The first Lord Abbot, Dom Vincent Ryan (b. 1788, e. 1835, d. 1845), was both founder and, in a sense, the embodiment of the Community. As Prior of the Abbey of Melleray in France, he was the senior Irish monk of the Community, and a native of Waterford. He entered the Cistercian noviciate in 1810 while the Community was in exile at Lulworth, England, having been driven out of France by the revolutionaries in 1794. He was ordained in 1815. In 1817, Melleray was restored but only temporarily. In 1831, the monks were once again expelled. In anticipation, Fr. Vincent had been to Ireland in a search for a home in exile. This bore fruit when the English and Irish exiles arrived at Cobh on 1st December, 1831, and made their way to Rathmore, Co. Kerry. The following year land as Scrahan came to Fr. Vincent's attention. On 30th May, 1831, the lease was signed with Sir Richard Keane and on the next morning, Ascension Thursday, Fr. Vincent celebrated Mass at the single cottage, christened 'Bethlehem', and at the place now christened Mount Melleray. That same day a cheque for £100 was received from the Duke of Devonshire of Lismore Castle.
The foundation stone of the new monastery was laid on 20th August, 1833. The stone read: Gregorio XVI. Pont. Max; Guilielmo Abraham, S.T.D., R.C.E W. et L.; R.P. Vincento; S.R. Keane, E.S.S.; Die 20 Augusti 1833." The monastery was raised to the status of an Abbey in February, 1935, and Dom Vincent Ryan was given that abbatial blessing by Bishop Abraham on 17th May, feast of St. Carthage of Lismore. He was the first Abbot to be blessed in Ireland since the despoilation of the monasteries. On 22nd October, 1838, the first Abbey Church was opened for public worship.
The bell, a familiar sound to all visitors to Mount Melleray, the work of Murphy's Irish Bell Foundry of James' Street, Dublin, was hung in the tower in 1844. Dom Vincent wrote to Mr. Murphy that: "for beauty of form, solidity of construction, power and sweetness of tone, continues to give universal satisfaction and is an object of admiration to our numerous visitors who declare it cannot be excelled by any bell of its size or weight in the country." It was transferred to the tower of the present Abbey Church on 21st March, 1938.
Dom Vincent died on 9th December, 1845, at the age of only 57 years, a religious for 34 years and Abbot of Mount Melleray for 10 years. He was described in an obituary: "Dr. Ryan was a religious of no ordinary mold. He was cast by God for the noble purpose of restoring the monastic life to Ireland in a time and under circumstances of no ordinary difficulty. Great was his faith and confidence in God, even to the removing of mountains! Pure and burning his charity towards God and man! First in every duty, vigilant in prayer, constant as his frequent sickness would permit him in labour, singular in humility, he was a faithful illustration of the religious, painted in his own excellent work on the duties of the monastic state."
On 15th January, 1846, the Community elected the Sub-Prior, a Clonmel man, Dom Joseph Mary Ryan (b. 1801, e. 1846, r. 1847 d. 1856), as the second Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray. He had entered the noviciate at Mount Melleray in 1839. His was the first public consecration of an Abbot in Ireland since the reformation. He retired as Lord Abbot on 28th October, 1847, and lived another nine years as a monk of Mount Melleray.
Before the election on 4th April, 1848, of Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick (b. 1812, e. 1848, d. 1893), as third Lord Abbot, the approval of the Holy See to exempt the Abbey from the jurisdiction of the Local Ordinary and to place it under the Abbot General and the Chapter General of La Trappe, was received. Dom Bruno was educated at St. Suplice and the Irish College, Paris. And while a professor of philosophy in Carlow College in 1836, was ordained for the Archdiocese of Dublin. He entered Mount Melleray in May, 1843. Once elected, he proposed a foundation in America and on 25th July, 1848, Fr. Bernard McCaffrey set out on the mision that would eventually bear fruit in New Melleray Abbey the following year. His consacration was took place on 14th September, 1848. Dom Bruno attended the consacration of the Cathedral of St. Louis on 3rd May, 1857. The foundation of the second daughter house, Mount Saint Joseph, at Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, and of the Ecclesiastical Seminary were other monuments to his time. He also made an attempt to reintroduce Cistercian nuns to Ireland in 1861. The Lodge, so familiar to the hungry guest and the subject of the 66th Chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict, was built in 1862. In 1868, Dom Bruno also saw the restoration of solemn vows by the Holy See. There had been within the Cistercian Order, as with the Benedictines, a multiplicity of 'Congregations' or groups of houses but in 1892, as part of a wider attempt by Pope Leo XIII to 'streamline' Orders, three Congregations of stricter observance of the Holy Rule formed a distinct Order, the 'Ordo Cisterciensium Strictioris Observantiae.' On 4th December, 1893, after a prolonged period of ill-health, Dom Bruno fell asleep in the Lord during an influenza epidemic at the age of 81 years, 52 years in religion and 45 as Lord Abbot. He is remembered as the second founder of Mount Melleray.
On 15th January, 1894, Dom Carthage Delaney (b. 1836, e. 1894, r. 1908, d. 1909) was elected as the fourth Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray. A Longford man and student of the College at Mount Melleray, he entered the Abbey in 1859 and had been claustral Prior for 30 years at the time of his election. At the age of 58, he was the oldest Abbot elected by the community at the time by some years. His was the first abbatial consacration (29th April) presided over by the representative of the Abbot General. An interesting notion - giving some insight into the interior and prayer life of a Trappist - is that the Rosary Confraternity was established in the monastery at the beginning of Dom Carthage's term, the October devotions being practiced each evening of the month after Compline. Dom Carthage purchased the stained glass window from Meyer of Munich that was then installed behind the High Altar of the Abbey Church and is now in the Sanctuary of St. Philomena's, the Public Church, the central panel of which is a facsimile of Murillo's Immaculate Conception, the lower ones, Ss. Brigid, Malachy, Bernard and Patrick. Dom Carthage resigned in 1908 in his 78th year.
