There are more than 100 medieval monastic sites lying in ruins all over Ireland. Followers of St Patrick began building them in the 6th century. Viking raiders began destroying them in the 9th century. Norman conquerors began building more in the 12th century. There are several Franciscan friaries in County Galway that were built in the 14th and 15th centuries. We visited one of these on our day-long bus tour of Connemara last summer.
Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.
Ross Errilly Friary is in Galway just south of the County Mayo border. It is 18.2 km southeast of Cong (via the R334 road) and 2 km north of the village of Headford. Lough Corrib is 15.3 km to the west and Galway City is 28.1 km to the south (via the N84 road).
An abbey is a monastic settlement that is run by an abbott or abbess. But the Ross Errily Friary never had an abbott and so it is a mistake to call it Ross Abbey. But some people still do.
In 1473 a delegation of friars left Ross Errily to found a new friary in Donegal. This is where the Four Masters wrote their Annals which is recognized today as the definitive history of medieval Ireland.
North Galway and south Mayo are often called Joyce Country. An Anglo-Norman family named Joyce settled here in the 13th century and Joyce was one of the legendary 14 Tribes of Galway. The famous Irish writer James Joyce was a Dubliner but his ancestor was a stonemason from Connemara who moved to Kerry in the 17th century.
The inscription reads “God be merciful to the souls of Ulick Burke his wife Kate Lynch son to John Burke of Castle Hackett and.” Castle Hackett is a tower house ruins between Headford and Tuam. Ulick Burke was born in 1620 and died in 1716.
Ulick was the 3rd Earl of Clanrickarde. His de Burg ancestors founded the friary in the 14th century. Queen Elizabeth kicked the friars out and gave the property to the 2nd Earl of Clanrickarde who quietly gave it back to the Franciscans. These acts 0f eviction followed by return of the friars continued for a couple of hundred years. The Franciscans finally left for good in 1753. Some of the monks continued to live in the area and for many years a priest would sneak back to the friary to say Sunday Mass for the community. But the monks were all gone by 1832 and the friary began to fall to pieces.
Actually, when the friary became a de facto cemetery in the 19th century bodies were placed on the ground floor for burial and the new ground floor was then elevated several feet. My daughter is all of 5’4″ and she has to duck when passing through the doorway from one room to another.
In 1626 there were only 6 monks living in the friary. In 1656 there were 140. Then Cromwell plundered the place and the monks left. But the monks came back in 1664 only to be thrown out again in 1691. The property was acquired by Lord St George in the 18th century who continued the practice of the Burkes before him by secretly allowing the monks to again return. In 1753 the secret was exposed and the monks were forced to flee again, this time for good.
That’s the last post from our all-day trip to Connemara and our last post from our week in Galway. The next day we took the bus to Dublin. Stay tuned for my account of our last week in Ireland.
Irish Music Bonus — Kilkelly by Eleanor Shanley
Here’s the story. A fair warning: it’s going to be sad. But it’s a great story and a beautiful song.
Kilkelly is a tiny village in County Mayo (north of Galway) not too far from the Knock Airport and the town of Knock.
The Great Famine spread all over Ireland in the middle of the 19th century: people began to starve and families began to break up and some family members fled to other countries in order to save their lives. One of these families were the Hunts, farmers from Kilkelly. The parents stayed to keep their farm going. One daughter (Bridget) married her local boyfriend and also stayed. Two sons moved to England to find work. And one son migrated to America. The Kilkelly son John Hunt settled in Bethesda, Maryland. Over a hundred years went by and one of his descendants, Peter Jones, one day discovered a bunch of letters in the family attic.
The letters were from Ireland and were spread over a period of 35 years, from 1858 to 1893. The letters were from Byran Hunt, Peter’s great great great grandfather, and addressed to Byran’s son John who left Ireland for America in 1855. The father was illiterate and so he dictated each letter to Pat McNamara, the local schoolmaster, who was a boyhood friend of John’s.
Peter gathered the letters and put them in chronological order and then he composed a song that told the story of his family’s ordeal. The song went viral in the 1980s and was recorded by several singers on both sides of the Pond.
And here’s the Song:
Eleanor Shanley is a popular Irish singer from County Leitrim. She sang with De Danann many years ago and recorded a number of beautiful duets with Ronny Drew a while back. I will let you listen to one of them in one of my future posts on Dublin.