Wednesday 20th of August 2014
The Old Abbey Loughrea 1300 - 1650

The Old Abbey
1300 -1650


Phelim Monahan, O.D.C.

 The Old Abbey
1300 -1650


Phelim Monahan, O.D.C.


Carmelites take their name from Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. On the
slopes of this beautiful mountain groups of hermits lived and prayed and
adopted a Rule of life drawn up for them by Albert Patriarch of Jerusalem
shortly after 1200 AD. At a later date, under pressure from the Saracens the
Carmelites were forced to migrate westwards into Europe. Some
accompanied the crusaders to England around 1241. Mount Carmel itself
was taken by the Saracens in 1291 and Carmelites who escaped the sword
fled for refuge to various parts of Europe. We find that by 1270 Carmelites
had found their way into Ireland and established their first monastery at
Leighlinbridge in Co. Carlow.


EAST WINDOW -15th century.

Irish Foundations 

In Ireland the Carmelites made a large number of foundations. Some thirty monasteries in all are listed throughout the country. The foundation at Loughrea dates from the year 1300 and its founder was Richard de Burgo, 2nd Earl of Ulster and 4th Earl of Connaught. During his career Richard ravaged Connaught in 1286; conquered and deposed Brian O Neill in the same year and made Niall Cualanach O Neill King of Ireland. In 1292 he defeated the Connaught chieftain Magnus O Connor and in 1296 made Aodh O Connor chief of Connaught. In 1297 Richard was summoned to England to serve in France and in 1304 he served in the wars in Scotland. He built Sligo Castle in 1310 and in 1315 he made Phelim O Connor chief of Connaught. In the same year he fought against Edward Bruce. His death occurred in 1326.


Ruins Of The Old Abbey

The Parliamentary Gazateer of Ireland says of the Old Abbey at
Loughrea: “The architecture of the Carmelite Abbey is in that modification of the pointed style which prevailed at the beginning of the 14th century. The pile still retains a large window, mullioned and massive; a series of narrow double windows in the side walls; and a massive battlemented quadrangular tower”.According to Mac Geoghegan the Abbey was built for the Carmelites by Deliol. At first it was a plain rectangular church, with a square window behind the high altar. The transepts and the tower were added by the deBurgos.


The Guide to the National Monuments of Ireland says ofthe Abbey: “The church consists of a nave, chapel, tower, south transept and a small south chapel near the west end of the nave. The chancel has a number of 13th century lancet windows in the south wall and a 15th century window in the east wall. Much of the nave which has been over-heavily pointed on the outside seems to be 15th century work. The  tower was added in the 15th century”.


Historical References

The Abbey was dedicated to Our Lady and we find anumber of historical references to it during the threehundred and fifty years of its existence.

 In 1305 the founder, Richard de Burgo, granted rent and land in Loughreaand Tipperbride to 24 chaplains. (Calendar Patent Rolls 1315). The mention
of Tipperbride must refer to the parish church of St. Brigid and its well,
Tobar Bride, nearby. This church was built around 1240 and its remains are
still to be found in Garrybreeda churchyard. It seems certain that the brass
shoe-shaped reliquary known as “St. Brigid’s Shoe” was preserved in this


 Photo by kind permission of the National Museum. 

The shoe, now in the National Museum bears the following inscription:

“Loch Reich Anno Domini 1410. S. Brigida Virgo Kildariensis Hiberniae
Patrona.” It would seem therefore that de Burgo endowed both churches
which served the needs of the faithful in those far off days.

In 1435 there is mention of a diocesan priest named John Fahey who

                  resigned a benefice in the diocese of Kilmacduagh and entered and made
profession in the house of the Carmelite friars of Lochriagh in the diocese of
Clonfert. (Calendar of Papal Letters Vol. VIII, p. 564).

Two years later in 1437 we read that Pope Eugene granted an indulgence
towards the repair of St. Mary’s.

In 1455 there is reference to David Callanan, Vicar at Loughrea and
Canon of Clonfert who made profession at Loughrea as a Carmelite.
(Calendar of Papal Letters Vol. XI, p. 210).

 Kilcormac Missal 

The best known relic of St. Mary’s Carmelite Abbey of those days must
surely be the Kilconnac Missal. It was completed at Lougbrea by friar
Dermot O Flanagan and sent to another Carmelite foundation at Kilconnac,
Co. Offally. This missal contains an interesting and very appropriate feast of  St. Brendan as well as feasts of several other Irish saints. The manuscript begins as follows: “The Missal of the brethren of Our Lady Mother of Godof Mount Carmel, according to the rite of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Church of Jerusalem.” And it ends: “This book was finished on 27th of February, 1458 by Dermot O Flanagan, a friar of Lougbrea, for Edward O Hacayan, prior of the monastery of Our Lady, Kilconnac.” The Kilconnac Missal is now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin among the Ussher collection.


