Visit to Clontuskert Abbey: The Priory of St. Mary


Today 3rd to 6th class went to Clontuskert Abbey, with Joe Molloy. We wanted to learn about our local heritage. 

The Abbey is formally know as the Priory of St. Mary. It was built in 1180 and has been changed and built onto many times since then. The O’ Kelly Kings were patrons of the Abbey. What we think is their burial mound can be seen right beside the Abbey. 

The monks looked after a large area and they built a togher or pathway through the bog to Creagh in Ballinasloe on the other side of the Suck river and all the way to Taughmaconnell in Roscommon. This can be still seen on Google Earth. Joe told us that Brendan Naughton who allowed us across his land to visit the Abbey has often come across parts of the old pathway when he is out on Kelkysgrove bog. Thanks to Brendan for allowing us to visit. 

We learned that every abbey has a chapter room. In this chapter room there was a fireplace with a bread oven and a hole that goes right through the wall to let in air to the oven. The chimney went up to the second floor and this is where the monks slept. These were the warmest two rooms in the abbey and the only ones with a fireplace. Even though the walls are very thick they were not insulated so the other rooms would have been very cold, especially in winter. In 1404 the chapter room of Clontuskert Abbey was set on fire when the thatched roof was hit by lightning. 


The cloisters were open to the sky with an outside covered walkway for the monks to get exercise and pray in bad weather. 


On the door into the abbey there were carvings of stars ( the stars mean hope) and there were carvings of a mermaid holding a mirror and comb (women were seen by St. Augustine to be like mermaids who led men astray) There were also four saints above the door. 


St Michael: He decided who went to heaven and can be seen with a weighing scales and a sword. 

John the Baptist: He baptised Jesus and he wore a shorn sheepskin inside out for penance for his sins. 

St. Catherine was martyred. She can be seen with a wheel which is what she was tied to when she was killed. 

St Augustine was the patron of the Abbey and is the patron saint of our school and local parish church. 

We took lots of notes and drew some sketches of the interesting features of the building. Two students took photos for the class.


The church was divided into three parts. The nave was where lay people gathered for mass. 


This was divided by the rood screen which allowed people to see into the chancel which was seen as sacred and was where the monks gathered for mass. 


The man who built the rood screen was called Johannes. His name can be seen carved in the stone here. 


In 1631 a wall was built behind the rood screen blocking off the chancel from the nave. 


Inside the chancel there are many tombs. One of them looks almost like an altar but it is too low for an altar. Manus O’ Donnell, a descendant of Hugh O’ Donnell was buried there. 


When Joe Molloy was researching the book, Clontuskert: Glimpses into the Past, he, Eileen Curley and Adeline Finneran spent a long time working out what was written on the headstones and carvings around the abbey. Joe said they sometimes used shaving foam or tin foil or make pencil rubbings to make out the faded letters. They would often come to the abbey early in the morning when the morning sun would illuminate the letters to make it clearer to read. 

Thai is where the monks used water to clean out the vessels they used during the mass. 


The East Window was reconstructed during the restoration in the 1970’s by the Office of Public Works. Much of the Abbey had fallen into ruin at that stage. We used our compasses and found out that the Abbey isn’t facing exactly East. It is 99 degrees East. The East Window is replicated in Knock Basilica in Mayo.

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2 Responses to Visit to Clontuskert Abbey: The Priory of St. Mary

  1. Joe Molloy says:

    Brilliant photography, spoiled a little by the old guy with the fishing rod!

  2. kmurray3190 says:

    : ) Thanks again Joe for the wonderful tour of Clontuskert Abbey! We spoke about all we learnt at assembly today and the group picked up so much from you!

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