Religious Orders

Between c. 1130 and 1540 roughly 400 new abbeys, priories and friaries were established across Ireland. These accommodated men and women who lived communally according to particular religious rules, the origins of which lay in Continental Europe. They were responsible for the introduction of new ways of pursuing religious life, social provision and land management. They also established a form of architectural planning designed for a communal life of work and prayer and became an important conduit for new artistic ideas into Ireland.
Further Reading: A. Gwynn and R.N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, Ireland (Dublin, 1970)

Benedictine Monks (OSB)

BENEDICTINE ORDER (Black Monks) followed the rule established by St Benedict (d. 543) for communal worship and living. The order came to dominate monastic life in Europe during the early Middle Ages, although it never established a major presence in Ireland. While some early Irish ecclesiastical sites may have adopted aspects of the rule, the earliest reliable evidence for the presence of Benedictines is at Christ Church, Dublin in the period 1074–1100. There is some (ambiguous) evidence for the presence of Benedictines at a number of twelfth-century sites, including the Rock of Cashel. Following the Anglo-Norman invasion, several new priories were established, among them Down, where the monks were attached to the cathedral. The Benedictines never really prospered in Ireland and only three priories are known to have survived as religious communities until the Reformation.

Further Reading: M. Browne OSB and C. Ó Clabaigh OSB (eds), The Irish Benedictines, a History (Dublin, 2005); E. Bhreathnach, ‘Benedictine influence in Ireland in the late eleventh and twelfth century: a reflection’, Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies 1 (2012), pp.

Cistercian Monks (O. Cist.)

CISTERCIAN ORDER ( white monks). The order had its origins in Cîteaux, Burgundy, formed as a response to the ostentatious liturgical and artistic practices of religious orders such as the Cluniacs. Members committed themselves to the monastic life by professing obedience, stability and a commitment to monastic living, seeking a life guided by simplicity away from the ‘haunts of men’. Days were divided between private prayer, study and manual labour – the last activity ensuring that the monks, together with communities of lay brothers, could remain self-sufficient and thus protected from the outside world.
The exact nature of the order’s development during the twelfth century is unclear, but by c. 1190 it had established a firm foothold across Europe, with central administrative control maintained through annual meetings of abbots at a general chapter in Cîteaux. The Cistercians were introduced to Ireland at Mellifont, Co. Louth in 1142, by St Malachy (Máel-Máedóc Ua Morgair) as part of his wider policy of Church reform. By 1228 thirty-four houses had been established across the country. The earliest monasteries were set up as colonies from Mellifont, while a later group, sponsored by Anglo-Norman patrons, were founded directly from English and French houses, a factor that led to cultural tensions between Irish Cistercian communities. Ensuing conflicts, coupled with ill-advised speculation on wool prices and a fall in the number of lay brothers led to the decline of the order by the late thirteenth century. Although some attempts were made at reform in the early sixteenth century, by the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries, only St Mary’s Abbey, Dublin and Mellifont still had communities of any significance.

Further Reading: A. Hamilton Thompson, A.W. Clapham and H.G. Leask, ‘The Cistercian Order in Ireland’, Archaeological Journal 88 (1931), 1–36; Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228–1229, ed. and trans. B.W. O’Dwyer (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982); A. Lynch, Tintern Abbey, Co. Wexford: Cistercians and Colcloughs. Excavations, 1982–2007 (Dublin, 2010); C. Ó Conbhuidhe, The Cistercian Abbeys of County Tipperary (Dublin, 1999); R. Stalley, Cistercian Monasteries of Ireland (London and New Haven, 1987).

Abbeyknockmoy, Galway Abbeyknockmoy served as a family mausoleum for the O’Connor family, with Cathal Crobderg O’Connor buried there in the habit of a Cistercian in 1224, seven years after his wife, Moy, was buried there. Malachy O’Kelly, King of Uí Mhaine, and his wife, Fionnuola O’Connor, were buried there in 1402 and 1403.

Cloister at Abbeyknockmoy

Baltinglass, Wicklow Baltinglass abbey is situated close to the river Slaney in a valley of the Wicklow Mountains which was a strategic pass between north and south Leinster. The original place name Belach Conglais ‘the pass of Cú Glas’ retains the name of a mythological hero Glass who was reputedly killed by magical wild boars. The archaeology of the surrounding environs, and especially the substantial hillfort of Rathcoran on Baltinglass Hill overlooking the river valley testifies to strategic importance of Baltinglass from prehistory. It is likely that Dermot MacMurrough, who as king of Leinster often used ecclesiastical patronage to further his military and political ambitions, endowed Baltinglass with a view to strengthening his grip on the provincial kingship of Leinster. Baltinglass was the second daughter house of Mellifont abbey, Co. Louth, the first Cistercian house in Ireland (fd. 1142). Dermot granted Baltinglass abbey eight separate parcels of land in the Cos Wicklow, Carlow and Kildare. It became the motherhouse of Jerpoint abbey in 1180. The ruins of the twelfth-century Romanesque church are all that survive of the monastery and they consist of a long and elegant nave arcade and a range of sculptural details on capitals and in the east end of the church.

