Ballintubber Abbey History and in Perspective, in Co. Mayo

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 In Perspective

In 1216 Ballintubber Abbey was founded by King Cathal Crovderg O’Connor, King of Connaught (known as Cathal of the Wine Red Hand).

The Abbey was contemporary with Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres and Rheims Cathedrals and this means:


The abbey was built in 1216 by Cathal Crovderg O'Connor, King of Connaught (known as Cathal of the Wine Red Hand), for the Canons Regular of St. Augustine on the ruins of a small church close to the present one and founded by St. Patrick in 441.

It is a preeminent example of the Hiberno Romanesque style. The delicate late Romanesque/early Gothic details of windows and capitals are characteristic of a school of masons, “The School of the West”, active in Connaught around the turn of the 13th century, with the finest carving ascribed to an unknown craftsman known only as “The Ballintubber Master”.

The nave of the church was rebuilt, following a fire, in 1265. After the Cromwellian destruction of 1653, the nave had no roof and was open to the skies.

There were three attempts to restore the church. In the first attempt, made in 1846-1848, only some windows were repaired before the Great Famine broke out.

The second one took place between 1889 and 1890. The eastern portion of the ruins, the chancel and the transept were roofed with fine green slates under the supervision of George Coppinger Ashlin from Dublin.

The last attempt is more recent and took place between 1963 and 1966. It saw a complete restoration of the Abbey supervised by Percy le Clerc of the Office of Public Works. The actual roof, made of Irish oak, was built in 1965. It reproduces an Irish roof of the 15th century.

The Gothic doorcase and window were removed sometime before 1856 and built into the Church of Saint Charles the Martyr in Hollymount. In 1964 the Church of Ireland restored the doorcase and window and returned them to the original position in the western wall of the Abbey.

Over the altar, the crucifix dates back to the early 17th century. It could also be seen in a photo taken in 1865 during a Mass.

Ballintubber Abbey is rightly renowned for the quality of its carvings. The best pieces are the corbels in the Chancel. They support the ceiling and are carved with a variety of animals and birds, domestic and mythical, intertwined with stylised foliage.

The triple East Window, dressed in sandstone, has beautiful carved foliate capitals and chevron archivolts characteristic of the Hiberno Romanesque style. On the outside, it boasts fine different mouldings.

Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and beyond the Abbey was subjected to adaptation, alternation, extension and improvement including the cloister.

The cloister has two successive arcades and garths dating back to the early and mid 15th century. Some stones of the arcading are embellished with exquisite ornaments and sculptures which have masons’ marks. At that time, masons marked each finished stone because they were paid for each piece work.

The calefactory is an interesting feature at Ballintubber Abbey. It was a warming room accessible from the doorway in the East Wall and located below the dormitory. Here the monks could gather in wintertime and cold days to warm themselves before retiring to the dormitory. The heat emanated from underfloor conduits coming from the back of an external fireplace and returning to the chimney above the damper.

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