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Ancient Abbeys and Monasteries in the West of Ireland

Updated on November 21, 2009

Welcome to the haunting photographic imagery of the ancient Abbeys, Monasteries and other Sacred Places of the West of Ireland.

We shall discover Ancient cloistered walkways where monks once prayed and meditated, Celtic crosses resting in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, Ireland's sacred mountain, Saint Bridget`s Abbey, an ancient Cistercian ruins out on Clare Island containing the final resting place of a Pirate Queen as well as some of the finest medieval wall paintings in Europe.

As the English gradually gained control in Ireland and the storms of persecution broke over the country, the Friars of Connaught held together and kept up succession in the worst times. More than that, as each successive storm somewhat abated and the communities in Leinster were dispersed and practically extinguished they were recruited and brought to life once more by Irish Friars from Connaught, so that the whole of Catholic Ireland owes a great debt of gratitude to the province of the West.

Come along now... journey with me into the past....

Under the shadow I will rest...


We begin our journey at Murrisk Friary, located on the shore of Clew Bay in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, Ireland's sacred mountain. Murrisk Augustinian Friary was founded by Hugh O'Malley in 1457. It was dedicated to St Patrick, some of whose relics were preserved here. The inscription on the Celtic Cross in the foreground of this photo reads: "Under the shadow I will rest."

Thady, chief of the O' Malley's donated land to the Augustinian friars in 1457 for a friary and church at Murrisk. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century saw the dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland. The siege of Kinsale in 1601 ended what was left of the old Irish Order and the Garvey family were given possession of Murrisk and the church lands of Oughaval and Gloshpatrick devolved on the Protestant archbishop of Tuam. The catholic religion was not allowed in Public but the friars remained in the locality and ministered to the people. A chalice was donated to Murrisk by Theobald, First Viscount Mayo and son of Granuaile (Grace O'Malley) in 1635, another by Friar John DeBurgo in 1648.

Ireland's sacred mountain, Croagh Patrick, towering 2510 feet above the shore of Clew Bay is the site of pilgrimage for many who come to pay homage to their patron saint. Legend has it that St. Patrick spent the entire Lent of the year 441, in prayer and fasting on the mountain. In emulation, for countless years, thousands of pilgrims have climbed these slopes, often in bare feet. The annual pilgrimage takes place on the last Sunday in July. From the top of this mountain, St. Patrick is supposed to have rid Ireland of snakes and all venomous creatures.

The quartzite peak of Croach Patrick was a pagan sacred place long before the arrival of Christianity. For the Celtic peoples of Ireland it was the dwelling place of the deity Crom Dubh and the principal site of the harvest festival of Lughnasa, traditionally held around August 1 (until the mid-nineteenth century only women were allowed on the summit during this pilgrimage and childless women would sleep on the summit during Lughnasa eve in the hope of encouraging fertility).

Ireland's National Famine Memorial "Coffin Ship" is also located nearby.

Sanctuary


"We are in a grand remote sanctuary of nature hallowed in past ages by the reverent hand of man. Lone and grey on the bank of the river running from the lakes into the bay, nestled the ruined old Dominican Convent of Burrishoole on that remote Western coast."
(P.G.Smyth in the Rosary Magazine, Somerset, Ohio, 1900)

Founded around 1470 by Richard De Burgo (Burke), Burrishoole Abbey lies on an inlet of Clew Bay, near the town of Newport in County Mayo, Ireland. Carraigahowley Castle (Rockfleet Castle), home of Granuaile "Pirate Queen of Connacht" (Grace O'Malley) lies nearby.

It's peaceful community acted as pastors, physicians and hospitallers for the community round. This was the century immediately preceding that of the Protestant Reformation. There was a great religious revival in Ireland. Friars of all orders made their greatest progress in Connaught. Numbers of new foundations were made, each Irish chieftain vying with the other to have the Friars in his territory. Several of the older abbeys were rebuilt from the ground.

When the storms of Persecution broke over the country and the more ancient orders were swept away as well as the communities of friars of the eastern and English parts of the country the Friars of Connaught held together and kept up succession in the worst times. More than that, as each successive storm somewhat abated and the communities in Leinster were dispersed and practically extinguished they were recruited and brought to life once more by Irish Friars from Connaught, so that the whole of Catholic Ireland owes a great debt of gratitude to the province of the West.

During the 17th century edict after edict went forth ordering priests and friars to leave the country. Some were driven out by force but others remained. The Dominican Order kept up its numbers and these were multiplied when the persecution eased. During most of that period three or four hundred friars were saying Mass wherever they could, hearing confession, preaching and burying the dead. In most cases they lived in thatched cabins as near as possible to the old abbey which they witnessed going to ruin year by year. The roof collapsed in 1793. The friars wore no habit and were in no way distinguished from the ordinary people. The Dominican friars preached devotion to the rosary. They were commonly called "Fathers of the Rosary". They were hated by the Government because they disregarded their unjust laws. The government forbade burials in old abbeys. The friars continued burials in their old abbeys and cemeteries over which they still retained their canonical rights. The government forbade the opening of schools but the friars defied the law and carried them on in the woods. In 1642 the Dominicans had opened a school at Burrishoole for the training of youths. It continued with untold difficulty until 1697.

