Beside the river, on fertile soil of the river flood plain but slightly raised on the high ground that forms the Inch -an island – is the typical setting for ruins of a Cistercian abbey. At Inch, Downpatrick, the ruins of John de Courcy’s foundation lie quiet and still, away from the bustle of the town.
For many visitors, the fine ruins are enhanced by this setting and also the trees which accompany them. One tree is especially magnificent, a great ash slightly weeping in its form, with lower branches sweeping down to form a beautiful tree profile.
It stands before the main entrance to the abbey church, a living guardian of the deserted aisles and cloisters. Within the trunk, holes shelter various nests and possibly one of the rarest of Northern Ireland’s birds, the barn owl. These `white owls’ are seen rarely, but this side of Downpatrick, Inch and Finnebrogue, with their woodland and the Quoile river, is an area where they are known to be still resident.