Errew Abbey, Crossmolina in Co. Mayo

Errew Abbey is situated at the extreme end of Errew on a peninsula stretching from the barony of Tirawley into Loch Conn and it was founded by St. Tiernan in the 7th century. Tradition has it that Errew was erected by the Barretts, for the Augustinians, on the site of an earlier church. Bishop Thomas Barrett of Elphin was buried there in 1404.

The area inside is approximately 90' by 22'. On the East gable is a beautiful ornamental window of cut stone. On the north sidewall near the east gable is a small circular door of cut stone about 4' high and 3' broad. Near the east gable on the same side is a window, circular at the top, about 2' high and a ' broad. On the south sidewall, near the east gable, there is another window of cut stone. Also, on the site, is the tiny ‘nuns chapel’ situated north of the Abbey ruins.

The foundation in the small building is approximately seven yards in length and three and a half yards in breadth.

In 1413, McWattin Barrett violated the sanctuary of Errew to seize Henry Barrett who had taken refuge there. St. Tighernain, the original founder, is said to have appeared to McWattin every night until he promised to make amends for the desecration. This he did by giving the abbey an eric of quarter of land at Ballinbraher (Friarstown, near Cloghans, on the other side of the lake). Hence the name Friarstown, which is still found there today.

A family called O’Flynn were erenachs of the church lands at Errew and they came into the possession of a famous relic from the Abbey called the "Mias Tighernain". A legend, quoted in the O.S. Letters says that the relic lay at the bottom of Loch Conn for centuries before it floated to the surface.

An account of this antique relic in an old copy of the ‘Ballina Impartial’ describes it as resembling a large plate and being made of several thin pieces of copper riveted together at the edges, and on the back of which there is a slender cross of the same material while in front there is another of silver, richly carved and projecting from a rim of silver in the centre, about one inch in height. This rim encircles a small cup of copper with the bottom upwards, within which there is a small relic or some other article enclosed. In the compartment formed by the cross there are berlys of two silver rings.

Centuries later, in a time of scarcity, in return for some provisions, an O’Flynn pledged it to a Mr. Knox of Rappa Castle and never recovered it. The dish came to be used by Knox’s tenants for the purpose of taking oaths and before the establishment of the police, Mr. Knox found it an efficient peacemaker and powerful way of establishing the truth. The people became accustomed to being asked to swear on the dish and believed that if they swore a false oath they would lose the sight of one eye.

Around 1822 to 1824 Dean Lyons found people still swearing on the dish and confiscated it. He published a description of it and its use and then returned it to Mr. Knox asking him not to allow it to be used for superstitious purposes. After Mr. Knox’s death, the dish was auctioned in London with the rest of his plates.

Extract from article by Crossmolina Historical and Archaeological Society. Reproduced by their kind permission.

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