The country around then, circles the town of Ballyhaunis with lakes, ruins of churches, souterrains, ringforts and many other fine relics of the past. But having said that, one must hasten to add that today Ballyhaunis is a busy, living, industrious place that has distinctively established itself in the twentieth century.
So here, while we examine the setting and the roots of St. Mary’s Abbey, we keep very much in mind the fact that around it today is a vibrant modern town. Already, then, we have glanced at the baronial setting, which came into being from 1570 onwards. So next we must look at the parochial setting.
Now, today the town of Ballyhaunis and St. Mary’s Abbey are in the Catholic parish of Annagh, which took it’s present geographical shape in 1894, when Archbishop McEvilly re-drew the boundaries of the parishes of Bekan and Annagh. Prior to that, more than half the town was in the Bekan parish. So while it is believed that the present parish of Annagh (or of Ballyhaunis) can trace it’s origins back to the fifth century, through the church at Kilmullen and through the two earlier oratories and the holy well at Churchpark, yet the parish that we know today took it’s geographical form in 1894. The present truly magnificent church of St. Mary and St. Patrick was blessed in 1909 (and so replaced the earlier post-Emancipation church of St. Mary that had served the town in the latter half of the last century).
Now it will be noted that we were speaking there of the Catholic parish of Annagh. But in a marked way from 1570 onwards there have also existed civil parishes, which can often carry the names of respective Catholic parishes but which scarcely ever cover the same geographical areas. These civil parishes still exist – and incidentally they are used by the Church of Ireland as the basic ecclesiastical units.
So, for instance, the civil parish of Annagh is not territorially the same as the Catholic parish of the same name. This may be a bit confusing, but I think it is an important point. The concept of the parish, of course, is fundamentally a Catholic one, and is thought to have it’s origin in the fifth or sixth century – and may have been based on a tribal or monastic area. Certainly later on, ecclesiastical parishes were formally constituted – this was in the twelvth century, after the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, and the Synod of Kells in 1152.
Extract from 'St Mary's Abbey'