A Hallowed Resting Place

It was indeed considered a privilege to be buried within the grey walls of the abbey or within it's shadow. It is fitting that we mention the names of a few whose mortal remains repose within the walls. The oldest inscribed monument within the abbey is the à Kelly altar tomb, the inscription which is in Latin gives the date 1623, also within the abbey repose the remains of Peregrine à Cleary, one of the Four Masters!, in his will dated "Gort na h-Eilte 8th February 1664" ( the original manuscript of which still exists) he set out: " I bequeath my soul to God and I charge my body to be buried in the monastery of Burghéis Umhaill " (Gort na h-Eilte is a townland in Glenhest)

A Celtic Cross in Memory of Father Manus Sweeney, a fallen hero of the 1798 Rebellion, may also be found here at Burrishoole. On 9 June, 1912 a crowd of 5000 marched in procession from Newport to the grave where the monument was unveiled.

"For many sleep in old Burrishoole where once the altar stood they rest

As shattered stone and manuscript and clear traditions voice attest

God keep the grass green on their graves with sweet wind that fills the West."

A Fallen Hero


The Celtic Cross in the rear of this photo is the Memorial Shrine to Father Manus Sweeney, a Fallen Hero of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and bears the inscription: "This cross has been erected by the parishioners of Burrishoole, To The Memory of Father Manus Sweeney, a Holy and Patriotic Priest who was hanged in Newport, County Mayo, Ireland, June 8th, 1799, because he had joined with his countrymen in the Rebellion of 1798. His name shall be in request from generation to generation. May he rest in peace. Amen."

On 9 June, 1912 a crowd of 5000 marched in procession from Newport to the grave where the monument was unveiled.


A close up view of The Memorial Shrine of Father Manus Sweeney

Sanctuary


An ancient iron gate opens upon a lone Celtic Cross at Burrishoole Abbey.

Resting in peace....


Celtic Crosses along the shore in the churchyard of Burrishoole Abbey.



Sources

Michael Hughes & Mary Jo Guilfoyle

Rev. Martin O'Donnell C.C. Spiddal, Co. Galway - Burrishoole Abbey

Pádraig à Móráin Annála Beaga Pharáiste Bhuiréis Umhaill.

A special word of thanks to Jane O'Malley, Kiltarnet, Newport for her personal notes and papers

Mayo County Library

Connaught Telegraph.

Gothic Steps


Ancient stone steps within the magnificent Romanesque Augustinian Abbey of Cong... It is within this Abbey that Ireland's last High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O’ Connor) died and was buried in 1198 although his remains were later moved to Clonmacnoise. The greatest relic of his Court, the Cross of Cong created to hold a piece of the True Cross, is now in the National Museum of Ireland. Cong Abbey, founded in the early 12th century by Turlough O’Connor (High King of Ireland), was built on the site of a 6th century church associated with St. Feichín.

Hallowed Ground


The haunting ruins of The Franciscan Friary of Moyne, located north of Ballina on the west side of Killala Bay, is one of most impressive ecclesiastical ruins in County Mayo and an Irish National Monument. Moyne Friary was founded in 1460 and later burned and it's friars persecuted in 1590 by Sir Richard Bingham, Elizabeth I of England's governor of Connacht, in brutal and unrelenting reformationist zeal.

The abbey was built in the late Irish Gothic style. It is cruciform in shape and has a bell tower suspended over its channel arch.

Gothic walk...


A haunting image of the Ancient Cloister where monks once prayed and meditated at The Franciscan Friary of Moyne.

Cloister


Ancient cloister where monks once prayed and meditated at The Franciscan Friary of Moyne.

Crypt of a Pirate Queen


Believed to be the final resting place of Granuaile, better known as Grace O'Malley, Pirate Queen of Connacht, this O'Malley Crypt is located within Saint Bridget`s Abbey, the 12th century Cistercian Abbey on Clare Island at the mouth of Clew Bay.

Clare Island's 12th century Cistercian Abbey contains a remarkable series of medieval wall and ceiling paintings. Only four other such examples still exist in Ireland, and Clare Island's are the most intriguing and best preserved.

Medieval wall paintings at Clare Island's 12th century Cistercian Abbey - Clare Island's 12th century Cistercian Abbey contains a remarkable series of medieval









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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      thomas merton ocso wrote that he would like to visit the monastaries of western ireland. now i see why. the remeberances of past devout souls comes alive here .st bridgets the cistercian one would especially draw reverance from tom he being a devout cistercian himself.-

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Beautiful Pictures and very interesting history. Only one thing would improve this: More!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Beautiful Pictures and very interesting history. Only one thing would improve this: More!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Just beautiful and so full of history, thank you so much for sharing !!!

    • profile image

      cmadden 5 years ago

      Goegeous photos and a very interesting lens!

    • anthropos lm profile image

      Lamar Ross 8 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for joining ”Anything and Everything Travel” Group. We look forward to seeing your other travel related lenses in our group. Keep up the good work.

    • RobinForlongePa profile image

      RobinForlongePa 8 years ago

      Beautiful!

      I have very few known Irish ancestors but I love Irish music and now I have a feel for Irish architecture and religion.

      Some of your material would enhance the Genealogy Wikia, a free site aiming to cover the genealogy of the world and already having pages for each county of the Emerald Isle and numerous individuals who were born or married there.

      See my introductory lens

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      Stunning photos... Welcome to All Things Travel.

    • The-Bard profile image

      The-Bard 8 years ago

      Superb lenscrafting! 5*s. Welcome to the Tru-Travel Group - Paul