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Letters on the Antiquities of County Clare, 1835 by Eugene O’Curry
transcribed and edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh

Letter VI: Quin Abbey; The Gobán Saor


Extract of a letter from E Curry to George Smith Esq. College Green, Dublin, dated Limerick,
30 September 1835

Quin Abbey
was originally a perfect square (its angles facing the four cardinal points) but at some later period it lost that by the projecting from its SE side of a structure called McNamara’s chapel. The site is a low height on the immediate bank of a deep stream. It would appear that this house did not depend on the sanctity of its inmates and the sacredness of its purpose alone for protection from external aggression, for we find at three of its angles the bases of round towers of great strength. These butts of towers are of an equal height say about ten feet, whether they are higher, I have not time to enquire or otherwise ascertain.

The high altar, which is of cut stone, remains almost entire in the chancel. On the left side of the altar against the wall is a monument of the McNamara family, consisting of a tomb of hewn stone about five feet high, called here Tuama na ccor [tomb of the corners] from the four neat stone columns standing on the four corners of the tomb and supporting a handsome stone canopy, the whole having the appearance of the body and roof of a hearse. The tombstone on which the pillars stand is what the masons call coucee [lying flat]; at the edge and in the channel all round there is a Latin inscription, but so covered with moss and dirt as to be unreadable without cleaning it. In the wall over the tomb is a black marble stone with the McNamara arms and the following English inscription, partly in the Saxon and partly in modern characters: ‘This monument was erected by Mahon dall McNamara and repaired by Captain Teige McNamara of Ranna 1714.’ Now the Christian name Mahon I don’t recollect to have known in the McNamara family and as the tradition here ascribes the erection of the chapel, above alluded to, [to] a McNamara who had killed his own brother, I am thinking that he might be the Macon McNamara of Lios Uí Mhíodhcháin castle, which see [above]. In repairing the monument and engraving the new inscription, it is very possible the captain or the engraver, for different reasons or for no reason, substituted the ‘h’ in Mahon for the ‘c’ in Macon. The two names differing in one letter only.

Behind this tomb in the sacristy are two tombs, the one level with the floor holding the remains of O’Callaghan, the other, raised with cut stone about four feet high, contains the remains of Seaghán Bog Mac Conmara, who killed the O’Callaghan in a duel some thirty years ago. They be within six feet of each other and are the only occupants of the little tenement.

In the body of the church is a green narrow flag without any inscription but with the outline of this figure [a hatchet] cut pretty deeply lengthways on it. It is the size of an ordinary hatchet. The stone is apparently very old and does not seem to occupy its original situation; the grave which it covers being too new for it. Quite close to the abbey on the south is a small ruin called Tig na Saor [house of the masons], one of whom (na saoir) must have been under this flag. Some of the people will tell you that it covered the grave of the Gobán Saor, whose name was O’Daly and who lived at Cathair Gobáin between Newmarket and Bunratty. He built Quin Abbey, the stone pillars of the cloister being his own workmanship. These pillars are of different shapes, some round, some square, and others as if some of the square ones had been twisted round and my informant said that they were twisted by the Gobán, though he (the Gobán) asserted that he shaped them out with a celebrated tool called cor in aghaidh an chaim agus cam in aghaidh an choir [turn against the twist and twist against the turn]. Two Connaught horse dealers, having strolled into the ruin some years ago, were much astonished at seeing the twisted pillars, one of them in admiration exclaimed Óra thanam aig an diabhal a Mhairtín, nár láidre an fear do chas na clochaidh sin. Óc’s thanam aig an diabhal a dhailtín (says the other) cár láidre é ná an fear do ghremaidhe dó iad. [By my soul Mairtín, but wasn’t the man strong who twisted those stones? And by my soul, says the other, how much stronger was he than the man who held them for him?]

In a niche close to the floor in McNamara’s chapel stands a stone about twenty inches high, fourteen wide, and four thick, on which is engraved a female figure in the full costume of a nun, resembling very much the queen of hearts. On asking what this was my informant said it was a plague stone and that as long as it remained there neither plague nor famine shall come within a certain distance of it; and they had not the cholera – more of the plague stones anon.

The old parish church of Quin stands at the other side of the stream SW. It is called Teampall Finnín from Finnín Mac Conmara, and was built in one night by the angels. North east of Quin about a mile is a silver mine. There is another mine near Six Mile Bridge.

E. Curry

Taken from RIA Ms R.R. 14, B-18, ff 498-530: Extracts containing information relative to the antiquities of the county of Clare collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1838-9.




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