Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moyne Abbey, County Mayo

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Moyne Abbey was founded in 1460 by the powerful de Burgo family, on the orders of Mac William de Burgo. He had originally chosen to found a monastery near his home in Rappa near Crossmolina, however when he was out inspecting the planned location for the monastic site a dove flew low overhead. Mac William followed the dove which flew to the low lying site of Moyne, on the estuary that leads out to Killala Bay. Mac William took this to be an omen, as Moyne had once been the site of a great battle and chose this site to donate to the Franciscans to construct their friary.

 Moyne Abbey flourished and became a college or novitiate, a place where those aspiring to become friars could learn the order and way of life. It is thought that the community living at Moyne usually numbered over fifty lay monks, professors and friars. However, the peace and tranquillity was not to last.

In 1590, the Friary was burned by the notorious Sir Richard Bingham, the English Governor of Connacht appointed by Queen Elizabeth Ist. There are a number of tales about Bingham and his cruelty and excesses, he hated the powerful Burke (the ancestors of de Burgo) family and was envious of their vast estates. He began a campaign to destroy the Burkes and to claim their lands for the Queen for plantation. One story has it that he was enraged when a beautiful young woman named Mary Burke refused his advances, in retaliation he ordered that all the women bearing the name in the locality be hanged. Thirteen women were executed. Their bodies were thrown into a communal grave adjacent to the castle in an area known as ‘Poll na Marbh’ or ‘The Hollow of the Dead’, which is located within the grounds of the Ballinrobe Golf Club. 

 Bingham continued his relentless campaign in the region, but despite persecutions by Bingham and the burning in 1590, Moyne Abbey survived, and Friars continued to live, worship and work at Moyne. A historical account of 1606 tells of a Mr. Mooney visiting Moyne, where he encountered a widow who owned the friary and the lands surrounding it, however, she had let the church and some cells to a group of friars, whose rent was paid by a member of the de Burgo clan. Another story tells of a family that blew the roof off the friary with gunpowder and sold the bell of the friary for £700, an enormous sum in those days. It is possible that friars continued to reside in the friary until the end of the 18th century, when the friary began to fall into ruin. Today the remains are still incredibly well preserved and a fantastically atmospheric place to visit. 
In the cloisters
The majority of buildings are still standing at the site and the cloister walk where the monks would have walked in silent contemplation and prayer are amongst the finest surviving anywhere in Ireland. The well preserved aisled church stands on the southern side of the cloister. To the north of the cloister are the kitchen and refectory where a monk would have read out prayers while the friars were eating. On the eastern side of the cloister is the sacristy and chapter house where the friars would have met to discuss the day to day running of the community and important issues would have been discussed. Above the chapter house were the dormitories. Buildings that are in a very ruinous condition at the site include the mill, which still has water from a millrace flowing to it and the infirmary, which is where the sick would have been treated.

The remains of the mill
Moyne Abbey is a fantastic example of a medieval monastic site and is located in a wonderfully picturesque location. To get to the Friary, take the R314 from Ballina towards Killala. The site is off a minor road close to Killala on the right and is signposted. There is very limited parking at the site. Access to the site is through some private land so please close all gates behind you. 

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