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Ennis Franciscan Priory by Conchubhar Ua Briain

This article was first published in The Architectural and Topographical Record, Part 2, Vol. 1. (1908), pp 143-168.

Ennis Franciscan Priory. Parish of Dromcliff County Clare.

O.S. NO. 133. Lat. 52° 51 'N. Long. 8°59'W

General: In the year 1216 “Geoffrey Marche” (de Marisco) founded a castle at Killaloe, and forced the inhabitants to receive and English bishop,” whose name was Robert Travers.[1]

Killaloe, or Ceanncoradh, had been from early times the seat of the Dalcassian Kings, but on this invasion the Royal Palace was moved to Inis Cluana Ramhfada, or Clonroad, part of the modern town of Ennis. Here Donchadh Cairbreach O’Briain, King of Thomond, built for himself a palace, of which no remains are to be seen, and on Inis an Laoigh, across the River Fergus, he founded a convent for the Franciscans about the year 1240. Three years’ taxes of the entire Kingdom of Thomond were granted for the building, but the work was not far advanced at his death in 1242, and he was buried in the Dominican Church in Limerick.

The first definite date given in connection with the building is the following entry in the “Annala Rioghacta”: “1247. ‘Mainistir Inse ……. Do denamh la hua mbriain conadh innti bhios adhnacal shil mbriain”[2] This would seem to refer to the completion of the work by Donchadh’s successor, Conor na Siudaine.

The latter part of the thirteenth century was a time of continual petty wars, and, though the fact is not specifically mentioned, it is probable that the abbey was damaged, or perhaps the works were never properly completed.

In the year 1285, however, Toirdhealbhach[3] was universally acknowledged King of Thomond, and with his friend and relative Cumheadha Mor MacConmara, embarked on a campaign against the English. In 1304 he had demolished all the castles in Thomond and several of the outlying strongholds of the English, and in the following year he had reduced Bunratty, and received submission from Richard de Clare.[4]

To commemorate his success, he built a stone castle on the site of the palace at Clonroad,[5] and repaired, or as it is even said, founded, the Abbey at Ennis. At any rate it is recorded that he built the great five-light east window, and filled it with painted blue glass. Of the castle not a stone is left standing. In 1306 both he and Cumheadha MacConmara died, and were buried together on the south side of the chancel, and their grave is covered by the late tomb in which were laid Murchadh, the last King of Thomond, and ancestor of the Barons of Inchiquin.[6] The sacristy and refectory were rebuilt about 1314 by Maccon MacConmara. To the beginning of the fifteenth century may be ascribed the cloister, and perhaps a part of the south transept, but the greater part of this transept, the central tower, and what features are left in the nave after its refitting and spasmodic use in the eighteenth century, are of a later date, probably not much before 1500.

In 1540 the Abbey was given to the Friars of the Strict Observance, by the King Murchadh O Briain.[7]

Assizes were held in the Chapter House in 1571 as being the most suitable place in the district, and to this fact the town of Ennis owes its existence. Father Donat Mooney thus describes the Abbey about 1580: “It is a convent sufficiently beautiful and all kept in repair by the good offices of the said Earl (Thomond) who, temporizing, called himself a heretic and received the monastery as a gift from the Queen. The English have made it a Court of Justice for the County, and used for that purpose the hospice and other apartments: yet they have not altered the forms of the cells, but kept them in their former condition, whence it is that not one room has been altered, and that worldly nobleman is used to preserve the convent to better times.” There was at this time only one friar in the abbey, Dermod Bruodin, who died in 1617.

The town of Ennis was incorporated in 1612, and the abbey used as the parish church for Doora and Dromcliff, where the churches had become ruinous.

The Priory was re-established in 1628, and destroyed in 1651; re-established in 1663, and finally ended in 1692. Dineley’s sketch (1680)[8] shews the transept roofed. It is a work of some imagination.

In 1817 the church was much damaged by lightning, and the nave was repaired for use by the Church of Ireland, and all the projecting canopies of monuments on the walls were cut back to allow of a smooth coat of plaster over them. The side windows of the nave were destroyed.

At the same time the tower was heightened and the present grotesque parapet and pinnacles were put up.

