Claregalway Friary is a 13th century Franciscan House situated on the banks of the River Clare. It was founded by John de Cogan, an Anglo-Norman knight, circa 1250AD after de Cogan was granted the lands as reward for his involvement in the conquest of Connaught (1235). In 1252 de Cogan received a grant to hold a weekly market and an annual fair in Claregalway, which helped him to amass considerable wealth during the construction of the friary. In 1291 Pope Nicholas IV issued a papal bull granting an indulgence of ‘one year and one quarantine’ (old English for forty days) to anyone who visited the friary on certain feast days.
By 1297 Claregalway friary was at the centre of an ecclesiastical dispute between the diocese of Tuam and Annaghdown. The diocese of Annaghdown had existed prior to the arrival of the Normans and had the support of the native O’Flaherty family, while the Tuam diocese represented the Normans. William de Bermingham, Archbishop of Tuam, declared the territory of Annaghdown belonged to Tuam and while the position of Bishop of Annaghdown was vacant raided the friary. This dispute seems to have dragged on until 1303 when Pope Boniface VIII ordered the Bishop of Limerick to force an agreement between the Archbishop of Tuam and the Dean of Annaghdown, however it is not known how this concluded.
Throughout the 14th century Claregalway grew in wealth, being granted lands by six different benefactors. An interesting occurrence in 1426 gained the involvement of Pope Martin V when he was petitioned to grant dispensation to a Claregalway friar named William Pulard. The offence that Pulard committed was “that William being then a priest, when playing with other clerics and laymen a game customary in those parts among both seculars and religious, accidentally struck another player, Donald O’hAschí, layman, near the ear with a sharp pointed stick, from which wound, Donald, a year later, owing to his own and his surgeon’s carelessness died.” Also, “if this poor friar was on his knees all this time over the death of this poor man, which was by accident, if the facts were as stated, then the Parish Priest here was to rehabilitate William Pulard and dispense him and allow him to minister again.”
The 1500s brought about the suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII, on the 11th of July 1538 he sent Lord Leonard Gray to Galway. It was recorded that the abbey at Claregalway was raided en route and “neither chalice, cross nor bell left in it”. In 1570 Queen Elizabeth I granted the abbey and its belongings to Sir Richard de Burgo, the friars remained in or nearby Claregalway until 1589 when Sir Richard Bingham, the English Governor of Connaught, cleared the building and lands changing them into a barracks for his troops. During the civil war of 1641 the Franciscans made an attempt to restore the buildings but were unsuccessful owing to the turmoil of the times.
It appears that a small number of friars remained at Claregalway, in 1791 Coquebert de Montbret, who was then the French consul at Dublin, recorded in his journal that at Claregalway, “The monks are settling down among the ruins.”. The community ceased to reside at Claregalway by 1847 though mass was still celebrated there on certain feast days until 1860.
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