Bective, Meath Bective Abbey was founded in 1147 by Murchadh O Melaghlin (Ua Máel Sechlainn), king of Meath (Mide), and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the second Cistercian foundation in Ireland and daughter-church of Mellifont Abbey, Co. Louth (1140/2). Bective and Mellifont are only about 30 km from each other and were easily accessible as both were situated close to the river Boyne.

Corcomroe, Clare Corcomroe Cistercian abbey is situated in a fertile valley in the unique limestone landscape of the Burren, Co. Clare. Although no sources refer to its foundation, it is probable that the monastery was founded by Domhnall Mór O’Brien c. 1194 as part of his policy of patronage of the church and strengthening his rule in the region. The eastern part of the buildings, with rib-vaulted chancel and finely carved capitals reflect the work of a group of craftsmen working in the west of Ireland during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries known as the ‘School of the West’. With its precinct wall, abbot’s house, gatehouse, hospital, aisled church, cloister and domestic ranges, this monastery would have been a conspicuous landmark in the medieval landscape of the Burren.

Jerpoint, Kilkenny Jerpoint Abbey was formally affiliated to the Cistercian order in 1180. It may have been in existence since the 1160s. Perhaps it functioned as a Cistercian house informally until formal affiliation to the order in 1180. A charter issued by John, lord of Ireland c. 1192 confirmed an earlier charter granted by one of the kings of Osraige (Ossory) from the Mac Gilla Pátraic (modern Fitzpatrick) family, either Domnall I (d. 1176) or Domnall II (d. 1185).

Dunbrody, Wexford Coming soon

Mellifont, Louth Coming soon

Augustinian Canons Regular (OESA)

AUGUSTINIAN CANONS (Canons Regular, Austin Canons) were ordained clergy who lived communally under a rule derived from the writings of St Augustine (d. 430). In common with monks, canons took vows of poverty and celibacy and participated in the daily recitation of the divine office. But in contrast to monks, their lives extended beyond the confines of the monastery, and they engaged actively in public ministry. They were active promoters of pilgrimage, acting as keepers of shrines and relics and providing hospitality to pilgrims and travellers and as well as the sick. Their level of education and social standing also led canons to play a role in political life. The heads of eight Augustinian houses sat in the Irish parliament as spiritual peers, and others held government offices such as Treasurer, tax collectors and keepers of the peace.
There were approximately 120 houses of Augustinian canons in Ireland, making them the predominant religious order. This included a group of monasteries, mainly in the east of the country, which followed a version of the rule established at the abbey of St Victor, Paris, and at least thirty houses that followed the stricter rule of the Augustinian congregation at Arrouaise in France. Other forms of the canonical life included the Premonstratensians, the canonesses regular for women and the Fratres Cruiferi, an Augustinian order concerned with the running of hospitals. The order had reached its peak in Ireland by the mid-thirteenth century and from this time different houses enjoyed mixed fortunes. By the Dissolution, a number were operating in a greatly diminished capacity or no longer supported communities at all, while others flourished on the revenues of pilgrimage or the support of wealthy patrons.

Further Reading: S. Preston, ‘The canons regular of St Augustine in medieval Ireland: an overview’ (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, TCD, 1996); T. O’Keeffe, An Anglo-Norman monastery […Bridgetown](Cork, 1999); M. Clyne (ed), Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny (Dublin, 2007); R. Gillespie and R. Refaussé, The medieval manuscripts of Christchurch cathedral, Dublin (Dublin, 2006). D. Hall, Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland c. 1140–1540 (Dublin, 2003), chapter 4; S. Kinsella (ed.), Augustinians at Christ Church (Dublin, 2000)

Kells, Kilkenny Kells Augustinian priory is situated on the bank of the King’s river, 0.5km to the east of the present village of Kells and 12km south of Kilkenny city. The priory was founded c.1193 by Geoffrey Fitzrobert (d. 1211), who brought four canons over from Bodim Priory in Cornwall to establish a community outside his borough of Kells. The priory was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the canons were granted a site near a pre-Norman ecclesiastical site dedicated to St Kieran. They also received half of the parish of Kells in land and held several granges, or farms, within and without the parish. The extensive priory remains are a fortified enclosure with six towers and a gateway, the priory church, the cloister and its domestic buildings and the prior’s residence. Excavations uncovered a wealth of material including decorated floor tiles, fragments of wall paintings and of painted window glass.