A new church having been built and consecrated in 1871, the old roof and fittings in the nave rapidly fell into decay, and when the building was vested in the Board of Works as a national monument in 1893, their unsightly remains were cleared away.

At present the church stands fairly perfect, though part of the west wall of the transept has fallen, and the arches over the transept chapels. Very little remains of the conventual buildings, except a large vaulted room, apparently the chapter house,[9] immediately north of the chancel, and a large room over it, with an annex towards the N.E. The cloister is only represented by fragments of shafts, caps, and bases lying in the nave.

The ruins are now well cared for, though a great deal might be done towards collecting and arranging fragments of monuments, etc., which are piled up in the nave, and reducing the ground in the transept to the original floor level.

The Church: As is usual in houses of this order, the church consists of a long chancel about 55 ft. by 25 ft., separated by narrow tower arches from a nave of about the same size (70 ft. by 25 ft.), with a large transept opening from it. The transept in this instance is on the south side, the cloister and other conventual buildings being to the north. This management is at least as common as the reversed plan with the cloister on the south side of the church. Owing to the comparative lowness of the church and height of the dormitories and other buildings over the cloisters there was no particular object in placing the cloisters to the south.

The Chancel: There is no very obvious trace of work earlier than the rebuilding in 1305 by Toirhealbhach.

Ennis Abbey: Plan of Church
Ennis Abbey
Plan of Church

The side windows are of similar character to the great group of lancets at the east end, which were due to his munificence. This is the most conspicuous feature of the church. Three lancets are grouped together in the middle of the east wall, each 2 ft. 8 in. wide, and the centre one rising to a height of 30 feet. They are separated by slender mullions, and are enclosed by a molded rear arch springing from caps about 25 feet from the sill.

Ennis Abbey: Interior of Chancel
Ennis Abbey
Interior of Chancel

On either side are narrower and slightly lower lancets, 2 ft. 0 in. wide, each under a separate rear arch which springs from the same caps as that in the middle. On the inner side of the mullions and of the piers between the groups shafts about 4 inches in diameter are worked with bands at intervals. Those which support the rear arches have molded caps ornamented with a small band of dog tooth; those on the mullions run up a short way into the spandrel and are finished with a head of other ornament. This peculiarity is also seen in the similar windows on the south side of the chancel. Of these there are three double lancets towards the east, then a triplet, and part of a double lancet at the west, the rest being blocked by the insertion of the tower. All are of similar character to the east windows.

On the north side, in the west part of the wall, is a two-light window, high enough up to clear the roof of the cloister, for it appears that here there was no passage above the cloister on the south side, at any rate; and two similar windows further to the west show that originally there was no structural division between the chancel and the nave.

At the south-east corner is a large buttress square on plan, rising without a break to the height of the springing of the south windows. A sloping plinth below a large plain roll molding runs round the whole chancel.

In the middle of the north wall is a small door leading into the chapter-house.

In the east part of the south wall is a double piscina, consisting of two trefoil arches on small shafts with caps and bases; the work is similar in character to the rest of the chancel.

The Nave: The nave is about 70 ft. long by 25. ft. wide. It has suffered more than any other part of the church, and there is little of interest left in it. Part of the north wall is of the thirteenth century, as a window of similar character to those in the chancel still remains a short distance west of the tower.

A small window exists at a lower level near the east end of the nave, opening into the cloister in a similar way to that at Quin Abbey.

Two windows on the north side and one on the south are modernized and lined with brick, and the west door though it has a fairly well molded four-centred arch, is of the same period, probably 1817. The west window, however, is original, apparently dating from about 1500. It is of three lights under an acutely pointed arch. The mullions follow the curve of the window arch, intersecting in the head; and below these intersections on a level with the spring of the arch, the lower lights are covered by semi-circular arches. This is a common type, and occurs also in two of the chapels of the transept.

Ennis Abbey: East Front
Ennis Abbey
East Front

Two large arches about 10 feet wide in the south wall open into the transept. Between them is a square pier chamfered on the angles, and supporting the outer order of the arches without any impost-mold; the inner order is half-octagonal in section, carried by molded and pointed corbels at the springing. The western arch replaces a pointed window, probably of the earliest date, now blocked, but visible inside.

