Duiske Abbey is one of the finest, and largest, Cistercian buildings still in use in Ireland, and the extensive cloister garth was only equalled by that of Dunbrody Abbey. The abbey was founded in 1204 by William Marshal. The First Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal (1146–1219) was undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in Irish history. He was a prolific builder of castles like Kilkenny and the Rock of Dunamase, towns like New Ross, and abbeys like Tintern, across his vast territories in Ireland, Wales, England and Normandy. He founded Duiske as a ‘daughter house’ to the Cistercian monastery of Stanley in Wiltshire, England. Though today it is known as Duiske Abbey, or in Irish Mainistir an Dubhuisce, its original Latin name was Vallis Sancti Salvatoris, or the Valley of the Holy Redeemer.
The community that settled at Duiske Abbey found it to be the perfect place for a life of contemplation and religious service, located in a picturesque setting in the shadow of Brandon Hill close to the Duiske River. It was the abbey that gave the nearby town its name, Graiguenamanagh, as it derives from the Irish Gráig na Manach, meaning ‘hamlet (or village) of the monks’. The Cistercians raised revenue through the wool trade, but by the end of the 13th century the abbey was recorded as being in serious debt, owing substantial sums to Italian bankers. However, the abbey endured and continued to flourish. The last abbot, Charles Kavanagh, was a generous benefactor, and donated much wealth to the abbey, including precious vestments and a silver gilt cross. He was also responsible for the creation of the ‘Annals of Duiske’ or ‘The Ancient Book of Graig’, which was set to paper in the Abbey’s scriptorium. He travelled on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 1530, though the abbey’s days were soon to end.