Killone, Clare Killone is a National Monument situated in a secluded and picturesque valley on the shore of Killone Lake, near Ennis Co. Clare. The nunnery was founded by Donal Mór O’Brien in about 1189, at the same time as Clare Abbey of the Augustinian canons, on lands belonging to the male house. Killone abbey was dedicated to St John the Baptist. It was suppressed in 1584 and was recorded as being in ruins by 1617. To the northeast of the nunnery at the edge of the lake lies St John’s (the Baptist) well, which is a holy well and altar.

St Thomas', Dublin The Augustinian abbey of St Thomas the Martyr lay outside the medieval walls of Dublin in the western suburbs, just off of modern-day Thomas Street. It was founded by William FitzAldelm, custos of Ireland, on behalf of Henry II, king of England, in 1177. The abbey of St Thomas the Martyr followed the Victorine rule, which was also followed in St Augustine’s Abbey in Bristol, England. It is therefore likely that the first canons came over from Bristol. No trace of the abbey remains on the modern landscape.

Speed's Map of Dublin, 1610 (detail)
Premonstratensian Canons (O. Praem.)

PREMONSTRATENSIAN CANONS (Norbetines, White Canons) trace their origins to Prémontré Abbey, about 15 km west of Laon in France. Founded by St Norbert, the canons lived according to the Rule of St Augustine, but with particular observances borrowed from the Cistercians. These included the Cistercian system of capitular organization, their system of filiation (under which houses established daughter houses), rules for founding abbeys, for lay brethren, and governing daily life. The earliest foundation of the Premonstratensians in Ireland is that at Carrickfergus, a daughter house of the English foundation at Dryburgh. In contrast to the foundations of other late medieval orders, the houses of the Premonstratensians are found exclusively in Ulster and Connacht. Most were established during the thirteenth century, with the last of their thirteen houses in Ireland established at Ballypriormore, Co. Antrim in 1542-43.

Further Reading: M. Clyne, ‘The founders and patrons of Premonstratensian houses (White Canons) in Anglo-Norman Ulster and Gaelic Connacht’ in J. Burton and K. Stober (eds), The Regular Canons in the Medieval British Isles (Turnhout, 2011), pp. 145-72.

Trinitarians (O. SS. T.)

The Trinitarian Order was founded near Paris at the end of the 12th century. Also known as the Order of the Most Holy Trinity for the Redemption of the Captives, the order was created in response to Christians held by non-Christians as a consequence of the Crusades and Mediterranean piracy.

Adare, Limerick Holy Trinity Abbey Church is now the Roman Catholic parish church in the centre of the picturesque nineteenth-century estate village of Adare. The foundation date of Trinitarian order at Adare is unknown. The church underwent considerable restoration in the nineteenth century which incorporated remains of the medieval church including the nave, chancel and tower.

Dominican Friars (OP)

DOMINICAN ORDER (the order of Preachers or Blackfriars) was a religious order of mendicant friars established by St Dominic and given papal sanction in 1216. It spread quickly across Europe, and the first Irish house was established in Dublin in 1224. By 1305 there were twenty-five communities across Ireland, and between 1385 and 1507 the order expanded further with the foundation of ten houses, mainly in the west of Ireland. This later expansion coincided with the introduction of Observant Reform, stressing particularly strict adherence to the rules and constitutions of the order. Despite various attempts to establish an independent Irish province, Irish friaries were subject to a vicar appointed by the English provincial of the order until 1536. By that year there were thirty-eight friaries in Ireland, of which only twenty were suppressed between 1539 and 1542. Sympathetic Gaelic patrons allowed a number of friaries, particularly in more remote areas of the west, to remain active until the reign of Elizabeth I.

Further Reading: T. Burke, Hibernia Dominicana; sive, historia provinciae Hiberniae Ordinis Praedicatorum;; introduction by T. Wall ( Farnborough, 1970); A. Coleman (ed.), ‘Regestum monasterii fratum praedicatorum de Athenry’, Archivium Hibernicum, 1 (1912), 201–21; P. Conlon, ‘Irish Dominican medieval architecture’, in M.A. Timoney (ed.), A celebration of Sligo: first essays for Sligo Field Club (Sligo, 2002), 215–28; B. O'Sullivan, Medieval Irish Dominican studies, H. Fenning (ed.) (Dublin, 2009); C. Ó Clabaigh, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012)

Aghaboe, Laois Coming soon

Athenry, Galway Athenry Dominican priory was one of the great Dominican foundations in Ireland, founded by Milo de Bermingham c.1241. Located 25km to the east of Galway city, the priory initially stood on the outskirts of the town walls of Athenry but was eventually enveloped by the town walls. Athenry priory was a dynamic building, undergoing several phases of construction that revealed the shared patronage of the Dominicans between Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Norman benefactors. The names that feature on the grave slabs of the church and within the fifteenth-century Athenry register are further proof of this. The quality of architecture and art evident in Athenry are testament to the significant patronage the Dominicans enjoyed and were likely a reflection of de Bermingham wealth and power.