In the north wall is a range of low recesses, each covered by an elliptical arch with a plain ogee label above, ending in a heavy carved finial, and small buttresses between each, becoming square pinnacles above. There were five of these on the north side, and one on the south. From the similarity of detail and the regularity of these niches it seems likely that the whole range was made at one time, perhaps when that part of the wall was built, as a future resting-place for the bodies of the brothers. At the same time they formed a continuous shelf at a height convenient for a seat, much needed at a time when chairs and pews were only used by the infirm.[10]

All the projecting features, buttresses, labels, etc., have been cut back flush with the wall, and one of the arches destroyed to make room for a sill of a modern window, and the recesses are filled up to make an even wall face for plastering.

At the end of the nave were two altars standing against the projecting tower piers; of these, that on the north side, dedicated in honour of S. Francis, remains, though mutilated, with a little statuette of the Patron Saint enshrined in a niche in the tower pier behind it. That on the south side was removed in 1772 to make way for the Crowe monument. The altars were about 5 feet long. That on the north side was ornamented by the rich plinth mold on the tower piers being continued round it. The statuette and niche are worked in one block of grey marble. The saint wears the habit of the order, he holds a slender cross staff in his left hand, but on his open right hand, side, and feet, the stigmata are visible. He stands under a crocketted gable, supported by slender shafts ending in pinnacles. The form of the crockets is rather unusual, but it occurs frequently in this building, e.g., on the tomb of King Toirdhealbhach, and on the piers supporting the traceried screen under the south tower arch. Its character will be best understood by referring to the “signature” or trade mark of the sculptor on the latter monument shown in the cut on p. 162.

In the south wall near the west door is a large stoup.

The Tower: Between the chancel and the nave a central tower was built in the church about the end of the fifteenth century. The upper stage is a square of about 16 feet, but the lower part, though of the same dimensions east and west, occupies the whole width of the church. The north and south arches on which it stands are of no great height, and only 8 feet wide, but those under the east and west walls are of considerable size, being about 16 feet wide and 35 feet to the apex. The upper part of the tower is as usual square in plan, but there is an intermediate stage just above the level of the roof, of which the length from north to south is the whole width of the church. The haunches of this stage are roofed with flags. An arrangement of this kind must inevitably occur where a square tower, smaller than the whole width of the church, is built in a central position, but commonly the awkward transition from oblong to square is discreetly hidden below the roof. In this instance, however, probably because of the great size and height of the east and west arches, it was considered safer to reinforce their haunches with extra weight.

The upper storey of the tower has been rough casted and raised in height, and new windows and a parapet, and a most barbarous series of pinnacles added, all in 1817. A very good view of it is given in Grose’s Antiquities, drawn probably about 1780. It is there shown lower than at present, with a small single-light window in each face, no parapet, and a low pyramidal roof. It must, however, originally have been considerably higher. Dineley’s sketch of the town of Ennis (1680) shows this tower not only higher by at least one storey, but also much thicker; an error which carried its own refutation.

The piers which carry the tower are not bonded into the walls of the church, but merely built up against them. All the arches are in two orders, the outer order of each having merely a small chamber on it.

The inner order of the north and south arches is square in section, and supported by corbels at the springing, about 14 feet from the floor. The carving on these is of very high quality and well finished. On the south side are represented the heads of a king and a bishop,[11] the latter attended by two small angels. On the north side are two ram’s heads.

The great east and west arches are somewhat different, and of more normal detail. The inner order is half an octagon, and is carried by molded corbels ending in a point. Below these are some exquisite little bits of carving, but so small as to be hardly noticeable. A spray of foliage of similar character to that above the altar of S. Francis[12] occurs, which gives the approximate date of the work, and on the north west pier are two charming little dragons with long curling tails interlaced, forming a most decorative bit of design. Between these arches is a plain and somewhat heavy vault, with only diagonal and ridge ribs. It is pierced for four bell ropes. As is the almost invariable practice, the vault ribs die away in one point on the wall, without corbel or shaft. On the west face of the tower, at the springing of the great arch, holes are cut, probably for the support of a rood beam. The molding on the plinth of the north piers, which is continued to form the Altar of S. Francis, is worth notice as a characteristic example of the district and date. The section is shown on the plan of the church. The large very flat hollow member occurs elsewhere in this church and at Quin Abbey, in the latter twice repeated in the cloister. Small doors lead from the space under the tower into the cloister on the north side, and out into the church-yard on the south.

