The Priory was under the patronage of the powerful O'Kelly family who held sway in this region during the medieval period, and the head of the Priory traditionally had the honour of inaugurating the new head of the O'Kelly's.
|An O'Kelly Tomb dating to 1646|
It is recorded in 1413 that an indulgence was granted to raise funds for the repair of the Priory Church that had recently been 'totally destroyed' by fire, and much of the visible architectural remains on site date to after this point.
It appears that the original Augustinian Canons were replaced by Augustinian Friars in the early seventeenth century, and a doorway in the Church between the chancel and nave has the date 1637 carved above it.
For me the most spectacular feature on the site is the amazing west doorway into the nave. It is beautifully carved and bears the figures of St. Michael brandishing a sword and scales for weighing souls on Judgement Day, St. John the Baptist, St. Catherine and a Bishop. It also depicts a pelican, a star, a pair of griffins, a dog, a deer, a rose and strangely, a mermaid (see bottom picture) who has a mirror in her left hand and a star in her right hand. Similar mermaids can be found at Clonfert and St.Nicholas's Cathedral in Galway (thanks to Finn Delaney for the great reference there!). The inscription above the doorway reads:
Mathev Dei gra eps Clonfertens et Patre oneacdavayn canonie esti domine fi fecert Ano do MCCCCLXXI
Which can be translated to:
Mathew by the Grace of God, Bishop of Clonfert, and Patrick O’Naughton, canon of this house, caused me to be made in 1471.
|Close up of the top of the western doorway with (from left-right) St. Michael, John the Baptist, St.Catherine and a Bishop|
Contuskert Priory is very easy to find. Simply head from Ballinasloe towards Portumna on the R355, go past the Ballinasloe Golf Club and keep going straight down the road, after about 5-6km on the R355 you'll see the site on your left hand side. There is a small carpark then the site is a short 100m walk down a lane.
I hope you are enjoying the blog, I'm doing my best to cover as much as the country as I can so please do bear with me. If anyone has suggestions about great sites to visit please do let me know by leaving a comment, I'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to keep up with daily images and posts about Irish heritage you might like to follow us on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
If you'd like to support us then perhaps consider downloading one of our audioguides to Irish heritage sites, packed with original music and sound effects they are a fun and immersive way of enjoying the incredible story of Ireland whether you are at the site or sitting in your favourite chair at home. You can find us at www.abartaaudioguides.com, our latest guide, The Rock of Dunamase is available completely free of charge.
All photographs © Neil Jackman / abartaaudioguides.com
|The Mermaid at Clontuskert, she's no Darryl Hannah|