Burrishoole, Mayo St Mary’s priory in Burrishoole lies in the very picturesque landscape of Mayo, on the northern shores of Clew Bay, a few kilometres west of Newport. It was likely founded around 1469 by Richard de Burgo of Turlough, Lord Mac William Oughter (d. 1473), although the foundation of the priory only received papal approval in 1486. However, it is possible that the date of foundation might be earlier in 1456, when approval for a Dominican house in the area was sought from Pope Callixtus III (d.1458) by Rory Ymoraycen (O’Marahen) on behalf of Richard Burke. The remains consists of the entire church, including a crossing tower and a south chapel, the north wall of the north range and the western wall of the east range and which is also that of the cloister; it was an integrated cloister, where the upper floor of the east range covered both the ground floor of the range and the cloister walk. The grounds of the friary are still actively used as a cemetery for the local population.

Carlingford, Louth The remains of Carlingford Dominican friary are located to the south of the old part of town, off Dundalk Street, and in the Middle Ages it would have been located just outside of the town walls. The surviving buildings consist of a nave and choir church with a tower dividing up the space. The friary was dedicated to St Malachy.

Cashel, Tipperary Coming soon

Kilkenny, Kilkenny Coming soon

Kilmallock, Limerick The Dominican foundation of St Saviour’s priory lies on the north bank of the river Loobagh in the village of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. In the Middle Ages, Kilmallock was a thriving, Anglo-Norman walled borough. It was likely to have been founded by the Fitzgeralds, a powerful Anglo-Norman family, who were also important benefactors of the Dominican priory.

Coming soon

Roscommon, Roscommon St. Mary’s Dominican Priory is located on the outskirts of the historical medieval town of Roscommon, which at its core includes the Anglo-Norman castle and house of Augustinian canons located on the site of the earlier monastery of St Commán. Roscommon priory was one of a number of Dominican foundations established in the west of Ireland in the mid-thirteenth century, the other foundations being Athenry, Sligo, Strade. It was founded in 1253 by Felim O’Conor (d.1265), king of Connacht and consecrated in 1257 by the Bishop of Elphin, Thomas O’Conor (d.1279). That the construction was completed in four short years suggests that it enjoyed patronage on a royal scale. He was buried in Roscommon priory in an impressively decorated stone tomb. Recent analysis of the buildings has shown that the priory was renovated in the fifteenth century when the tower was added and new windows inserted.

Coming soon

Franciscan Friars (OFM)

FRANCISCAN ORDER (Friars Minor, Grey Friars, First Order of St Francis). Franciscan friars followed a Rule established by St Francis of Assisi (d.1226) that sought to emulate the life of Christ through renouncing property and travelling the world to preach. Together with the Dominican order were co-opted by the papacy to push through the programme of pastoral reform promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215).They were active in community life, and relied on the donation of alms for their day to day subsistence.
The order was established in Ireland c.1230 and expanded steadily, with thirty-two Franciscan houses in place by 1325. These were located mainly in the towns and boroughs of the Anglo-Norman colony and populated with Anglo-Norman friars. In common with the Dominican and Augustinian friars, a second phase of foundations from c. 1371 brought the Franciscans to slightly more remote locations, predominantly in the south and the west of the country, often established close to the residence of the local lord. Observant reform (a stricter adherence to the Rule of St Francis) was fully established by 1460 and had been adopted by at least thirty-eight of the sixty-one houses by 1540.
There is just one, ambiguous, medieval reference to an Irish house of Franciscan nuns (known as the Second Order or Poor Clares). Tertiaries, or lay members of the order, adopted the penitential life and wore the habit. Some, the Third Order Secular, lived in the community and were closely allied to First Order friaries. Members of the Third Order Regular lived communally and worshipped in their own churches. Forty-eight houses of the Third Order Regular of St Francis were established during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, mainly in Connacht and Ulster. The number of Third Order houses was unusually high in Ireland (there were none in England and only two in Scotland). This may be because they played a pastoral and educational role in areas of relatively scattered population – functions fulfilled by parish and collegiate institutions elsewhere.

