Abandoned ireland


Ross Errilly Friary,

Co. Galway.

Documenting our Heritage

Ross Errilly Friary, said to be the most extensive and best preserved of all the Franciscan friaries in Ireland, was founded in 1351. Its chief patrons were the de Burghs, a prominent local Norman family.

In 1538, English authorities imprisoned two hundred of the friars, and killed many others. Ross Errilly then rarely found peace until it was completely abandoned some two hundred years later.

At the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the abbey was confiscated and given to Richard Burgh, the 2nd Earl of Clanrickarde. Burgh who was a descendant of the de Burghs who founded the abbey, returned it to the Franciscans. In 1584 the English again confiscated the friary and it was plundered. In 1586, the 2nd Earl of Clanrickarde purchased the friary and again returned it to the friors. By 1600 the English had again taken the friary and it was used as a garrison during the Nine Years' War. In 1604, after the war had ended, the 3rd Earl of Clanrickarde financed the rebuilding of the friary and again it was return to the friors. In 1612, the friors were expelled by the Protestant archbishop of Tuam, who was also ordered to demolish the friary alters. In 1626 the friors again returned but there numbers were recorded as just six priests and two brothers.

Cromwellian forces reached the friary in 1656. The grounds were ransacked, crosses and other religious icons were destroyed and even tombs were looted. The 140 friors had received prior warning and fled unharmed some hours before.

In 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, Catholics were allowed much more freedom and the friary was reoccupied in 1664. Peace only lasted until the introduction of the Popery Act of 1698, under which the Franciscans became fugitives. They abandoned the friary and secretly occupied a small island one mile downstream of Ross Errilly. The island became known as 'Friars Island'. The local community supplied the friors with food and clothing via a wooden drawbridge. Nothing now remains of this island. By 1801 only three friors remained and in 1832 they had disappeared altogether.

Ross Errilly Friary has been long abandoned. In 1835, Mr John Barrow described the abbey as 'a remarkably fine old ruin...in a disgracefully neglected state'. Barrow went on to describe 'moss-grown skulls and human thigh and leg-bones strewed about so plentifully that not a step can be taken without encountering them'.

Ross Errilly Friary is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and is freely open to the public.

Ross Errilly Friary,
Co. Galway