The abbey at Clarecastle, on the banks of the River Fergus, was founded in 1189 under the patronage of Donal Mór O’Brien, King of Munster, and dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The 12th century was an eventful time in the history of the church in Ireland as the synods of Rathbreasail (1111) and Kells (1152) sought to bring a somewhat fragmented church into a universal system. Prior to this much of Irish church life had become very intertwined with the power of local ruling families, and successors (comharba) were selected from these families, in many cases married or unordained men. These synods sought to bring about a more diocesan structure. The abbey at Clarecastle was run by the Canons Regular of St Augustine and was guided along the lines of his teachings, meaning much of the work was within the community as opposed to the lifestyle of a hermit, more commonplace prior to the 12th century.
The Abbey grew to become the most important and powerful in the diocese and papal records show that it retained this influence right up to the Dissolution. Its prominence did not mean its lifetime was peaceful, it was the scene of a terrible massacre in 1278 between rival factions of the O’Briens. After the Dissolution Henry VIII granted the abbey to the Baron of Ibrickan in 1543 before it passed into the hands of the Earls of Thomond around 1620. The Augustinians did remain at the abbey in some form or other until 1650, but by 1703 the Abbey was already being described as a ruin according to Moland’s Survey. The ruins that remain today consist of a long nave and chancel church and tower. There are domestic buildings and cloisters surrounding the church, the tower was added in the middle of the 15th century.
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