Further Reading: C. Mooney, ‘Franciscan Architecture in pre-Reformation Ireland’, JRSAI, 85 (1955), 133–73; 86 (1956), 125–69; 87 (1957), 1–38, 103–24; C.N. Ó Clabaigh, The Franciscans in Ireland 1400-1534 (2002); C. N. Ó Clabaigh, ‘The Other Christ: Images of St Francis in Late Medieval Ireland’ in R. Moss, C. Ó Clabaigh and S. Ryan (eds), Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland (Dublin, 2006), pp. 142–62; C. Ó Clabaigh, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012); A. O’Donoghue, ‘Mendicant Cloisters in Munster’ in R. Stalley (ed.), Limerick and South-West Ireland: Medieval Art and Architecture (Leeds, 2011), pp 111–31; M. O’Neill, ‘Irish Franciscan Friary Architecture: Late Medieval and Early Modern’ in E. Bhreathnach, J. MacMahon and J. McCafferty (eds), The Irish Franciscans 1534–1990 (Dublin, 2009), pp 305–27;; R Ó Floinn, ‘Irish Franciscan Church Furnishings in the pre-Reformation Period’ in R. Ó Floinn (ed), Franciscan Faith: Sacred Art in Ireland, AD 1600–1750 (Bray, 2011), pp 7–20.

Adare, Limerick The Franciscan friary of Adare lies in the demesne of Adare Manor, recently converted into a resort and golf course, on the east bank of the river Maigue, Co. Limerick. It was founded in 1464 and while now in ruins, is in fact one of the most structurally complete Franciscan foundations in Ireland.

Ardfert, Kerry A Franciscan friary is located in the town of Ardfert, about 8km north-west of Tralee, Co. Kerry. It was founded for the Franciscans c.1253 by Thomas Fitzmaurice Fitzraymond, 1st Lord of Kerry. The buildings are in relatively good condition today, despite long periods of occupation and neglect. This is largely due to the continued patronage and protection of the friary by the descendants of the Fitzmaurice lords of Kerry.

Askeaton, Limerick The Franciscan friary of Askeaton lies by the river Deel, to the north of the village of Askeaton, Co. Limerick and the impressive castle of the Earls of Desmond, which stands on a rocky island in the centre of the town.

Buttevant, Cork The Franciscan friary of Buttevant is located in the small market town of the same name on the banks of the River Awbeg, Co. Cork. It was founded by the de Barry family in 1251, most likely David I (d.1261), lord of Buttevant. It is also possible, but unlikely, that it was founded during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) by David I’s son, David de Barry II (d. 1278). The latter was buried in the choir of the church in 1279, around the time a slender tower was inserted between the nave and chancel. The church and its south transept survive, as well as a crypt underneath the choir. The friary became the burial place of de Barrys, and Buttevant remained the principal residence of the senior branch of the family throughout the Middle Ages.

Castledermot, Kildare The Franciscan friary of Castledermot in south Kildare was founded sometime before 1247, when it received a royal grant of 15 marks from John Fitzgeoffrey (d.1258), Justiciar of Ireland. It is believed that the founder was Walter de Riddlesford II (d.1238/9), lord of the town of Thrisledermot, as the town was then known. His father, Walter I (d.1226), probably founded the priory and hospital of St John the Baptist for the Fratres Cruciferi in Castledermot prior to 1216. His daughter Emeline or Aveline married Stephen Longespée (1216-60), Justiciar of Ireland and cousin of Henry III, in c. 1243. It is possible that they were involved in the foundation of the friary. In the early fourteenth century, a side-aisle and transept were added to the thirteenth century nave and choir, possibly as early as 1302. The foundation suffered during the Bruce invasion of Ireland (1315-18) and was dissolved in 1540.

Claregalway, Galway Claregalway was one of the first Franciscan houses founded in Connacht. It was strategically located close to Claregalway castle and the banks of the river Clare, guarding a natural route way between the port of Galway and eastern and northern Galway. It was built in phases over a long period of time, which is evident in the surviving fabric of the building. The friars initially enjoyed the protection of Sir Richard Burke (d.1582), the second earl of Clanricard. In 1570, the friary was granted to Burke but they were expelled after his death and the friary was used as a barracks by the forces of the Governor of Connacht. The friars sporadically used the friary down to the nineteenth century.

Donegal, Donegal The ruins of the Franciscan friary are located on the outskirts of Donegal town, where the River Eske joins Donegal Bay. Situated just a short distance from the O’Donnell castle, the friary was founded as a Franciscan Observant house in 1474 by Red Hugh O’Donnell, chief of Tír Conaill and his mother Nuala O’Conor.

Ennis, Clare Ennis Franciscan friary was built on an island at a point where the river Fergus divides. The original O’Brien founder of the friary is unknown – it may have been Donnchadh O’Brien, king of Thomond (d. 1242) but no records survive.

Kilconnell, Galway The Franciscan friary of Kilconnell lies within the territory of the O’Kellys, lords of Uí Mhaine in Eastern Connacht. It was situated close to the primary Athlone to Galway road, fifty kilometres east of Galway city on a site of an earlier church dedicated to St. Conall. The friary, with its tall slender tower dominates the relatively flat landscape around it. The friary had a unstable history during the turbulent sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and enjoyed the patronage and protection of powerful families from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, both those traditionally associated with the local area and those who were forcibly moved west during the seventeenth century. The medieval friary survives in good condition, with the tombs of its many of its patrons surviving inside its ruins.

