Burrishoole Friary, Mayo, Ireland

The ruins of Burrishoole Friary, also known as Burrishoole Abbey, is situated on the edge of a calm and beautiful tidal estuary. The Friary was founded for the Dominican order in 1469 by the wealthy Richard de Burgo of Turlough, Lord MacWilliam Oughter. In that year Richard resigned his Lordship and entered Burrishoole as a friar until his death in 1473. Some controversy surrounded the establishment of Burrishoole as permission had not been sought from Pope Innocent VII. Permission for the Friary had been given by the Archbishop of Tuam, Donal O Muiri, who seemed unaware that it needed the papal stamp of approval. Finally in February 1486 Burrishoole was recognised in a Papal Bull to Archbishop William Joyce.

One of the most prominent relics from the life of the Friary is the ‘O’Malley -Burgo’ Chalice which now resides in the national museum. The chalice was issued in 1494 and bears the names of Thomas de Burgo (Richard’s Grandson) and his wife, Grainne na Ó Malley, the great grand aunt of the Pirate Queen Grace O Malley (Granuaile). The reason that this chalice is considered so important is that it is an example of the integration of the Anglo-Norman Aristocracy (de Burgo) and the Gaelic Aristocracy (O’Malley), a pattern that was echoed throughout Ireland during the 15th and 16th centuries.

In August 1597, Sir Richard Malby, Governor of Connaught captured the priest Fr. Thady Duane and placed a garrison within the abbey, Fr Duane later converted the soldiers and many settled in the local area. In February 1652 the Abbey was attacked by Cromwellian forces, two nuns Sr Honoria Bourke and Sr Honoria Magaen fled to Saint’s Island on Lough Furnace, they were captured, stripped naked, had their ribs broken and were left to die. Depending on which source one ascribes to these nuns may or may have not survived, also the approximate date of this tale is debatable.

In the 17th century several edicts were sent ordering the friars to quit, some left completely but others lived in mud huts near the abbey. The friars opened a school at Burrishoole in 1642 and operated it for over fifty years, no mean feat considering they were endlessly persecuted and schooling had to take place in woods and out of the way places. The Friars were expelled fully from the area in 1698 but some returned in 1702, however the abbey fell into ruin and in 1793 the roof caved in and the friars finally left.

Two of the most esteemed burials within the friary are of Fr Manus Mc Sweeney and Peregrine O Cleirigh. O Cleirigh was one of the Four Masters, the Annals of the Four Masters are medieval chronicles of Irish History covering the history of Ireland from the Deluge until 1616AD, he was buried in the friary in 1664. Fr Manus Mc Sweeney was a local priest who was hanged in Newport by British forces in 1799, for the part he had played in the rebellion of 1798.

As I was in the process of researching for this post I came across something that has peaked my interest, while reading through that great source of information on old Ireland Samuel Lewis’ Topographic Dictionary of Ireland (1837), I came across this line in relation to the parish of Burrishoole, Lewis states that in the area there are “also several Druidical caves, many of which contain large rooms arched over with flags.” Obviously this is something I’ll be trying to explore in time, if anyone local to the area has any idea to what Lewis may have been referring please get in touch.

GPS: 53.89874, -9.57231

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