BUTTEVANT ABBEY
 
Introduction: 
       On examining the historical record of Buttevant one cannot but be impressed. It saw battles, intrigues, alliances, 
feuds, examples of outstanding bravery and cowardice. In some aspects of the nation's history such as the confrontations which the ascendancy and the problems of the Land, it seemed to be the epitome of the action. Its greatest days are now long gone but it was once the centre of what was virtually a small empire, Buttevant, indeed 'Bothon' as first called in ancient documents, officially came into existence between the years 1200-1237. To pinpoint an exact date would be somewhat misleading in that various land deals took place between the crown and vassal in and around Buttevant as that we know today. Out of the land dealings one family above all became dominant, namely the Barrys. By charter William de Barry gained procession of in and around the years 1206-1225. King John was ruler in England at this time. The de Barrys or Barrys also colonised a great part of Southern and Eastern Cork. They, in effect, represented a major stronghold of crown influence essential in counteracting such Gaelic Irish groupings as the O'Briens in Thomand or the Mac Carthy in West Cork and Kerry. 
Foundation: 
       As was common place, the Barrys in Buttevant set about bolstering the structural foundations of the society they embodied. To do so they set about founding religious orders which they hoped would have a calming influence. The first of the religious orders to take up residence in Buttevant was the Augustinians. To accommodate this order, a large abbey was built in Buttevant nearly half a mile from the modem-day town. It was in the year AD 1229 that this abbey was erected  by Robert de Barry, and dedicated to St. Thomas. The second and perhaps more prophetic order to come to Buttevant was the Franciscans. For these also an abbey was built. It was built in the year 1251. This abbey, the ruins of which can be seen in Buttevant town today, will provide the core subject of this chapter. It is important however, to point out first of all, how important Buttevant had become, a walled corope town, one of the most important geopolitical centres in the country.  
'an assemblage of churches and religious houses, a place of much ecclesiastical importance, headed by the Barrys, who ruled a small empire of regal splendour'. They had also, However, introduced a society which was somewhat alien to our Gaelic way of life. In effect, two ways of life had come into existence and would clash, and their way would eventually lose out. Though bringing a much more civilised, perhaps fashionable, way of life with them, the Barrys were nevertheless ruthless mercenaries whose objective was wealth and power. 
Structure and Architecture: 
       As regards to structure and architectural quality, the Friary was, and still is, historically a masterpiece of its time. More elaborate in architectural features than other Franciscan houses in County Cork it is situated beside Spensers "Gentle Mulla" (Awbeg River). Indeed the edifice presents a rather religious awe-inspiring scene, The abbey covers two well defined periods of architecture in structure. Built in the whole of rubble, and limestone masonry, the original 13th century work of the transitional or early pointed type had red sandstone dressings for the windows; the later insertions are of limestone, most of which was taken from the nearby Ballyhoura hills. The site of the abbey is interesting in that it was built on a shelving area towards the river which necessitated the erection of crypts, a rare feature in this church. The principal crypt is entered from a cellar which was under a part of the conventional building. The crypt is lighted by two trefoil-headed lancet windows with large inward splays. There is a second or sub-crypt under the above. It is of smaller dimensions and is entered by a rectangular opening in the floor of the upper crypt, lighted by two lancets. It could be argued that these crypts represent the one major fault in this building. It also, however, displays the sheer skill of the builders who, perhaps, skillfully took advantage of the natural features of the site. On entering the abbey one is Introduced to years of painstaking and often extremely difficult craftsmanship. Today, of course, perhaps less than a half of the craftman's genius has survived. It is, however, enough to capture our admiration for, unlike today, these men were working with extremely crude instruments but nevertheless produced almost perfect work. The entrance is by a doorway in the West gable, over which rests two lancet windows of early English character, portions of the dressings of which are of sandstone. On the left as you enter is an altar tomb inserted in the North Wall of the nave. It exhibits a foiled and moulded arch, having a label decorated with the tooth ornament. The jambs have clustered shafts with plainly sculptured caps and moulded bases. The slab, a plain chamber with the following inscription: Hic Jacet Edmondus Magherty et Joana Muraghue et Heredes Eorum Anno Diai 1625." This inscription is important for several reasons. Firstly, the year is important, it tells us that this abbey was a burial place, not merely for the lay community. 
  
Nave and Transept: 
       The windows of the Buttevant Franciscan Abbey are perhaps the most Interesting feature of this religious structure. Beginning at the nave, it was lit by an early English Tudor couplet and two early decorated windows, each of two lights with quarter-folds in the heads. They were considerably splayed internally and enriched with banded jambs-shafts having moulded caps and bases. The chancel was lit by the East window, and a number of lancets in the South wall. The East window, the form of which can be easily traced, was an earty English triplet, lofty and of traceful proportions, the jambs and peirs of which were of red sandstone. The remains of the transept show it to have been the best finished portion of the edifice. It was lighted by a lofty English triplet in the South gable in the centre of which has been Inserted a two-lighted Tudor windows of similar character to those of the West and East gables. On the West wall were two Interesting examples of early decorated windows: they were of two lights. The mullions are gone and the lower portions built up but the remains of the tracery connected with the arch stones indicates the configuration. Externally they had labels with sculptured terminations; internally they were considerably splayed. The jambs had banded shafts with moulded bases, the caps of them are beautifully carved. The caps of the other were moulded with foliage. Curiously the outer wall of the gable or the transept is curved. The erection of this wall seems to have been necessary owing to a defect in the original foundation, caused by the slope.
 

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Sinan Chalice: 
       A short distance from the Friary a nunnery dedicated to St. John stood. The actual site on which it existed is largely 
unknown, it has been speculated that it may have existed near the entrance to Buttevant Chalice. What is so exciting about the nunnery, however, is that a chalice, namely the "Sinan Chalice" in the possession of the Franciscan order exists today. It dates from the dawn of the 17th century when the reign of Elizabeth was fast drawing to a close, when the report of the musket and the louder roar of the cannon echoed among the hills and valleys of the Fair Province of Munster, the Spanish soldier and the Irish peasant were led against the troops who fought beneath the cross and standard to St. George. It is of richly silver without either hall mark, town, stamp or markers device, but has all the characteristics of being locally made. It is supported on a hexagonal stem divided In the middle by a knob richly chased with roses and terminating in a base of six fan-shaped spaces, three of which are plain and three engraved, two having conventional lily ornaments and on the third the crucifixion. From each of the Saviour's hands flow thirteen drops of blood. Beneath all is the six-pointed flanged foot, with the usual tongue ornament In relief. The lily and the rose are of frequent occurrence as decorations upon the chalices of the 17th century, illustrating the allusion in the Song of Solomon where our Lord is likened to "The Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley." There were also supposed to have existed in the Buttevant Abbey several richly decorated frescoes of various religious figures. 
Later History: 
       To conclude, one only stresses again the beauty of this fine architectural masterpiece, and perhaps regret we live in an age when such monastic houses are no longer an integral part of rural life. This life, for perhaps five hundred years, was one of the great influences on the inhabitants of Buttevant: it witnesses such scenes as Murrough O'Brien's rebellion in    1401. when the town suffered greatly, the last plague of Ireland, Lord Deputy Sidney's triumphant entry into town, and the considerable strife during the war between the houses of York and Lancaster. To quote O'Flanagan's Blackwater in 1844. "portion of the nave, chancel and steeple- tower yet plead haughtily for greatness vanished." Though somewhat nostalgic, it sums up to a large degree the history and the beauty of the Buttevant Franciscan Abbey, not of course taking any of its beauty away from it.