The Transept: As is the case in nearly every example of Friars’ churches the transept is an addition to the original work. It appears to include work of at least two different periods, and to have been built on a smaller scale about the year 1400, and subsequently lengthened about 1500. The arches leading into it from the nave do not bear any clear evidence of their date, the detail being of a common and elementary type: the western one replaces a window which was probably part of the original building (1240).

On the east jamb of the eastern arch is cut a small square niche, with a half-length figure of Christ, with His hands bound before Him and surrounded by the instruments of the Passion. In one corner is a pot with a cock’s head protruding from it, in allusion to the legend, still current in parts of the west, that the bird crowed while it was being cooked in the house of Caiaphas when Peter denied Our Lord. In the upper corner is a hand holding a lock of hair. This feature seems to belong, in date and execution, to the works done about 1500, such as the Inchiquin tomb and figure of S. Francis.

The transept has three chapels on the east side; two of these were slightly recessed under broad, low arches. The outer chapel is considerably longer, extending 11 feet eastward of these arches, all three of which, together with the piers which separated them, have now fallen. Corbels in the north and south walls, however, mark their position.

In the south wall of the further chapel is a double piscine covered by two pointed arches, elaborately molded, under a square label.

Ennis Abbey Transept
Ennis Abbey Transept

Each has a three-light window on the east wall, but these are of very different character. The centre and outer ones are the same, and similar to the west window of the nave, but not so high in the arch. The inner window is of an earlier type, with flowing tracery, boldly cusped, and it is on the strength of this that a date about 1400 may be ascribed to the first building of the transept. This early building contained at least two chapels: the south wall is undoubtedly later, and therefore probably the south chapel, as its window is certainly is.

Ennis Abbey: South Front of Transept
Ennis Abbey
South Front of Transept

The south wall and gable is one of the most striking features of the church. Externally the gable is crow-stepped, and beneath it are two large thee-light windows with very acutely pointed heads, filled with intersecting tracery, and depressed trefoil arches at the springing. The arches are of two orders outside, without a label, but the outer order is returned horizontally between the windows at the springing, below which the wall is faced with carefully-worked ashlar. Inside the splays of the jambs are only separated by a small boutell which is continued round the rear arches.

At the south-west corner is a small buttress, and round this, and along the south wall, runs a bold and characteristic plinth mold, of which the section is given on the plan.

Monuments: Though most of the Kings of Thomond and several chiefs of the Clan Cuilean were buried in the abbey, there are no monuments of earlier date than the latter half of the fifteenth century. Two of them, however, mark earlier burials.

Of the most important, which stood on the north side of the chancel, Father Luke Wadding says, in 1634, that it was built by “a noble lady, Morina, daughter of a prince of that race (O’Brien), and wife of MacMahon.” This would be about 1470. Bruodin writes in 1669: “The descendants of Bernard O’Brien” (whom he afterwards explains as King Brian Catha an Eanaigh, 1370–1399) “along with the illustrious family of MacMahon, have a very beautiful tomb built in the shape of an altar, and decorated with various marble statues and pillars.”

Brigdale, in 1695, thus: “In Ennis chancel is the ancient monument of grey marble whereon is engraved the story of Our Saviour’s Passion, and belong to the family of the MacMahons.”

Though the stones “whereon is engraved the story of Our Saviour’s Passion” and the “various marble statues,” together with the site, have been annexed to form a modern monument of the Creaghs of Dangan, 1843, and the “marble pillars” are scattered about the church, the identity of the tomb is placed beyond doubt by these three descriptions, and enough of the fragments of the canopy remain to reconstruct the original design with some certainty.

