The main attraction of Mahee Island in Strangford Lough is Nendrum Monastic Site.
These incredible Christian ruins are reported to date back to the 5th century. It makes for a great place to explore on the lake and can easily be seen on a day trip from Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Below, you’ll find info on its history, parking and what to look out for when you’re there.
Some quick need-to-knows about Nendrum Monastery
Although a visit to Nendrum Monastery is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
Nendrum Monastic Site is located in the middle of Mahee Island on the western side of Strangford Lough. It’s accessed by a series of causeways across to the island and it’s a 35-minute drive from both Bangor and Downpatrick and a 25-minute drive from Newtownards.
There is a decent size car parking area right off the main road at Nendrum Monastic Site (here on Google Maps). There’s room for several cars here on the water’s edge, and the ruins are just a short walk up the hill on a signposted trail.
3. Part of Strangford Lough
Nendrum Monastery is part of Strangford Lough and it’s one of the main attractions on this inlet, which is the largest in Ireland. Mahee Island is just one of 70 islands on the water and one of the few accessible by road. The lake is classified as both an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Special Scientific Interest for its rich biodiversity and unique flora and fauna.
The story behind Nendrum Monastic Site
The incredible ruins of Nendrum Monastery have an interesting history that is worth reading up on before your visit!
The island monastery was founded in the 5th century by Mochaoi, who is also known by his proper name Caolan. According to legend, he was said to have been appointed by St Patrick himself.
There are references to Nendrum Monastic Site up until the 10th century, when it was suspected to have been pillaged and demolished.
The next mention of the site was in 1178 when it was under the control of Benedictine monks who founded a small cell on the island.
It was eventually abandoned in the 15th century for a new site at the village of Tullynakill.
The re-discovery and excavation
The location of Nendrum Monastery was lost sometime in the 15th century until it was later discovered in 1844 by William Reeves.
He had visited the island in search of a church that had been recorded in 1306. He recognised the remains of the round tower at the site as the one he had been looking for.
The ruins were excavated by archaeologist Henry Cairnes Lawlor in the 1920s with some of the findings now kept in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
It was the first major excavation of an ecclesiastical site at the time with extensive reports published about it.
The site then underwent other excavations and restorations over the years until it was left in its current state.
The remaining features and design
The major remains of the monastic site are three enclosures of dry stone walling, which were rebuilt by Lawlor in the 1920s.
The central enclosure has the remains of the round tower, a ruined church, sun dial and graveyard. The second enclosure has what is assumed to be the monastic school.
The sun dial now in a corner of the church is one of the few early medieval sun dials to still exist and is one of the highlights of a visit.
Places to visit near Nendrum Monastic Site
One of the beauties of Nendrum Monastery is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in Down.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Nendrum!
1. Mahee Castle (1-minute drive)
Just one minute back up the road, it’s worth stopping to explore Mahee Castle on the island. The castle remains are of a small tower house which was built by Captain Thomas Browne. It was abandoned in the 17th century but was renovated by Lawlor in 1923 while he was working at the church site.
2. WWT Castle Espie (10-minute drive)
Just 10 minutes away and back on the mainland, Castle Espie is a natural wetland reserve on the western banks of the Strangford Lough. The protected area is next to a former castle and quarry, which has become a haven for ducks, swans, and brent geese.
3. Scrabo Tower (20-minute drive)
Towards the northern tip of Strangford Lough, it’s worth stopping to admire Scrabo Tower. Located just outside of Newtownards, the tower was originally built in 1857 and is one of the most standout landmarks of the whole area of Northern Ireland. You can see it from miles away!
4. Belfast (40-minute drive)
Just a 40-minute drive to the northwest of Strangford Lough and you’ll reach Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. There’s endless things to do in Belfast, from the Cave Hill Walk to the culinary delights of the Cathedral Quarter.
FAQs about Nendrum
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘When is there mass on?’ to ‘Is there much parking?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is Nendrum Monastery worth visiting?
If you have an interest in history and County Down’s past then yes, it’s well worth a visit here, especially as you can visit many nearby attractions in the proccess.
Where do you park for Nedrum?
There is a little car park right off the main road at Nendrum Monastic Site. There’s room for several cars here on the water’s edge, and the ruins are just a short walk up the hill on a signposted trail.
I was born in a quiet corner of a Gaeltacht on the Dingle Peninsula. Over the years, I’ve explored Ireland far and wide, from the wilds of West Clare to the shores of Sherkin. Particularly fond of heritage, history and hikes (and words beginning with ‘H’, apparently…).