Kilcrea, Cork Kilcrea friary is located in the civil parish of Desertmore, near Ovens, Co. Cork, in an apparently isolated area south of the river Bride. The friary was an early Observant foundation established by Cormac Láidir MacCarthy, lord of Muskerry, in 1465.

Kildare, Kildare The Remains of Kildare Franciscan friary stand to the south of the town, between Grey Abbey Road and the Kildare Village outlet shopping centre. The entire length of the friary church survives, and the remains have recently been the object of extensive preservation and conservation work.

Muckross, Kerry Muckross friary is located in the very picturesque landscapes of Killarney National Park, just a few kilometres south of the town, on the shores of Lough Leane. It was established under the patronage of Donal ‘an Diamh’ MacCarthy (b. 1373) around 1440, although it might be re-foundation.

Ross Errilly, Galway The Franciscan friary of Ross Errilly lies on the banks of the Black River, a natural border which divides the modern counties of Galway and Mayo before it enters Lough Corrib. One of the most impressive surviving Franciscan friaries in Ireland, Ross Errilly is located 2km North West of the Galway village of Headford. It was founded at some point between the mid-fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries. Historians have argued over dates of the friary’s foundation ranging from 1348 to 1498, with the early seventeenth century Franciscan historian Donatus Mooney noting that the date of the friary’s foundation was unknown. The earliest contemporary reference to the friary was when John Blake, a Galway citizen, bequeathed forty pence to the friary of Ross (Ross Errilly) in 1469.

Quin, Clare Quin Franciscan friary is located on a large tract of open land near the modern Roman Catholic church in the village of Quin, Co. Clare. The friary was founded around 1402 by Síoda Cam MacNamara and became an Observant Reformed house in 1433. While many friaries were founded on the site of earlier religious houses and monasteries, Quin friary occupies the site of the Anglo-Norman de Clare fortress that was built after 1278, and destroyed in 1318. The remains of the castle are still visible as they were incorporated into the friary, with the foundations of three of the corner towers of the curtain wall surviving to varying degrees. Despite its suppression and suffering repeated attack in the sixteenth century, substantial remains of the friary survive, making it one of the most intact medieval Franciscan friaries in Ireland.

Timoleague, Cork Timoleague Franciscan friary is located in a village on the bank of the River Argideen overlooking Courtmacsherry Bay. It was built on the site of an earlier church dedicated to St Molaga whose feast was celebrated here until the seventeenth century. The foundation of the friary has been attributed to Domhnall Got MacCarthy (d. 1252) in 1240 and also to William de Barry (d. 1373), with his wife Margery de Courcy, in the early fourteenth century.

Armagh, Armagh Coming soon

Nenagh, Tipperary Coming soon

Franciscan Third Order Regular (TOR)

Definition omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo.

Slane, Meath Coming soon

Secular Colleges

SECULAR COLLEGES housed regulated communities of priests who had not taken monastic vows. Constitutionally they varied considerably, but in Ireland were always attached to a collegiate church or cathedral and some also fulfilled a charitable or educational role, administering almshouses and schools. Although among the most common institutions in late medieval Europe, secular colleges attached to churches (as opposed to cathedrals) were relatively rare in Ireland. Collegiate churches were located predominantly in the Pale or at major mercantile centres such as Galway and Youghal, and tended to reflect their patrons’ more international outlook in institutional administration, planning and architectural detailing. Elsewhere in Ireland the functions of colleges were generally fulfilled by the third order Franciscans.

Further Reading; C. Burgess and M. Hale (eds), The Late Medieval English College and its Context (York, 2008)

Carmelite Friars (O. Carm.)

CARMELITE ORDER. This order traces its origins to a group of hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine, who, by the thirteenth century, followed a common rule. As a result of the instability precipitated by the Crusades, from c. 1230 Carmelites began to leave the Holy Land and establish foundations across Europe. Here they adopted a mendicant way of life similar to that of the Dominicans and Franciscans. The earliest reference to Carmelites in Ireland is in a charter of 1271 giving royal protection to the order for five years. The Order’s first foundations in Ireland were at Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow (c. 1272) and in Dublin (1274). By the end of the thirteenth century there were at least nine Carmelite houses in Ireland, all established by Anglo-Norman patrons. Expansion continued during the first half of the fourteenth century, but in common with the other mendicant orders, there was a hiatus in new foundations from the mid-century, in part due to a pattern of decline in discipline, observance and abuse of privileges. Attempts at reform saw a modest revival in the fortunes of the Carmelites from c. 1393 with the foundation of five new houses including some, such as Kilcormac (1406) and Rathmullan (1403/1516), under the patronage of Gaelic families. Most of the eastern foundations were suppressed during the late 1530s, but a few in the west and north of the country survived until the early seventeenth century.

