Annaghdown Friary is a medieval religious ruin that dates back to the 12th century. Annaghdown Friary is located on the shores of Lough Corrib, about 15 km north of Galway city. It is one of the oldest and most significant ecclesiastical sites in the region, with a fascinating story that involves saints, kings, bishops and friars.
According to legend, Annaghdown Friary was founded by St. Brendan of Clonfert, one of the most famous Irish saints and voyagers, who gave the land to his sister, Briga, who became the first abbess of a nunnery there. The name Annaghdown (Eanach Dhúin in Irish) means “the marsh of the fort”, and it may refer to the fort of the local chieftain of Maigh Seola, who granted the site to St. Brendan.
However, some scholars have questioned this legend, and suggested that Annaghdown was actually associated with St. Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, another prominent Irish saint and founder of one of the most influential monasteries in Ireland. The evidence for this comes from an early Irish poem that mentions Ciarán Enaigh Dúin (Ciarán of Annaghdown), and from the fact that Annaghdown was part of the diocese of Clonmacnoise until the 12th century.
The first reliable reference to Annaghdown occurs in the Annals of Inisfallen, which record that in 1134, Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair, king of Connacht and high king of Ireland, plundered Annaghdown and other churches in the area. This may indicate that Annaghdown was already an important religious center at that time.
In the second half of the 12th century, Annaghdown underwent a major transformation, as a new monastic order and a new diocese were established there. Around 1140, St. Mary’s Abbey was founded for the Augustinian canons, a reform movement that followed the rule of St. Augustine and combined clerical and monastic life. The abbey was probably built by Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, king of Connacht and brother of Tairrdelbach, who was a patron of several Augustinian houses in Ireland.
Around 1179, Ruaidrí Ua Flaithbheartaigh, king of Iar Connacht (West Connacht), created the diocese of Annaghdown, separating it from the diocese of Tuam, which was controlled by his rival dynasty, the Ua Conchobair. He appointed his chaplain, Conchobhar Ua Flaithbheartaigh, as the first bishop of Annaghdown, and endowed him with lands and churches in his kingdom. The new diocese covered most of west Galway, including the Aran Islands and Inishbofin.
However, the diocese of Annaghdown was not recognized by Rome or by the archbishop of Tuam, who claimed jurisdiction over it. A long dispute ensued, which lasted for more than two centuries, until 1324, when Pope John XXII issued a bull that suppressed the diocese of Annaghdown and annexed it to Tuam. During this period, several bishops of Annaghdown were consecrated, some with papal approval and some without. Some of them resided in Annaghdown Abbey, while others resided in other churches or monasteries in their diocese.
In the 15th century, another monastic order arrived in Annaghdown: the Franciscan friars, who followed the rule of St. Francis of Assisi and lived a life of poverty and preaching. They were invited by Ó Flaithbheartaigh family, who were still the lords of Iar Connacht and patrons of Annaghdown. The friars built a new friary near the old abbey, which became known as Annaghdown Friary or Mainistir na Scríne (the monastery of the shrine). The friary was dedicated to St. Francis and St. Catherine of Siena, and it had a large church, a cloister, a dormitory, a refectory, a library and a school.
The friars were very popular among the local people, who supported them with alms and donations. They also had a close relationship with the Augustinian canons, who shared their church and cemetery with them. The friars were involved in pastoral care, education and scholarship, and some of them became famous for their learning and holiness. One of them was Muircheartach Ó Cobhthaigh, who was the guardian of the friary in 1469 and later became the bishop of Annaghdown. He wrote a commentary on the rule of St. Francis and a treatise on the seven deadly sins, which are preserved in a manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy.
The friary continued to flourish until the 16th century, when the Dissolution of the Monasteries took place under King Henry VIII and his successors. The friary was suppressed in 1541 and its lands and possessions were confiscated by the crown. The last guardian of the friary was Donnchadh Ó Flaithbheartaigh, who was executed in Galway in 1580 for his involvement in a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. The friars were dispersed and persecuted, but some of them remained in the area and ministered to the people in secret.
Today, the ruins of Annaghdown Friary are still visible on the shore of Lough Corrib, near the village of Annaghdown. They are a testimony to the rich and turbulent history of this site, which witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties, monastic orders and dioceses. The ruins include:
– The church, which has a nave and chancel with an arcade of pointed arches separating them. The east window has three lancet lights with trefoil heads. The west gable has a bell-cote with two openings. The south wall has a doorway with a pointed arch and hood-moulding. There are several tombstones and carvings inside the church, including a cross-slab with an inscription in Irish: “OR DO MUIRCHEARTACH O COBHTHAIG” (a prayer for Muircheartach Ó Cobhthaigh).
– The cloister, which is located south of the church and has an arcade of pointed arches on three sides. The fourth side was probably occupied by domestic buildings, such as the dormitory and refectory. The cloister garth has a well and a stone cross.
– The tower, which is located at the south-west corner of the cloister and has four stories. It was probably used as a library and a treasury. It has narrow windows and a corbelled roof.
– The cemetery, which is located north of the church and contains many graves of local people and friars. Some of them have inscriptions in Irish or Latin, such as “OROIT AR ANMAIN AN BRATHAIR SEAN O FLOINN” (remember the soul of Brother Seán Ó Floinn) or “HIC IACET FRATER THOMAS DE BURGO” (here lies Brother Thomas de Burgo).
If you visit Annaghdown Friary, you will be able to appreciate its beauty and tranquility, as well as its historical and spiritual significance. You will also be able to enjoy the stunning views of Lough Corrib and its islands, which have inspired many poets and artists over the centuries.
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