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Article Published February 12, 2002

County Mayo (Ireland): An Outline History -- The New Abbeys and Friaries
By Bernard O'Hara and Nollaig ÓMuraíle, Mayo Ireland Ltd

The New Abbeys and Friaries

A noteworthy feature of the period with which we have been dealing was the buildings of abbeys or friaries for the new mendicant orders - Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans and Franciscans - principally by the Hiberno-Norman families. A number of early monastic sites - such as Cong, Inishmaine, Ballintubber, Errew, and Mayo - had been chosen as locations for abbeys of the Augustinian Canons Regular, built under the patronage of Gaelic families (particularly the O'Connors) in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The first friary founded under Norman auspices in Mayo was that of Straide (alias Strade) established for the Franciscans by Jordan de Exeter, probably between 1240 and 1250. It was very soon (in 1252) transferred to the Dominicans. Another Dominican house, also thought to have been founded by a de Exeter, was Rathfran, dating from 1274. The Prendergasts founded Ballinasmalla, near Claremorris, for the Carmelites around 1288. Another Carmelite foundation, dating from 1298, was Burriscarra, which was built by the Stauntons. Abandoned after about eighty years by the Carmelites it was later occupied by the Augustinian friars. The Augustinians were given a house in Ballinrobe around 1313, by one of the de Burgos. No other notable foundation is recorded for over a century, until about 1430, when the Mac Costellos established the Dominicans in Urlaur and the Augustinians in Ballyhaunis. A decade later Rosserk Friary was founded for the Franciscan Third Order by one Joye (or Joyce). Nearby Moyne Friary was built for the Franciscan friars by Mac Uilliam ochtarach (de Burgo)around 1455, while, a couple of years later, the only Gaelic foundation of the period, Murrisk, in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, was established for the Augustinians by Tadhg Máille, the local chieftain. The latest foundation of any significance was the Dominican Friary of Burrishoole, built around 1469 by Mac Uilliam ochtarach, Richard de Burgo of Turlough.

Almost all the foundations mentioned above were suppressed in the wake of the Reformation in the 16th century. One or two have been rebuilt and restored, but in most cases, only the ruins survive, pleasing, if poignant, late Gothic relics of what must have been among the most striking buildings in the countryside of pre-Tudor Ireland.

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