Under Siege

The friars of Lougbrea were subjected to all the vicissitudes of the
conflicts which raged about them. In the years 1466-69 Clanricarde their
patron was under attack and an army was raised against him. MacFirbis tell
us how this army ”burnte parte of the country as far as Loughreagh” and
“Clanricarde was made to conclude peace”. (MacFirhis Annals p. 258 and

The period 1504-38 was a period of peace during which the Abbey
flourished. Then in 1538 came the dissolution of the monasteries throughout the country and the confiscation and sale of their property. William Brabazon Under Treasurer of Ireland in his 1539 report mentions the amounts of money received from the sale of goods found in various
Carmelite monasteries.


The Abbey A Parish Church?

It would seem that the Abbey at Lougbrea was not confiscated because of
the prestige of Clanricarde. In 1543 William Burgh (Fitzwilliam) visited
England and was created Earl of Clanricarde. About the same time the
following request was presented on behalf of the bishop of Clonfert, Roland
Bourke: “To have the bishopric of Elphin united to his see and the White
Friars of Lochriach, the chief town of the Fitzwilliams, made the parish
church”. (Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, Vol. 18, Part 1, p. 372). 


Bishop Roland was uncle of the newly created Earl and seems to have
had his eye on the revenues of the vacant see of Elphin. In another version of
the petition we read: “That the bishopric of Elphin now vacant may be
united to the bishopric of Clonfert in consideration of the same revenues of
both. And whereas there is a house of White Friars joining thereto having no
lands belonging to it but certain chapels under it, he desireth that the said
friars may be made a parish church.” (State Papers Henry VIII, Part 3, p.

Inquiry of State

We do not know the reply given to Bishop Roland‘s request but the friars
were still in possession of the Abbey twenty years later in 1564 when we
read of “an inquiry into the lands and house of the Carmelite friars of
Balleloghreagh”. (Kings MS. Collection).

Six years later, on 18th July, 1570 we read of a “grant to Richard Bourke,
Earl of Clanricarde, of the site of the monastery of Carmelite friars of
Belleloughreogh, in Connaught, cottages and land. (Fiants of Elizabeth

Two years later in 1572 we find a record of the Earl of Clanricarde
leasing the monastery of Lochriach to the Rev. Darby McCrahe (McGrath)
for 7 years. (Calendar of State Papers for Ireland 1509-73).




Still in Possession

That Darby McGrath was a Carmelite seems certain from the fact that the
Abbey figures in a list of religious houses in Connaught published two years
later in 1574.

In 1577 Clanricarde‘s sons publicly renounced allegiance to the crown
and constituted themselves defenders of the Catholic priests who continued
to exercise their sacred ministry in defiance of the royal proclamation. By
1580 Loughrea was the centre of Clanricarde‘s activities against the queen‘s
representatives now engaged in a most violent persecution of the Irish

The Earl remained loyal to the Catholic Church and at his death in 1582
his remains were interred in the Abbey cemetery.

His successor on the 19th of July, 1610, was granted the “Carmelite friary
at Balleloghreagh, with the site, church, churchyard and 7 cottages, 3
gardens and 5 acres of arable land in Loghreagh”, (Calendar of Patent Rolls,
James 1, p. 175).

In 1618 there is mention of one William Lynch as Prior of the Abbey and
he is the last Prior mentioned in the available records. That there was a
Carmelite presence at all as late as 1618 confirms the local tradition of an
uninterrupted succession offriars in the area from the Abbey’s foundation in

A New Era

Seven years later in 1625, two Discalced Carmelites arrived in Dublin
and made their first foundation there. By 1638 they had acquired enough
personnel and houses to form a separate province. And so it was that the
General Chapter of the Order held in Rome in 1638 an Irish Discalced
Province was set up under the patronage of S1. Patrick In 1643 the
Discalced Carmelites came to Lougbrea and were welcomed by the Bishop,
Dr. John Burke.

Meanwhile following the success of the 1641 Rising the Confederation of
Kilkenny had set up a Parliament to govern the country. On 16th January,
1647, the Papal Nuncio Rinuccini issued a decree at Kilkenny in favour of
the newly arrived Carmelites at Loughrea. 

8 pic 

TOWER WINDOW (West Gable).