Ennis Abbey: Detail of Royal Tomb
Ennis Abbey
Detail of Royal Tomb

The dimensions of the tomb itself are kept by its modern successor, as the carved panels are re-used in their proper positions. It was about 10 ft. 6 in. long and 3 ft. 9 in. wide, with its back against the wall. The carvings are on five panels, each 2 ft. 7 in. by 2 ft. 0 in. On the west face is a small standing figure of an archbishop, and the Betrayal. On the south side are the Scourging, Crucifixion, and Entombment and on the east end the Resurrection, and a standing figure of a woman in a large horned head-dress, perhaps Mor Ni Bhriain herself who built the monument. The figures are well drawn and executed on the whole, though the size of the heads is as usual exaggerated, and there is some disparity in scale where a small figure was wanted to fill a vacant space

Ennis Abbey: Royal Tomb Elevation/Plan
Ennis Abbey
Royal Tomb Elevation/Plan

The Roman soldiers wear armour of fifteenth century type. In the Resurrection, Christ is correctly shown as rising through the slab of a closed tomb – mediaeval imagers often went astray on this point. He carries a cross with a banner on which is a fylfot or swastika.

The plinth mold here shown seems to be most suitable for this monument, but it is now in scattered fragments, and its original position must remain uncertain.

Fixed in the wall above the tomb is a row of small panels containing statues of Christ and the twelve apostles. It occupies the entire length of the monument. The canopy was 5 ft. 2 in. high to the springing of the arches, and 10 ft. 2 in. to the underside of the cornice. Of this latter no trace can be found, but the similarity of design with such structures as the sedilia at Callan Abbey[13] or Holy Cross lead to the supposition that a similar treatment was employed here, namely, a heavy coved cornice with a straight top sloping back in the form of a roof. The superstructure is carried by two compound piers at the outer corners, and two slender shafts in the middle, all standing on molded bases, and having small buttresses worked on the front. The back of the canopy appears to have been carried entirely by the wall. The shafts of the corner piers are of plain octagonal section spirally twisted, and the flat faces on each side of the angle are relieved by raised panels containing minute but excellent foliage sculpture. The smaller shafts are of octagonal section also, but with a deep fluting worked on each face. This is stopped out just above the base, but is continued above to form the arch mold.

Similar arches also occur at the back of the monument, but if the position assigned to the series of apostles is correct, they cannot have been supported by the shafts – presumably they were stopped on a set-off in the wall.

An elaborate vault covers the tomb. This is quite the usual design; the greater part of the ribs lie on the surface of a regular conoid, but the ridges are kept level. The ordinary lierne pattern is used. It is perhaps not quite so common to find small foliage bosses worked at the principal intersections on the ridge rib: but this feature occurs elsewhere in the building. The vault ribs as usual converge to a point. An ogee label with large crockets finished by a tall finial surmounts the arches, and in the spandrel formed by it are small leaves, except in one case where a bearded head is worked in a circular panel. Above the arches stopped chamfers appear on the buttress which supported carved pinnacles.

Though the general form of these pinnacles is, beyond doubt, being settled by a precedent and also by a fragment which almost certainly belongs to this tomb, their exact size cannot be determined. There are among the fragments lying in the church a considerable number of such pinnacles, but their size and coarseness precludes the possibility of their having occupied any position in a monument characterized by minute detail and careful sculpture.

On the south side of the chancel and opposite this monument is the burying place of the Earls of Thomond. Of this Bruodin says: “In the Chapel of the Franciscan Convent at Inisch, the founder had built a marble mausoleum which is called the tomb of the O Briens Lords of Inchiquin” (he considered the Abbey to have been founded by King Toirdhealbhach in 1284). Though the present monument can hardly be dated earlier than 1500, in this tomb are laid King Toirdhealbhach himself and his friend and ally Cumheadha MacConmara,[14] Chief of the Clan Cuilean, both of whom died in 1306.

The actual tomb is now removed and replaced by a modern monument to Priestleys. The canopy however remains, and in spite of its somewhat heavy appearance and likeness to fireplace it is interesting from its unusual design and excellent detail. Two plain piers carry a flat arch in two orders, the stones composing which are joggled. The arch is abutted by a heavy curved projection built into the wall at either end of the monument.

From the soffite hang pendants in the form of a miniature vault, corresponding to a similar vault rising from the wall at the sides and back. The principal intersections of the ribs are here also marked by small foliage bosses. Under the vault small trails of foliage are worked on the wall – all but one of the most naturalesque description. This exception is of exactly similar character to the ornament already described on the niche in the nave in which the statue of S. Francis stands, and the foliage on the screen under the tower, and is almost identical in design with the carver’s mark there cut and figure on p. 162. If, therefore, it were possible to date this tomb with certainty, the period during which the tower and the other monument were erected would be determined. Unfortunately so far no record of its construction has been found.

