The abbey was built in 1216 by Cathal Crovderg O Connor, King of Connaught (known as Cathal of the Wine Red Hand), for the Cannons regular of St. Agustine and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The first Abbott was O Maicin. There had previously been a small church close to the present church that had been founded by St. Patrick in 441. Despite the fact that the abbey was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1524 and was wrecked by Cromwellian soldiers in 1653 and suffered the effects of the Penal laws in the 18th Century it has continued to be used as a place of worship up to the present day. It has been labeled "The Abbey that refused to die".
The nave of the church was rebuilt, following a fire, in 1265. In 1653 the Cromwellians destroyed the roof of the church but the ruined church continued to be used for mass throughout penal times. There were attempts to restore the church in 1846 and 1889 (George C. Ashlin). The church was finally restored in 1966 (P. Le Clerc), with Stations of the Cross by Imogen Stuart (1972), stained glass (Saints Patrick, Brigid and Colmkille) by Gabriel Loire, and a wooden statue of the Virgin and Child by Oisin Kelly.
The original church was an aisleless, cruciform building with a low tower over the crossing, and with the east part laid out on the Cistercian plan i.e. with east chapels in the transepts. The delicate late Romanesque/early Gothic details of windows, capitals etc. are characteristic of a school of masons active in Connaught around the turn of the 13th century. In the sacristy may be seen the battered remains of the elaborate Renaissance tomb of Tiobaid na Long (Theobald of the Ships) Burke (d.1629), son of Ghrainne Ni Mhaille, who was created Viscount Mayo in 1627. The claustral buildings include a chapter-house doorway in the Cong style. Excavations in 1963 uncovered remains of two or three successive cloister ambulatories, now partially restored. Through the generosity of the Church of Ireland, the 15th century west door taken to Hollymount in the last century has been returned to the abbey.
Visit the Ballintubber Abbey Website
By Brian Hoban