Dom Carthage's headstone in the Community Cemetary reads: "Hic Requiescat JOANNES CARTHAGUS DELANY natus in comitatu Longfordiensi adhuc juvenis nomen religioni dedit in coenobio Beatae Mariae de Monte Melleario et in eodem coenobio munere praepositi sex lustra et abbatis tria pie functus virtute clarus obdormavit in domino xviii kal feb. mcmix aetatis suae lxxiii. Orate pro eo."
The grave of Dom Carthage Delaney, O.C.S.O., in the foreground
On 8th May, 1908, the community elected the man who had succeeded Dom Carthage as claustral Prior, Dom Maurus Phelan of Kilrossanty, Co. Waterford as fifth Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray (b. 1853, e. 1908, d.1931). Dom Maurus entered Mount Melleray at the age of 19 years in 1872. Dom Maurus was a native speaker of Irish and was instrumental in the promotion of the Irish language by the monks and schools of Mount Melleray. He preached a sermon in Irish every Sunday and published the Leabhar Urnaighthe, a prayerbook in the Irish language. He was consacrated Abbot on 15th August, 1908. In 1912, electricity was introduced to the monastery. In July, 1913, Bl. Dom Columba Marmion preached the annual retreat to the community. In 1914, the Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray became the father immediate of the Trappistine Nuns of Holy Cross Abbey, Stapehill, Dorset, Dom Maurus succeeded where Dom Bruno had failed in reintroducing Cistercian nuns to Ireland at St. Mary's Abbey, Glencairn, although they arrived just after his death on 10th July, 1931. On 20th August, 1932, the Barracks Chapel from Fermoy that he had purchased was re-erected and opened as the College Chapel.
On 16th August, 1931, Dom Stanislaus Hickey (b. 1865, e. 1931, d. 1933) was elected sixth Lord Abbot. Dom Stanislaus, a native of Co. Tipperary, entered the community in 1884. He had been claustral Prior and Definitor of the Order in Romesince 1925. He published Summula Philosophae Scholasticae in 1902. He was Lord Abbot for only eighteen months. He died of pneumonia on 25th February, 1933, at only 66 years.
The seventh Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray, Dom Celsus O'Connell (e. 1933, r. 1957, d. 1958), a native of Mourne Abbey, Co. Cork, was elected on 5th April, 1933. He was a monk of Mount Melleray but had been Definitor of the Order in Rome from 1920 and Abbot of Mount St. Bernard in England from 1929. His term began with the celebration of the centenary of the Abbey on 20th August, 1833. The celebrations took place from 15th to 17th August, 1933. On the third day, Cardinal McRory, Archbishop of Armagh, laid the foundation stone of the present Church. By 1935, the sacristy and chapter house had been built. In 1937, the spire of the old Church had been replaced by the lantern of the present tower. The monastic Church and the public Church were both roofed and externally complete by the end of 1939. The 200 choir stalls of the monastic Church commenced to be used from 15th December, 1940.
Cardinal McRory approved the foundation of New Mellifont Abbey in his Archdiocese in 1938. 10 years later, another foundation was made at Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, Co. Antrim.
On 20th August, 1952, came the most momentous event of Dom Celsus' term, the consacration of the new Abbey Church. In 1954, a foundation was made in New Zealand, Our Lady of the Southern Star Abbey.
By 1954, changes were already starting to be made within the Order with the ending of the obligation of the daily recitation of the Office for the Dead, except one day a week, and the obligation to recite the Little Office of Our Lady daily abolished for feast days of Our Lady, and abolished entirely in 1956. Dom Celsus retired as Abbot on 3rd February, 1957 (the website of the General House says 2nd but the monastic community wasn't informed until the following day). Dom Celsus fell asleep in the Lord on 13th November, 1958.
The graves of Dom Stanislaus Hickey, Dom Maurus Phelan and Dom Celsus O'Connell, respectively.
Dom Finbar Cashman was elected to succeed his fellow Cork man on 26th April, 1957, and he was consacrated on 16th July of the same year. A new Abbot General elected in January, 1964, oversaw the Chapter General that abolished the distinctive habit of laybrothers, as well as the cowl and monastic tonsure. In 1968, the Office began to be recited in the vernacular. In 1969, the election of Abbots for life was ended. On 2nd July, 1971, Dom Finbar was succeeded by Dom Pól Ó hAonghusa, the ninth and first temporary Lord Abbot of Mount Melleray, who was installed on 21st September, 1971. In 1974, Mount Melleray College closed after 140 years. Dom Edward Ducey, a founder monk of New Mellifont Abbey and Abbot there since 1974, became Superior ad nutum and was elected tenth Lord Abbot on 26th August, 1976 and was installed on 29th September. Dom Justin MacCarthy was elected on 26th June, 1980. Dom Eamon Fitzgerald was elected on 19th July, 1989. He was elected Abbot General in September, 2008, and was replaced by Fr. Michael Ahern as Superior ad nutum until he was replaced Dom Augustine McGregor, formerly Abbot of New Mellifont, in June, 2010. Dom Augustine McGregor was elected as thirteenth Lord Abbot on 3rd November, 2010.