Ennis Abbey: Tomb of King Toirdhealbhach
Ennis Abbey
Tomb of King Toirdhealbhach

Above the flat arch is a series of narrow panels divided by well molded muntins with elaborate bases and forming cusped ogee arches at the top.

A heavy molded cornice finishes off the design, capped by the common sloping roof. The work is in good preservation, except that a few stones are missing from the cornice and roof.

The exquisite piece of tracery now fixed in the south tower arch in all probability enshrined a sepulchral monument, and was certainly not originally in the position it now occupies.

The dwarf piers which support the arch now stand on top of masses of rough masonry 8 ft. from the floor, and as a wall niche for a tomb, this is not an uncommon design, while it is difficult to imagine any other likely use for it. The piers are 2 ft. 6 ins. high with caps and bases, and in each is a niche similar to that over S. Francis’ altar in the nave. On the east side is a bishop holding a cross-staff, and on the plain face the little device the carver used as his signature; on the west the Virgin and Child. Under the acutely pointed arch above these is a beautiful piece of flamboyant tracery illustrated [above]. It is very carefully and accurately worked, and the molding, though simple, is very effective in a rather dark situation such as generally obtained in churches in this country.[15] No evidence has been adduced to connect this work with any of the many famous tombs known to have been in the Abbey.

There was formerly a monument of great richness to the Earls of Thomond in the church.

Wadding says: “In the chapel of S. Michael rises the mausoleum of the said Earls constructed of polished marble under a vaulted roof.” Bruodin, however says: “In the very ornate chapel of S. Francis is the sepulchre of the Earls of Thomond.” As some fragments remain which apparently belonged to this monument it is worth while considering its probable position. Bruodin’s account bears its own refutation, for he has already described a number of monuments round the altar of S. Francis and there would be no room for one of the scale of the Earl of Thomond’s. Reading, however, S. Michael for S. Francis in this context, we get considerable information about the form as well as the position of the monument. The chapel of S. Michael could not well be in the nave, for a preaching order would never permit such an obstruction in the public part of the church; it obviously could not be the chapel; the transept remains, and as we know there were at least three chapels in it, it is reasonable to suppose that the chapel of S. Michael was here.

The fragments that are generally supposed to belong to the Thomond tomb consist mainly of fragments of vaulting. From these it is possible to get some idea of the dimensions of the space thus covered.

There seem to have been at least two bays, each at least 8 ft. long by 5 ft. wide, including supports.

Now Wadding says the tomb of the Earls is “Under a vaulted roof,” and Bruodin that it is in “the very ornate chapel.” Hence it is fair to refer that the fragments of vaulting referred to formed the roof of a chantry chapel in which the tomb stood.

It would be natural to try and fit this vault into one of the three chapels which are structurally obvious. There are, however, no signs of its having occupied such a position, nor, indeed, from their height, are they likely to have contained such a large structure. On the whole, therefore, the position indicated on the plan seems to fulfill the conditions as well as any other: the chantry, if so placed, would not unduly interfere with the other chapels, and a precedent may be quoted from Holy Cross Abbey of a similar arrangement.[16] It has been noticed that the arches over the chapels in the transept have fallen. If one of the piers supporting them had been removed and the weight taken on the roof of the chantry, the whole range would have collapsed when the latter fell down – otherwise it is hard to see why such a catastrophe should have occurred in a small and simple piece of construction. The vault was of typical late Gothic construction, and since each bay was oblong, three tiercerous impinge on the longitudinal ridge, and only two on the transverse ridge. There were no lierne ribs. The ribs spring in the usual manner, but the conoids are less regular than is commonly the case.[17] The ridges were level.

Ennis Abbey: South Arch of Tower
Ennis Abbey
South Arch of Tower

Among the fragments collected in the nave are a number of pointed brackets. One, which was on an external angle, is square in plan, each side being 11½ ins. long. The others project from a flat wall, and the front is the same length. The projection of all is 6 ins. They are 13 ins. high, and the underside is ornamented with ribs in the form of a vault. These may have supported statues in the aforesaid “very ornate chapel.”