In the decree the Nuncio says that he had received a petition in the name of the 1400 inhabitants of Loughrea (and signed by many of them) begging that he should grant the monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, ‘already almost destroyed by the attacks and incursions of war’ to the Discalced Carmelite Fathers. Since such monasteries as have been despoiled by heretics pertain by law to the Holy See, and immense good will accrue to the town from the re-introduction of these Fathers, the Nuncio explains that, exercising his apostolic authority, he grants the aforesaid monastery with all its appurtenances to the Discalced Carmelite Order. And he commands all whosoever, under pain of excommunication, to admit Fr. James Breslane of the said Order, with his religious to the full possession of the same.

Queen of Ireland

Three years later the Carmelites and the people of Loughrea had the joy
of having Our Lady proclaimed Queen of Ireland at the Abbey. Writing to
Rome from Galway under the date of 13th December, 1650, Fr. William St.
Leger, a Jesuit father, records how at Loughrea a week earlier on the eve of
the feast of the Immaculate Conception, in a general assembly of the
kingdom, the catholics long torn by dissension fomented by Ormond, had
come together again under the leadership of their bishops, and a new era of
hope had dawned with Ormond’s departure for the continent and the
appointment as Lord Deputy of the catholic Marquis of Clanricarde. As this
unhoped for reuniting of the catholic forces took place on the eve of the feast
of the Immaculate Conception ‘by a unanimous vote of the Supreme
Assembly it was decreed that the virgin Mother of God, under the title of her
Immaculate Conception, should be solemnly and publicly proclaimed
Patroness of the Kingdom of Ireland and that as a perpetual memorial of this
happy event the Feast of the Immaculate Conception should be observed in
Ireland from.that day forward until the end of time’. (Moran – Spicilegium
Ossoriense 1, p. 354).

9 pic

- 13th Century,

A Year Later

There was great rejoicing too in Loughrea a year later on the Feast of the Purification, when the Lord Deputy (Clanricarde) in Viceregal State assisted at High Mass in the Church of the Blessed Virgin (the Abbey). The sword of State was borne before him, the chief military officers accompanied him, while the Archbishop of Tuarn together with the bishops of Killala, Kilmacduagh, Cork, Emily, Kilfenora, Down and Clonfert were there to honour him.

Cromwellian Days

But the hopes kindled in Irish hearts were soon to be dashed with the
arrival of the Cromwellian forces. Galway surrendered in April 1652 and
soon Loughrea was to become the theatre of unparalleled cruelties. On the
6th January, 1653 an edict was issued banishing all priests from Ireland. In
Loughrea a Cromwellian Commission sat to decide the fate of those who
were to be transplanted. By May, 1654 some 50,000 displaced persons are
said to have passed through the town in compliance with Cromwell’s
dictum, ‘To hell or to Connaught.’ The Abbey at Loughrea lost its patron,
for the lands and residence of Clanricarde were taken over by the
Cromwellians. For the moment the friars were forced to flee the fury of the
Puritan persecutions but as so often happened before they would come back
again but not to the old Abbey.

Old Abbey Graves

Within the old Abbey precincts the modem visitor will be aware of three
large burial vaults which belonged to the Dolphin, Mahon and Macklin
families. Somewhere in the old Abbey it is thought lie the remains of Bishop
Ambrose Madden, bishop of Clonfert 1713-21. His name appears on the
Brown Scapular register which adds that ‘he was buried in the same vault
with the friars’. At the eastern end a stone slab records the names of all the
Carmelite sisters (including the foundress) who were buried there between
1680 and 1829 when they acquired their own cemetery. Close by are buried
the Tertiary Carmelite extern sisters who lived outside the cloister and
worked for the community.

Close by is a stone slab with a bishop’s mitre erected to the memory of
Bishop Co en of Clonfert who died at an advanced age in 1847. He had the
distinction of being the first student ordained priest in Maynooth and the
ftrst Maynooth priest to be consecrated bishop. In adjacent graves lie the
remains of Fr. Turley, Catholic Curate of Loughrea who died in 1855 and of
Fr. Myles Nugent Burke, Parish Priest of Lougbrea who died aged 58 years
on the 18th September, 1866. Scattered along the walls are many other slabs
bearing the names of well known Loughrea families buried in the old
Abbey. A slab at the west end resting against the south wall carries the
names of the Carmelite friars whose remains were transferred here in 1889
to make way for the apse of the present church which was then built.

Grave of St. Ruth 

There seems little doubt that the body of S1. Ruth was buried quietly by
night in the Abbey. Tradition has it that five of the Fathers were present at
the burial, One can quote the testimony of Blake Foster in his book: The
Irish Chieftains: “Here in the town of Loughrea the body of L1. General the
Sieur de St. Ruth was interred by torchlight in the old convent of the Blessed
Virgin Mary”; or again: “As soon as the body was found one of the retinue
carried it off and brought the corpse to the town of Loughrea and there
interred it privately”. (A Light to the Blind, bk. 2, p. 693). It is quite possible
that S1. Ruth was buried in the Mahon vault for Capt. Bryan Mahon of
Castle gar, Ahascragh, who fought under St. Ruth at Aughrim was interred in
this vault in 1719.

