Northumbria wanted someone to start a Monastery in Lindisfarne.  From Iona came Aidan, then Finian and finally Coleman in 660 AD.  The area of Northumbria soon became known as ‘The Cradle of Christianity’ through out Britain.

Synod of Whitby

The Irish monk’s favoured the ‘Celtic Church’ while these in southern England favoured the ‘Roman Church’.  They differed in the method of calculating the time for the celebration of Easter.  This dispute reached a head when King Oswy of Northumbria married Queen Eanfled an Angle who followed the Roman tradition.  The consequence of this was that when the King celebrated Easter, his Queen observed the fast of Palm Sunday on the same day.  To settle the dispute a Synod was held at Whitby in 664 AD.  Coleman argued the case for the Celtic tradition but the Synod ruled in favour of the Roman Church.  Coleman would not accept this decision, resigned as Abbot of Lindisfarne and he and the Irish Monks and thirty Saxon Monks left.  They spent two years of prayer and reflection in Iona and then sailed down the west coast of Ireland to Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Galway, where Coleman built a monastery in the townland of Knock.


(Inis Bó-finne is the Island of the White Cow or could be also called The Island of Enchantment.  Its name being similar to Brú na Bó-inne “the valley of enchantment”, Inis Bó-finne.)  The Saxon monks found it difficult there because the Irish Monks were off visiting their friends, while they were left at home doing the work and growing food.  So in 668 AD Coleman went to the mainland to find some land for a monastery in which to settle the Saxon monks.  Coleman got them a site in Mayo.  It was called Mágh nEó. “Mágh nEó na Saxon”  (Mayo of the Saxon monks, The Plain of the Yew Trees) Here Coleman negotiated with the local Chieftain and was granted a site for a monastery. He appointed Gerald the son of a Northumbria Prince and a former pupil, who had come to Ireland, also because of the result of the Synod of Whitby as Abbot of this new monastery. By the year 700 AD more than 100 monks lived and taught there.  It became a famous place of learning attracting many students from all over Ireland and Britain.  Later it gave its name to Co. Mayo.  Gerald had three brothers who also were taught by Coleman in Lindisfarne and one of them Balan came to the Athenry area and founded another great monastery, which was known as Tí Saxon.


(The following is an extract from the Athenry Journal written by Martin Kelly)
Temple Moyle – Teampall Maol
Temple Valley – Teampall an Bhaile
Tysaxon – Tigh Sacsan

A visitor to Newcastle, situated five miles NE of Athenry town, will notice two stone ruins lying west of the church and school.

One, Temple Moyle, consisting of a single wall with two narrow windows and set on a mount within a crowded burial ground is what remains of Temple Moyle – Teampall Maol (The roofless church).
The other, Temple Valley, standing in open grassland some distance away, is a more complete remnant of a rectangular church and is known locally as Temple Valley – Teampall an Bhaile (The church of the town).  Historians identify both as late medieval Franciscan foundations.


The townland of Tysaxon (The house of the Saxons), which lies close to the remains of Temple Moyle, is believed to derive its name from a monastic foundation established by St. Balan (a disciple of St. Coleman) following the confrontational Synod of Whitby (664 AD).  It is suggested that the site of Temple Moyle church and that of the ancient Saxon foundation be one and the same.  A number of factors support this suggestion: the absence of ecclesiastical remains within the townland of Tysaxon as presently delineated; the close proximity of the Tysaxon boundary to Temple Moyle; and the time-worn aspect of the place surrounded as it is by a crowded and patently ancient burial ground.

Handbell and Graveslab

The discovery in 1978 of an iron, bronze-coated handbell and an inscribed graveslab close to Temple Moyle strengthens the case for linking the two sites.  The handbell, identified by Professor Etienne Rynne as being of a class associated with the AD 600 – 900 period, was found during the excavation of the sand hills close to Temple Moyle.  The commercial excavation also threw up an inscribed graveslab, the inscription reading “Oroil ar Maelpoill”.  Professor Rynne confirms that the characteristics of the slab are consistent with a ninth or tenth century dating.  The circumstances of discovery give strong (but not conclusive) evidence that the slab and the handbell belonged to the same interment.  The combination of factors are suggestive of the adjacent sandhills having being used as places of ancient burial with strong evidence of at least one important ecclesiastical interment.  The handbell is preserved in the National Museum and may be viewed by appointment.  The graveslab has been removed to an unknown location.

