Athenry Priory, Galway, Ireland

Athenry Priory was founded by Meyler de Bermingham in 1241 and presented to the Dominican order. Athenry had been controlled by the Ó Mainnín family and subsequently the Ó Taidg an Teaghlaigh family prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. When Meyler expelled the Ó Taidg an Teaghlaigh in the 1230s he set about building the castle and town walls. De Bermingham donated the land and built the church, however several other prominent locals paid for most of its construction, Feidlim Ua Conchobair, King of Connaught, built the refectory. The Priory expanded quickly with the patronage they received the built a dormitory, cloister, infirmary, the great guest house, a hospital and a house for scholars. A lot is known about the founding and early days of the priory due to the survival of an almost contemporary Latin manuscript, the ‘Register of the Priory of Athenry’.

Meyler de Bermingham was buried in the priory in 1252, his son William de Bermingham, Archbishop of Tuam was also interred there in 1312. Building work continued throughout the 1300s with the enlargement of the church and priory, also the redesign of some of its elaborate windows. The priory was accidentally burned in 1423 and two subsequent popes granted indulgences for those who paid for its repair and improvement. The priory escaped the dissolution of the monasteries after the direction of a Deputy named Anthony Sentleger who wrote in July 1541, (the priory) ‘is situated amongst the Irishry…our saide sovereign lord shoulde have lyttle or no profit’. The friars stayed on and adapted secular habits but the monastery was still dissolved in 1574. It was later burned by William mac an Iarla Burke during his uprising of the late 1570s. The priory was reoccupied by Regular Observant Friars in 1595. During the late 1630s there was some brief restoration work, it was also named as a University for the Dominican Order in 1644. It was shut by Cromwellian forces in 1652, however friars reoccupied the priory from 1685 before finally leaving in 1698.
The buildings were briefly used as a military barracks in the 18th century. Burials continued and the last of the de Berminghams to be buried at Athenry was Lady Mathilda Birmingham, buried in 1788. Her quite unique Coade Stone decorated tomb bizarrely broken into in 2002 presumably by thieves, who Gardai say may have worked over two nights to enter the tomb, a truly ghoulish image.

GPS: 53.29826, -8.74457


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