Some bases have been found of elongated octagonal shape, on plan 1 ft. by 5 ins. They may have carried the shafts of the chantry chapel.

Built into a recess in the south wall of the chancel is a fragment of “Pieta” of large scale and good workmanship. It is uncertain whence it came. Also a stone with a helmet and mantling and crest of O Brien (a naked arm brandishing dagger), probably from the monument of the Earls of Thomond.

A fragment of a slab, bearing an inscription in Roman caps “TEIG OB(rien),” remains in the transept. It probably commemorates Teig of Ballingown (died 1578).

On the north side of the chancel is a small but handsome monument to James MacNamara and Helena Lee, 1686, with arms of MacNamara impaling a chevron between three boars’ heads couped. Near this is a handsome Renaissance monument to Lieut. Henry Banks, 1773. There are other smaller monuments of Considine (1631 and 1686), O Hehir (1622), O Kerin (1685), Crowe (1772), Woulfe (1742), and several others of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[18]

The Conventual Buildings, - Immediately north of the chancel, and communicating with it, is a large vaulted room, the use of which is much in dispute, measuring at present 33 ft. by 18 ft., but probably it originally extended as far west as the cloister, or some 45 ft. in all. It seems to be of as early a date as any part of the building. In size it seems fitted for a chapter-house, but it is in a position more commonly occupied by the sacristy, and there is no other building remaining which seems appropriate for this use. A sacristy may have existed on the south side of the chancel, but this would be highly inconvenient and contrary to all precedent.

It is recorded that a sacristy and refectory were built in the early part of the fourteenth century, but this building appears to be of too early a character to be referred to so late a date.

Bruodin, indeed, seems to call it a refectory, but he is clearly either mistaken or misunderstood. It is covered by a round barrel vault, on three ribs, slightly chamfered. These are carried by low pilasters of similar section, and the impost marked by a plain string breaking round the pilasters. Between them are recesses covered by segmental arches. At the east end was a double lancet window, under a pointed and molded rear arch. The mullion has fallen out and the sill has been destroyed.

A door at the north-east corner leads by a narrow passage to a small vaulted room of which the use is uncertain, but it seems admirably adapted for a prison and was probably used as such when the assizes were held in the adjoining room in 1574.

Ennis Abbey: Cloister Arcade
Ennis Abbey
Cloister Arcade reconstructed from existing fragments

Beyond the chapter house the outside wall of the abbey runs northwards for some distance. It is now almost devoid of interest. There was a spiral stair at its junction with the wall of the chapter house.

The cloister has only scanty foundations remaining in situ. It was very small; only 68 feet square over the walks. Considerable fragments of the arcade, however, are piled in the heap of stones in the nave and they point to an interesting design. The small scale of the whole scheme is remarkable, as also the extreme tenuity of the shafts and especially the buttressed piers. The south walk, however, was certainly not vaulted, and probably the others were not either, and there were no rooms above. It is of course impossible to say whether two or three bays were grouped together between the buttressed piers; probably, since no great weight was carried above the arches, there were three, which besides is far the more common arrangement.

The shafts of the arcade are octagonal, 4 ins. across, and the web between them 1½ ins. thick in the small piers. In the large piers the web is 6 ins. thick, and the buttresses 4 ins. All are 11 ins. deep and the arch above them 1 ft. 4 ins. A few of the shafts are twisted. The caps and bases are mainly of normal type, the caps, perhaps, unusually good, but some of them are of curiously plain profile. The work is said to date from about 1400.

Above the chapter house is a large room, lit from the east by a tall square-headed two-light window, with two transoms in it; from this are approached other rooms, above the prison-like cell already described.

Armory –
Arms of O Brien.
[19] Quarterly 1st and 4th gules three lions passant gardant per pale or and argent. 2nd argent three piles meeting in point gules. 3rd of a pheon azure.

Arms of Macnamara. Gules a lion rampant argent in chief two spear heads or.

Arms of Creagh. Or three laurel branches slipped proper on a chief azure as many bezants.

Arms of Crowe. Argent on a mount vert an oak tree proper a canton gules charged with an antique Irish crown or.

