Murrisk Abbey in Co. Mayo

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The Murrisk Abbey was founded in 1456 by the O'Malley family as a house of the Augustinian Observant Reform after permission granted by Pope Callixtus III.

The foundation of this house was necessary because Christianity was not fully introduced to the people in this area though Croagh Patrick, the Holy Mountain, was situated there.

Hugh O'Malley, a friar of Banada Abbey in County Sligo, was responsible for building the monastery at Leithearmursge (Murrisk). Thady O’Malley granted a piece of land, quite close to the sea overlooking Clew Bay and where a previous church founded by St. Patrick was erected.

A later document stated Lady Maeve O’Connor, wife of an uncle of Thady, was the actual founder.

The friary was dedicated to St Patrick and known as Muirske or Mons S.Patritii.

The building was very extensive and well planned; the ruins are considerable and well preserved.

They consist of an L-shaped structure representing the church and some domestic buildings at the right angle including the sacristy, the chapter room and a room with unclear purpose housed into the two-floored building to the north of the church.

The church is a single chamber with no transept and west window, which probably was removed when the belfry tower was built. The main portal is located in the south wall, but traditionally secular people entered the church from the entrance situated at the western gable.

Behind the main altar space, the east five-light tracery window is the finest feature of the ruins. It is the largest and most ornamented window in the whole abbey, and its location to the East is imbued with symbolism facing Jerusalem and the rising sun.

The sacristy is a long narrow room lit by a small single round-headed window.

The chapter room is located to the north of the sacristy and featured a cusped ogee-headed window. Its hoodmould ends in a knot that develops into a foliate ornament on the north side and into a simple point on the south side as the Late Irish Gothic style required. In this room, the Friars met to discuss business and read daily the chapter of the order’s rule.

The upper floor is supposed to be entirely used as a dormitory. It has a large window only.

There is no evidence of where the kitchen, the refectory and the cloister were. Probably the last one was never built.

In Murrisk Friary there are two carved heads one located on the south wall and the other situated on the east wall near the east window.

The one on the south wall bears a hat while the other one sports a beard. It is thought they could represent people from the upper echelons of society or patrons.

In the Late Irish Gothic style, these carvings were typical and placed high up on walls randomly.

On the south wall the ruins of battlements can be seen; it suggests that the building was fortified.

An elaborate vault can be seen at the west end of the church. It is the only feature of the belfry tower that survives today.

The gravestones show that the Abbey was the burial place of many of the notable families of the two baronies, Catholic or Protestant alike.

The Garveys are buried near the high altar, while many of the Protestant O'Malleys repose within the sanctuary.

The MacDonnells of Cloona and Thornhill have their tombstones at the other end of the church.

The friars were driven out in the late 16th century during the Reformation in Queen Elizabeth's time.

Very little is known about the circumstances of the friars from 1570 to the early 1800s when Murrisk Abbey finally ceased to function. It is believed that the remaining monks moved to Ballyhaunis during that time.

The Abbey is now under the Supervision of the National Monuments Service.

Did you know?
The narrow road from Campbells Pub leading to the Reek is locally known as Boher na miasa (in Irish 'The Road of the Dishes'). A local legend tells that the Monks from the Abbey used to wash their utensils and crockery in the stream that runs alongside this narrow roadway.

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