It is said that Mohona, the brother of St Maura of Fanad, founded Drumboe Abbey. The field in which the abbey was situates is known as ‘The Abbey Field’ and up until recent times people still visited the ‘Holy Well’, which is located in the adjoining woodland. Tradition has it that some stones surrounding the well had circular shapes engraved into them and this would suggest that the well dates back to pagan times.
The abbey was built on fertile land on the north side of the Twin Towns. On entering the field from the south end, the abbey was situated close to the front with a burial area to the back of the site beside the present woodland. The abbey consisted of two elongated constructions, one built behind the other and joined together at one end. The prayer and assembly area was in the front building facing the field entrance and the living area was at the back. The abbey was built with stone and wattle and had a thatched roof.
It is traditionally believed that St Eunan, who was the first Bishop of Raphoe, was a regular visitor to Drumboe Abbey, as he was friendly with the head abbot there. It is difficult to put an exact date of the time when St Eunan was Bishop of Raphoe, but some historians believe it was around the eleventh century. There are no church records for the area from around 950 to 1150 and this is probably due to the devistations and plundering by raiders like the Danish leader Auliffe around this time.
Other historians like Doctor Lanigan believed that Adamnan who was the abbot in Raphoe in the seventh century was the same person as the St Eunan mentioned by other writers. There might be an argument here as the festival for the saint called St Eunan is kept on the 23rd Sept and this was the same date that Adamnan died.
The abbey in Drumboe may have been started even earlier than the seventh century. If St Bridget’s (Kildare) sister St Maura was the same person as St Maura of Fanad, then this Would date the abbey back to the early sixth century. We know that Christianity had a firm base in Ireland at this time and St Colmcille started many monasteries in the north of the country during this period.
There were around twenty Celtic monks in Drumboe Abbey at any given time. The monks who occupied the abbey lived off the land and spent a great deal of time in prayer, giving inspiration and guidance to the community in the area. The church acted as a pivot for the community and as there were no parish boundaries, monks would travel the countryside preaching the teachings of the gospel.
The abbey was for a time the headquarters of the O’Donnell s and friars occupied it as late as 1610. Due to a flood in the river Finn, Red Hugh O’Donnell camped at the abbey in 1601 on his way to help relieve the Spanish at Kinsale.
Although Drumboe abbey was eventually demolished around 1650, during the Cromwellian raids, the disciplined and dedicated lifestyle lead by the monks is remembered to this present day.