Further Reading: C. Ó Clabaigh, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012); F. Andrews, The Other Friars: the Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2006); P. O’Dwyer, The Irish Carmelites (of the ancient observance) (Dublin, 1988)

Castlelyons, Cork Castlelyons is a village in east Co. Cork, where a Carmelite friary lies at the corner of Main Street and Rathcormack Lane. It was founded in August 1309 when King Edward II (1284-1327) granted John de Barry (c.1265-1330) the right to give the Carmelite friars of Drogheda a plot of land in Castlelyons. The friary was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, in 1314 the friars had not obtained authorization from the pope to build the friary. Pope John XXII (d.1334) finally gave them the licence to return ten years later. The church was built in the fourteenth century but most of the remaining nave, domestic ranges and the tower date to fifteenth century.

Loughrea, Galway Coming soon

Knights Templars (KT)

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR. This was an international military order established in the Holy Land to provide protection to pilgrims. It was reformed during the twelfth century and its Rule brought into line with that of the Cistercians. Similarities in the function of the order with that of the Knights Hospitaller led to the ultimate demise of the Templars in the early fourteenth century, with all of their properties supposedly alienated to the Hospitillars.
The Templars were already in Ireland by 1180, and like the Hospitillars, most of their perceptories were fortified structures established under Anglo-Norman patronage to help with the colonizing of Ireland. There were fifteen perceptories of the Templars established in Ireland, with just one in Connacht, at Temple House, Co. Sligo (c. 1216).

Further Reading: H. Wood, ‘The Templars in Ireland’, PRIA 26:C (1906/07), pp. 327-77

Knights Hospitallers (OH)

KNIGHTS HOSPITALLER (Hospitallers, Order of Hospitallers, Knights of Saint John, Order of Saint John).This was an order established in the early twelfth century for infermarians caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land and ultimately providing armed escort. Members of the order were both knights and monks who took three perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience following the rule of St Augustine, together with a fourth vow to protect pilgrims and fight the infidels.
They were brought to Ireland by the Anglo-Normans in 1172, with the first settlement at Wexford. The order was richly endowed with land and by the early thirteenth century they were established in most of the major Anglo-Norman territories, with the exception of Connacht. Preceptories of the Hospitallers were built in the form of fortified manor houses or castles rather than monasteries, and so became useful additional means of subjugating territory. The heyday of the Hospitallers in Ireland was the thirteenth century, with no new foundations established after c. 1314. The large estates belonging to some of the more enduring perceptories, such as Kilmainham, Dublin, made them an early target for confiscation in the late 1530s.

Further Reading: C.L. Faulkiner, ‘The Hospital of St John Jerusalem in Ireland’, PRIA 26:C (1906/07), 275-317; G. Lee, Leper Hospitals in Medieval Times (Dublin, 1996); E. Massey, Prior Roger Outlaw of Kilmainham (Dublin, 2000)

Tully, Kildare Coming soon

Fratres Cruciferi

FRATRES CRUCIFERI (Crutched friars, Canons/ Order of the Holy Cross), The origins of this order are obscure, but by the late twelfth century they had emerged as a group of canons regular, following the Rule of St Augustine, whose primary role was care for the sick and poor.
In Ireland they established monastery-hospitals from the mid-1180s, including at least three houses that accommodated both brethern and sisters(at Ardee, Dublin and Dundalk). Although they held no military function, they were closely aligned with the Knights Hospitaller, and their Connacht foundation appears to have come to them at the disbandment of the Templars, when all Templar property was supposed to pass to the Hospitallers. There were eighteen houses of the Fratres Cruciferi in Ireland, nearly all of which were located in urban areas in Leinster and Munster.

Further Reading: R.N. Hadcock, ‘The Order of the Holy Cross in Ireland’ in A. Watt, J.B. Morrall, F.X. Martin, Medieval Studies Presented to Aubrey Gwynn, S.J. (Dublin, 1961), 44-53.

Athy, Kildare Coming soon

Augustinian Friars (OSA)

AUGUSTINIAN FRIARS (Austin Friars, Order of the Hermits of St Augustine) were formally established through the union of five Italian hermetical orders in 1256. The order spread quickly through Europe and had established itself in Ireland certainly by the early 1280s.
In common with the Augustinian canons, the friars followed the Rule of St Augustine, but in contrast embraced a mendicant lifestyle, working or begging for a living, and they were not tied to a single monastery. Initially, Irish friaries were founded from and governed by the English Province. Increased self-government was introduced to Ireland from 1394 and a college for friars was also established in Dublin around that time. The Observant reform movement, advocating stricter adherence to the rules of the order, was introduced with the new foundation at Banada, Co. Sligo (1423) and was subsequently adopted by seven other houses. Following the Dissolution a number of friaries in Connacht sustained communities until the 1570s and 80s. A revival of the order in 1613 saw the re-occupation of several medieval friaries, some of which continued to operate until the mid-eighteenth century.