Thus it would seem that the ancient ecclesiastical house of Tysaxon shares a fraternal origin with that of Mayo (Mágh nEó na Sacsan), Tullylease and Inisbofin.  Through the personages of St. Coleman and St. Aidan of Lindisfarne Tysaxon, can trace a direct link to the motherhouse of Iona itself. (The Athenry Journal)


At Tullylease, Co. Cork, are the remains of an early monastery and its Augustinian successor.  The monastery was founded by 7th. Century Anglo-Saxon Saint Berechert, who is said to have come to Ireland with his brother St. Gerald.  The remains comprise Tobar Beiricheart and Tigh Beiricheart (Beiricheart’s Well and House); Cloch na hEilte, a Bullaun where a doe (eilit) allowed herself to be milked; a nave-and-chancel church with 12th. and 15th. – 16th. Century work and a number of early gravestone.  Fragments of gravestones removed by cement casts.  The most important gravestone has an excellently incised cross and other patterns and bears the inscription: QUICUMQUAE HUNC TITUL [M] LEGERIT ORAT PRO BERRCHTUINE.  The cross resembles remarkably closely that on a well-known page of the early 8th. Century Book of Lindisfarne and the stone may possibly be the monument of the Founder of the monastery rather than, as is generally supposed, of a name -sake that died in 839.  St Beiricheart’s name is still popular in the area under the guise of Benjamin.  The Saint is also honoured at Kilberihert in the adjoining parish, at Kilberihert in Trughanacmy, Co. Kerry, and at St. Beiricheart’s Kyle, Ardane, in the Glen of Aherlow.

“Mayo of the Saxons” – International Workshop

On Saturday February 18th.1995 there was an international workshop in Mayo of the Saxons.  This was organised by the Mayo Abbey Community Council.  I attended the Lectures with my father Finbarr, Martin T. Kelly and Patrick Browne. I enjoyed “The History of Mayo of the Saxons” and “After Mayo – Discovering Tí Saxon”.  This last lecture was given by Prof. Etienne Rynne and came as a surprise to those who attended from Iona, Lindisfarne, Boffin and Mayo Abbey who had not heard of our famous Tysaxon not to mention Tullylease.
It was a very interesting and enjoyable day and I met and had a great chat with Professor Rosemary Cramp who I have seen on T.V a few times since.


It was only in recent years that the Ardagh Chalice was found in Ardagh in Co. Limerick not far from Tullylease.  A thief’s hoard the Viking plunderer probably did not live to go back to retrieve his spoils.  Another great find – The Derrynaflan Hoard was found also not far from Tullylease.  This was a Monk’s hoard – hidden by the priests when Vikings were raiding them.  They didn’t live to recover their possessions either.  The designs on the Ardagh Chalice are very similar to those in the Book of Lindisfarne so in all probability they were both made by the Irish monks in Lindisfarne.  As happened to the Book of Kells the Ardagh Chalice may also have been brought for safe keeping to Ireland but when the Vikings sacked one of these Monasteries it was stolen.  Who knows but this great Chalice or the Derrynaflan Chalice could have been finished in Tí Saxon or Boffin as the Book of “Iona” was finished in Kells and called the Book of Kells and it could have been called the Tysaxon Chalice.

Where did Tysaxon come in? The Story

St. Colmcille was born in Gartan in511 AD in Co. Donegal.  St. Colmcille was one of the O’Neills.  People say he may well have been the greatest leader Ireland ever produced.  He founded forty monasteries in Ireland.  He founded his first one in Derry.  He died in 597A.D. His attempt to copy and keep Finian of Moville’s book the Psaltair or Battle Book of the O’Donnells) got him into trouble and hence the judgement “To every cow its calf and to every book its copy”.  St. Colmcille again got into trouble and fought against the High king of Ireland, in the Battle of Cúl Dréime.  People say the High King banished Colmcille from Ireland.  He travelled off to Scotland to the Isle of Iona.  He founded a monastery there in 563 AD and taught the faith which quickly spread into Scotland.