Arms of Gore. Gules a fess between three crosses crosslet fitchee or.

Arms of Woulfe. Per fess argent and azure in chief on a mount vert a wolf passant in front of an oak tree all proper, in base two salmons naiant barways of the last.

Arms of Waller. Sable three walnut leaves or between two bendlets argent.

“History and Topography of Clare,” J. Frost, 1893.

“Tour in Clare,” J. Lloyd, 1780.

“Statistical Survey of the County of Clare,” Hely Dutton, 1808.

“Topographical Dictionary,” S. Lewis, 1842.

“Monasticon Hibernicum,” Archdall, 1786.

“Grose’s Antiquities of Ireland,” 1791.

“Historical memoir of the O’Briens,” John O’Donoghue, 1860.

“Story of an Irish Sept.,” Dr. N. C. Macnamara, 1896.

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. XIX., 1889; Vol. XXV., 1895.

Conchubhar Ua Briain

1. “Annals of Clonmacnoise.”
2. Four Masters. “1247 – The monastery of Ennis was made by the O’Brien that the burial place of the race of Brian should be in it.”
3. Anglicised Turlogh or Terence
4. A full history of these campaigns and of the building of Ennis Abbey is given in “Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh,” or the “Wars of Turlogh,” written about 1350. The principal facts are abstracted in the Annals of Inisfallen.
5. Dinely [sic] gives a sketch of the castle as in 1680. It consisted of a large square court with a considerable range of buildings on the far side, approached by a round-headed gateway defended by a bartizan. At the further corner, on the right as one went in, was a tower rising three storeys above the roofs. The whole was surrounded by a moat. It was then held by G. Stamer from the Earl of Thomond.
6. Commonly called Murrogh the Tanist. See post p. 159 (Clare, p. 19) and cut. [Link to paragraph containing footnote 14, beginning with On the south side of the chancel...]
7. Annala Rioghachta. “1540 – Mainistir Chluana ramhfada do thabhairt dona braithribh de observantia ar forcongra Ui briain Mhurchaidh mic Thoirrdhealbhaigh” (Murrogh the Tanist).
8. Reproduced in Frost’s “History of Clare.”
9. This building, the use of which is a subject of contention to antiquaries, is called the Chapter House on the plan and throughout this account.
10. Compare the Franciscan church at Adare, Co. Limerick, where almost the whole of the walls are thus treated.
11. Figured on p.162 (Clare, p.22). [Link to ennisabbey9.jpg]
12. See post p. 162 (Clare, p.22). [Link to paragraph beginning The fragments that are generally.. a few paragraphs before Footnote 16.]
13. See ante. P. 81 (Kilkenny, p.37)
14. Now Anglicised MacNamara
15. Much of the detail used in the limestone work in Ireland looks harsh and angular on paper, but when executed in dark marble and placed in churches which are generally not too well lit according to modern standards, they are far more effective than the more subtle moldings worked in white stone which were commonly used in England.
16. Where, however, the building still stands up in an apparently unaccountable manner; in that case a canopied tomb is substituted for the wall between two vaulted chapels.
17. Even in the very oblong vault under the tower at Holy Cross the ribs are kept to the same curve as long as possible, short of unsightly distortion.
18. For a complete list of monuments see the plan of the Abbey by T. J. Westropp in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, XXV., p.139 (1895).
19. These are the arms as granted in 1543. Before this there was no office of arms or heraldic record in Ireland. The Kings of Thomond had, however, borne certain recognized badges since Clontarf (1014) if not before. At this battle, Murchadh, son of Brian, King of Ireland, bore as standard a gold lion on a red field – and three lions constantly appear on monuments – as Domhnall Mor, 1194, in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Bishop Donogh O Brien (a fifteenth century monument – a chevron between three lions passant) in the same church. In 1180 the Pope gave Domnall Mor, with a fragment of the True Cross, the right to bear argent three nails sable, in commemoration of the services of his ancestor, Brien, to Christendom. These appear as three piles in the modern coat and as borne by Sir Guy de Brien at Calais, 1348 (or, three piles meeting in point azure). They are sometimes represented as nails as late as the sixteenth century.


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Franciscan Abbey [Ennis Abbey]