Further Reading: F.X. Martin, ‘The Augustinian Friaries in pre-Reformation Ireland’, Augustiniana, VI (1956), 346–84; F.X. Martin, ‘The Irish Augustinian reform movement in the fifteenth century’ in J.A. Watt, J.B. Morrall & F.X. Martin (eds) Medieval studies presented to Aubrey Gwynn, S.J. (Dublin, 1961), pp 230-64; F. Andrews, The Other Friars: the Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2006); C. Ó Clabaigh, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012)

Adare, Limerick The Augustinian friary is situated to the east of Adare, on the banks of the river Maigue opposite the castle. The friary, also known as Black Abbey, was founded by John Fitzthomas Fitzgerald (c.1256-1316). This church became the Church of Ireland parish church and schoolhouse (now a private residence) and although restored in the nineteenth century, a fifteenth-century tower and charming small cloister are among the medieval features to survive.

East window at Adare OSA

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Callan, Kilkenny Callan Augustinian friary was founded between 1461 and 1472 by the Butler family. Today, only the friary church survives, standing in a meadow by Kings River – known locally as the ‘Abbey Meadow’ – across from where the medieval town was founded by William Marshal in 1207. In 1461, Edmund Butler (d. 1464), a grandson of James, 3rd Earl of Ormond, obtained an authorisation from pope Pius II to establish a community of Augustinian friary in Callan, Co. Kilkenny. However, since Edmund was buried in Kilkenny Franciscan friary, it is more likely that his son James Butler (d. 1487) officially founded and built the friary. This would have had to occur before 1472, the date when the order’s Prior General officially authorised the introduction of the Observant reform to Callan’s community.

Picture of Augustinian Friary at Callan Co. Kilkenny

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Friars of the Sack

FRIARS OF THE SACK (Saccati, Fratres de Poenitentia) were founded shortly before the middle of the thirteenth century in Provence, and as they expanded they adopted the mendicant lifestyle of urban preaching, with a strong emphasis on evangelical poverty. Although they expanded quickly across continental Europe they had only one recorded foundation in Ireland, established in Dublin in 1268. The establishment appears to have been relatively short-lived as there are no references to it after 1309, and the original site of the friars’ church is not known.

Further Reading: C. Ó Clabaigh, The Friars in Ireland 1224–1540 (Dublin, 2012); F. Andrews, The Other Friars: the Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2006)

Convents of Nuns

CONVENTS OF NUNS. A number of early Irish nunneries survived into the twelfth century, at which point many were transformed through the foundation of communities following the Augustinan rule of Arrouaise, as for example at Clonard (c. 1144). As reform of Church organisation progressed during the century new nunneries were also established in the territories of significant land owners, both Anglo-Norman (as, for example, Grace Dieu, Dublin (c. 1195) and Lismullin, Meath (c. 1240)) and Gaelic (for example Killone, Clare (c. 1189 and Kilcreevanty, Galway).There were also a small number of convents following Cistercian rule (Ballymore, Co. Westmeath, Derry and Downpatrick) and St John’s, Cork followed the Benedictine Rule.
Communities of nuns were typically enclosed and involved in education, hospitality and prayer for their donors. Those communities who enjoyed the support of lay benefactors continued to thrive throughout the medieval period, but this was not always the case, and for the most part Irish medieval nunneries, of which approximately sixty-eight are recorded, were modest in scale.

Further Reading: D. Hall, Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland: c. 1140-1540 (Dublin, 2003)

Killone, Clare Killone is a National Monument situated in a secluded and picturesque valley on the shore of Killone Lake, near Ennis Co. Clare. The nunnery was founded by Donal Mór O’Brien in about 1189, at the same time as Clare Abbey of the Augustinian canons, on lands belonging to the male house. Killone abbey was dedicated to St John the Baptist.

Early Monastic Settlements

Glendalough Glendalough extensive monastic settlement is located in a glacial valley consisting of two lakes (the Upper and Lower Lakes) which explains the Irish place name Gleann dá Locha ‘the valley of the two lakes’. The first monastic community probably began with a small hermitage founded by St Kevin (Cóemgen) in the early 7th century but as the monastery became more powerful it extended its imprint throughout the whole valley. Such early Irish monasteries functioned as centres of royal and ecclesiastical power, locations of monastic communities, centres of learning and craft-working, and the focus of trade.