Friday, March 22, 2013

Claregalway Friary, County Galway

This Friary was originally commissioned by the Norman knight John de Cogan in the middle of the thirteenth century. The main structures on the site are the large nave and chancel church that probably dates between the late 13th – early 15th century, and later in the middle to late fifteenth century, a large bell tower, an aisle and a transept were added.

The elaborate canopied tomb of the de Burgh's
The site must once have been a busy and bustling centre,  as the remains of a deserted medieval settlement lie adjacent to the Friary next to the river. The settlement would have grown up around the Friary, with a substantial lay population of farm labourers, stone masons and builders, merchants and craftsmen and women all working to provide supplies and labour for the Friary.

Claregalway Friary is one of Ireland's finest Franciscan Friaries.  It is thought that the Franciscans first arrived in Ireland in the early thirteenth century, shortly after the death of the orders founder St. Francis of Assisi in 1226. They established a base in Dublin, and by the middle of the thirteenth century they had Friaries in Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford, Drogheda, Athlone, Cork, Ennis, Limerick, Dundalk, Carrickfergus, New Ross, Multyfarnham, Nenagh, Ardfert, Kildare, Armagh and here at Claregalway. Most of these Friaries were founded by Anglo-Norman nobles like John de Cogan, and the powerful William de Burgh is said to have commissioned a foundation in Galway.

The tomb plaque added to the de Burgh tomb dating to 1648
 You can find a de Burgh tomb here at Claregalway Friary with a gothic style canopy probably dating to the fifteenth century. A later tomb plaque dating to 1648 was added to it.

The Friary has a number of well preserved medieval and post-medieval tombs, and you can see some great sculptural details if you keep your eyes open around the site.

Like so many of Ireland's monastic foundations Claregalway was dissolved by King Henry VIII in the early 1540's during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the Reformation. After King Henry had rejected Papal authority, he quickly moved to have all the religious orders closed down as they were under the authority of the Pope, though perhaps his prime motivation for closing down all the wealthy monastic sites was to raise much needed capital to finance his foreign wars.   

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the Friary was used as a barracks for her troops.
Claregalway Friary was given to the Earl of Clanricarde in the early seventeenth century, and the Franciscans returned in the early 1640's though they lacked the capital to conduct all the necessary renovations to return the site to its former glory.

By the eighteenth century the decline of Claregalway Friary was clear enough that the French diplomat Coquebert de Montbret wrote in 1791 that “the monks are settling down among the ruins.”

Today Claregalway Friary is certainly worth visiting when you are in the area. It has a number of great features to discover and is a rewarding place to spend an hour or two. 

The site couldn't be easier to find, it is just on the N17 road from Galway to Tuam on the northern side of Claregalway. The site is surrounded by a modern graveyard, but is still easily accessible with a small carpark.

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