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To this day, the site remains a largely undisturbed early historic and medieval monastic site containing a complex of archaeological monuments, ecclesiastical and secular, visible and sub-surface. The extant monuments at the site include a large ecclesiastical enclosure, five Early Christian grave slabs, a fine mid-ninth century high cross, a fragment of a cross shaft, a complete cross-head (housed in the National Museum of Ireland) and cross base, a holy well and other extensive archaeological features. It also includes a motte built by Hugh de Lacy in the 1180s and it was here that he was killed in 1186 by an Irishman.
The original monastery at Durrow was founded by St Columba, who also founded 26 other monasteries by the age of 25, including the Abbey of Kells. He founded it in 553 and ran it until 563, when he moved to Scotland, appointing a monk, Cormac Ua Liathain, to take his place. But owing to rivalries between the northern and the southern clans, especially on the borderland, Cormac found it impossible to retain the office of prior, and so he fled from the monastery, leaving in charge a first cousin of Columba, Laisrén by name, who was acceptable to both sides. Durrow, during Columba's life and for centuries after his death, was a famous school. The Venerable Bede styles it Monasterium nobile in Hiberniâ, and, at a later period, Armagh and itself were called the "Universities of the West". Durrow, like Clonard, Derry, and the rest, was frequently ravaged by the Vikings, but was not destroyed until the Norman invasion.
It was at the monastery in Durrow that the ancient Book of Durrow was compiled. Discovered in the hands of a local farmer, the book is believed to be the earliest surviving fully decorated insular Gospel manuscript. It is believed to date from the 7th century, though this is controversial.
The site itself, originally called Daru (plain of the oaks) is the location of some of the only remaining pre-mediaeval oak in Ireland. The line of oak trees which lines the fields to the side of Durrow Abbey also marks the route of the ancient highway of Ireland.
The five high crosses or Early Christian grave slabs (four of which have been stolen) are said to lie on the intersection of ley lines, where many ancient sites or monuments are said to sit. Durrow Abbey and the surrounding lands has been sound to sit on a higher than normal number of ley lines.
From an architectural perspective, the site contains two interesting features: Durrow Abbey House — a building of significant quality dating to the 1920s when it was rebuilt — and the church, dating from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century which itself is built on the footprint of at least one previous church, dating from medieval times. It is also suggested that the medieval church was itself built on the site of a former 12th century abbey church.
The house and land has recently been leased to the Founder of the Arts for Peace Foundation, which will use the house and grounds as the venue for a recreational respite centre for children from conflict zones.