A Reflective Sonnet

Fr. Edward Badger, O.D.C., was an English Carmelite who lived at
Loughrea 1873~0. Before returning to England he visited the old Abbey
and was inspired to write this sonnet:

Oft as forth driven returning: here we dwell,
Peaceful beneath the venerable shade

Of our old Minster: where the dead are laid

Now, and the roof is heaven. Today the beU

Peals from the same grey tower: mankind to teU
The same old Faith
: by same White Friars taught
As in the past And Heresy unto naught

Hath come which wrecked that Fane, where now its knell
: where faithful iry steadfast holds

On remnant walls the 10ngsyne memory green,

Of them that pray’d and preach ‘d and sang God’s praise.
And Mary’s fervent ‘neath her mantle folds:

The fondly favoured Friars of Carmels Queen,
My brethren of six centuries’ bygone days

The 1640 Chalice

The steadfast ivy has been removed from the old Abbey walls and the
ruin is still in a good state of preservation. One historic link with the last
years of the Abbey is the 1640 chalice found in the ivy in 1720. And if you
visit the old Abbey on the 16th of July each year you will see this chalice in
use for the evening Mass in the old min. On that evening, the Feast of Our
Lady of Mount Cannel, you will find the Carmelite community and the
people of Loughrea gathered around a temporary altar to celebrate the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass as their forebears had done from the year 1300 to
1650. This is a praiseworthy effort begun some years ago to ‘keep the
memory green of them that prayed and preached and sang God’s praise’ here
for three hundred and fifty years.


The inscription on the 1640 chalice asks us to pray for the soul of
Thomas Naghten and of his wife Una who donated it in that year.

10 pic

May their souls and the souls of all those who await the resurrection in
this hallowed spot enjoy light, happiness and peace in God’s presence.

May Mary Queen and Beauty of Carmel enfold each and all of them
neath her mantle for ever.

Important Dates

1300 – Foundation by Richard de Burgo.

1305 – Grant of Rent and of Land by de Burgo.
1435 – John Fahy of Kilmacduagh is professed.

1437 – Pope Eugene grants an Indulgence towards the repair of S1. Mary’s.
1455 – David Callanan, Canon of Clonfert is professed.

1458 – Kilcormac Missal completed by Dermot a Flanagan.

1538 – Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.

1543 – Petition of Roland Bourke, Bishop of Clonfert, to have the Abbey
made a parish church.

1564 – State Inquiry into the lands of the Carmelite Abbey.

1570 – Grant of lands and site of the monastery to Richard Bourke,
Earl of Clanricarde.

1572 – Earl of Clanricarde gives a lease of monastery to Rev. Darby

1574 – Loughrea Abbey mentioned in list of religious houses in Connaught.

1582 – Earl of Clanricarde died and was buried in the Abbey.

1610 – Clanricarde given a grant of the Abbey, grounds, houses, etc.
1618 – William Lynch last Prior mentioned.

1643 – Discalced Carmelites come to Loughrea and are received by the

1647 – The Nuncio Rinuccini officially bestows the Abbey on the

1650 – Ireland dedicated to Our Lady who is proclaimed Queen of Ireland.
1651 – Lord Deputy attends Mass here on the Feast of Purification.


1652 – Cromwellians destroy the Abbey and disband the friars.



Carmelite Foundations in Ireland Before the Reformation





Place County Diocese



1. Ardee Co. Louth Armagh



2. Ardfmnan Tipperary Lismore



3. Ardnacranny Westmeath Meath



4. Athboy Meath Meath



5. Ballinasmal1 Mayo Tuam



6. Ballinahinch Galway Tuam



7. Bellaneeny Roscommon Clonfert



8. Burriscarra Mayo Tuam



9. Caltra Galway Elphin



10. Castlelyons Cork Cloyne



11. Cloncurry Kildare Kildare



12. Clonme1 Tipperary Lismore



13 Crevebane Galway Tuam



14. Drogheda Louth Meath



15. Dublin Dublin Dublin



16. Eglish Galway Elphin



17. Galway Galway Tuam



18. Horetown Wexford Ferns



19. Kilcormac Offaly Meath



20. Kildare Kildare Kildare



21. Kinsale Cork Cork



22. Knockmore Sligo Achonry



23. Knocktopher Kilkenny Ossory



24. Leighlinbridge Carlow Leighlin



25. Loughrea Galway Clonfert



26. Milltown Limerick Ernly



27. Rathmullan Donegal Raphoe



28. Thurles Tipperary Cashe1