The site of Colmcille’s monastery on Iona

The only time he ever came back was to the convention of Drom Ceat where he helped to decide the fate of the poets and on that occasion he wore a blindfold.

In the year 635 AD the King of Northumbria, Oswald, requested the monks of Iona to send a missionary to convert his subjects to Christianity.  Aidan was chosen for the task.  He established a monastery at Lindisfarne, a tidal island in the shadow of the King’s castle at Bamburgh.

Lindisfarne – Holy Island

Aidan work was very successful and Finian, his successor, carried on his work.  In 660 A.D. Coleman was appointed as Bishop – Abbot of Lindisfarne.  While the Ionian Celtic Church was converting Scotland and Northumbria, St. Augustin was converting southern England to the modern Roman Church.  In 663 AD. a synod was called in Whitby to decide which method should be used and it was decided in favour of the Roman tradition.  Coleman could not accept the decision of the Synod.  He resigned as Bishop of Lindisfarne.  He returned to Iona with thirty Saxon monks and many others of Irish extraction taking with him half the bones and relies of St. Aidan.  After some time of prayer and reflection they set sail for Inishbofin an island off the coast of Galway, where he built a monastery.

The Saxon monks were very hard working; they tilled the land and grew corn for their survival.  The Irish monks visited their friends on the mainland during the summer and resumed to the island for the winter eating the food of the Saxon monks.  Dissatisfaction grew and in 668 A.D. St. Coleman came to the mainland seeking a site for the Saxon monks.  He talked with the local chieftain in the place known as Mágh nEó (Mayo – plain of the yew trees) and was granted a site for a monastery for the Saxon monks.  A former pupil of Coleman’s, Gerald, son of a Saxon king, lived near Rosslea and he appointed him Bishop Abbot of his new foundation and then returned to Inisbofin where he died in 674 AD.

Mayo Abbey – Mágh nEó na Sacsan

The monastery at Mágh nEó quickly grew under Gerald’s direction and soon became known as Mágh nEó na Sacsan (Mayo of the Saxons).  By the year 700 A.D. more than 100 monks lived there.  After some time St. Balan, a brother of Gerald’s, and another monk left Mág nEó and went to Tysaxon near Athenry.  It was called Templemoyle.  They named it Tí Saxon after Balan-Tí Saxon, meaning The House of the Saxon.  Another monk travelled to Tullylease in Cork and opened a monastery there.  The Book of Kells was started in Iona, by the Irish monks who were great artists and craftsmen, but because of the threat of the Viking invasion it was brought to Kells for safe keeping.  As it was finished in Kells it was called the Book of Kells “. We have found out that there are similarities between the Ardagh Chalice and the Book of Lindisfarne.  The designs on both are the same so the same craftsmen, the Irish monks, may have made them.  The chalice was found in Ireland, so like the Book of Kells it may have been moved because of the threat of Viking raids.  It could have been brought to Bofin or Mayo Abbey or Tysaxon or Tullylease.  We know it was stolen and hidden in Ardagh, Co. Limerick not far from Tullylease.  The thief must have died because he did not return for it.  It was not found until early this century in 1868.  Likewise the Derrynaflan hoard which was found about ten years ago was hidden by monks and they were probably killed by raiders as they too never came back to recover their property.  It is probably safe to say that there may still be treasure in the vicinity of our monasteries.  Who knows where we may find a “Tysaxon Hoard” or the “Book of Mayo Abbey” or “The Inishbofin Trove” or the “Tullylease Treasure”?  There may be more links to this chain.

Note: My interest in this subject started with the Weekend workshop in Mayo Abbey. Some of this material has been extracted from the Athenry Journal with kind permission from Finbarr O’Regan, Editor and more here from the writings of Martin T. Kelly of Castle Lambert and Newcastle National School.

Item of interest: there is a townland called “KNOCK SAXON” near Balla, Co. Mayo – I wonder is there another church or monastery here that is connected to the story?

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About this record

Written by Sarah O'Regan

Published here 05 Feb 2021

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