Claregalway Friary is a medieval Franciscan abbey that dates back to the 13th century. The friary is located in the town of Claregalway, on the banks of the River Clare, and is easily accessible from Galway city.
The friary was founded by John de Cogan, an Anglo-Norman lord who conquered parts of Connacht in the 1230s. He invited the Franciscan order to establish a monastery on his lands, and gave them generous donations of land and money. The friary was completed around 1250, and became one of the first and most important Franciscan houses in the west of Ireland.
The friary was built in several phases over the centuries, and reflects different architectural styles and influences. The original church was a simple rectangular structure with a nave and chancel, but it was later expanded to include a north transept, a sacristy, and a large bell tower. The tower, which stands at 24 metres high, is one of the most impressive features of the friary. It has four storeys, each with arched windows and corbels. The top storey has a battlemented parapet and four corner pinnacles.
The church also has some remarkable stone carvings, such as the east window, which has elaborate tracery and stained glass. The window depicts scenes from the life of Christ, such as the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The window also has the coat of arms of the de Cogan family and the Franciscan order. Another notable carving is the tombstone of James Baccagh Coll (Lame James Coyle), a local chieftain who died in 1782. The tombstone has an inscription in Irish and Latin, and a relief of a man with a wooden leg.
The friary also had a cloister and living quarters for the monks, which are now mostly in ruins. The cloister was a square courtyard surrounded by arcades, where the monks would pray, meditate, and study. The living quarters consisted of a dormitory, a refectory, a kitchen, and a chapter house. Some of these rooms still have traces of fireplaces, windows, and vaulted ceilings.
The friary witnessed many turbulent events in Irish history, and suffered from attacks, confiscations, and suppressions. In 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, the friary was plundered and burned by Lord Leonard Grey, who was on his way to besiege Galway city. In 1570, Queen Elizabeth I granted the friary to Sir Richard de Burgo, a Protestant nobleman who converted it into a barracks for English soldiers. In 1589, Sir Richard Bingham, an English governor of Connacht, used the friary as his headquarters during his campaign against the Irish rebels.
Despite these hardships, some Franciscan monks managed to return to the friary in the 17th century, and continued to live there until the 19th century. They faced persecution and poverty, but also received support from local people who respected their faith and learning. The friars maintained a school and a library at the friary, and contributed to Irish literature and history. Some of the famous friars who lived at Claregalway were John Colgan, an eminent hagiographer; Bonaventure O’Hussey, an historian and poet; and Anthony Raymond O’Flaherty, an astronomer and mathematician.
Today, the Claregalway Friary is a national monument under the care of the Office of Public Works. It is open to the public all year round, and admission is free. Visitors can explore the ruins of the abbey and admire its artistic and architectural features. They can also learn more about the history and culture of the Franciscan order in Ireland, and their role in preserving Irish heritage.
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