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Athenry Abbey is a medieval Dominican priory and National Monument located in the town of Athenry in Galway. Founded by Meiler de Bermingham, the 2nd Lord of Athenry, in 1241, the abbey boasts a rich and turbulent history, as well as impressive architectural features that reflect the changing styles and influences of the Middle Ages.

The abbey was built on the lands donated by Meiler de Bermingham, who also constructed the church nave and chancel. Other benefactors contributed to the building of the refectory, dormitory, chapter house, cloister, infirmary, guest house, hospital and a house for scholars. The abbey received generous gifts from Anglo-Norman and Irish nobles and patrons, such as wine jars, horses, gold and silver, English cloth, land and money.

The abbey was a centre of learning and spirituality for the Dominican friars and the local community. It also enjoyed university status for a brief period in the mid-1600s. However, the abbey also faced many challenges and hardships throughout its history. It was attacked and burned by the Irish during the Mac an Iarla Wars in the 1570s, and later desecrated and sacked by Cromwell’s troops in the 1650s. The abbey was finally suppressed and abandoned in the 18th century.

Today, only the ruined church building survives, comprising a nave and chancel, a north aisle and transept and a sacristy to the south. The church contains both plain lancet windows and those with elaborate tracery, and includes numerous examples of finely carved stonework. Among these are four ornately carved tomb niches in the nave that date from the initial construction phase of the abbey around 1241. These niches feature architectural elements of the Transitional period between Romanesque and Gothic, such as foliage, nail-head, chevron and cable designs.

The structural and architectural evidence indicates three main phases of medieval construction at the abbey. The second phase occurred during the late 13th or early 14th century, at which time rebuilding work was carried out on the west gable, and an aisle and transept were added on the north side of the church. A third major building phase occurred during the 15th century, which included the erection of a crossing-tower, the replacement of a number of windows, the blocking of doors, and the reduction of the aisle arcade. Apart from the collapse of the tower in 1845 and the resulting damage, and the disappearance of conventual buildings, the ruined abbey we see today is essentially that which stood after the third phase of construction in the 15th century.

Athenry Abbey is a remarkable example of medieval religious architecture in Ireland. It is also a testament to the faith and devotion of its founders, patrons and inhabitants.


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Athenry Abbey



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