The Augustinian Houses of the County Clare:
Clare, Killone, and Inchicronan

Thomas Johnson Westropp
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Abbey of Clare


Pre-eminent among the Augustinian houses stands the Abbey of Clare. It was one of a group of monasteries founded by the able but unscrupulous Donald More O’Brien, the last King of Munster. To it in vivid dread of a future retribution for his bloodshedding, cruelties, and perjuries he granted many a fair quarter of land. The fortunate preservation of his foundation charter enables us to some extent to create an estates map of the abbey lands “from the ford of the two weirs” at Clare Castle, “even out to the Leap of Cuchullin” in the edge of the Atlantic.
“Be it known,” runs the charter, “to all, both present and future, professing the Christian faith, that I Donald ‘magnus’ O’Brien, by the greatness of Divine liberality King of Limerick, have founded an abbey in honour of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul at Kimony for the salvation of my soul and of the souls of my ancestors and successors. Moreover I have placed in the same abbey regular canons of the rule or order of blessed Augustine, serving God devoutly and praise-worthily, for whose support and use I have granted lands, possessions, and rectories, absolutely for the future in pure and perpetual alms. . . . Moreover, I have granted and by the impress of my seal have confirmed these lands with all their appurtenances and liberties to the aforesaid church, to Donat the abbot, and the canons of the said church and their successors living canonically. That is to say, Kimony with its appurtenances, the place in which the abbey is situated; Balliannagain; Ballyvekeary; Durinierekin with all its fisheries and fishing rights; Inisketty; Kellonia; Cnoc Inis Cormick; Killbreakin; St. Cronan’s Island (Inchicronan); Argonica; Dromore; Holy Trinity Church, called Killkerily, in the bishoprick of Limerick; St. Peter’s House, near Emly; . . . in the bishoprick of Limerick; St. Peter’s House, near Emly; . . . in the bishoprick of Kilfenora, with two rectories; Caheridarum (probably Caheraderry in Corcomroe); in lay fee from the boundary of Athdacara out to the Leap of Congolun (saltum congoluni, Loop Head). Which aforesaid lands I have granted, and by the impress of my seal confirmed to the said church, as aforesaid, with all their appurtenances in the fields and groves, the pastures and meadows, the lakes and rivers, the fisheries and fishing rights, the highways and byways, the game preserves in the forests, and other accustomed liberties. Given at Limerick on the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul, A.D. 1189. These witnesses being present, namely, M. (Maurice), Archbishop of Cashel; A. ? C. (Constantine), Bishop of Killaloe; A. Bishop of Kilfenora; B. (Brictius), Bishop of Limerick; M. MacMahon, C. O’Conchur, and many others.’” [1]
We only possess this charter in a copy made in 1461 for Thady, Bishop of Killaloe. The only other documents of Donaldmore are not foundation charters, but mere grants of land to Holycross Abbey and Limerick Cathedral, so they are not capable of comparison. Donaldmore appears in them as “Donaldus Rex Limericensis,” and “D. dí grá Limicensis,” and we find the “appurtenances,” “fields, woods, pastures, meadows, waters, &c.,” and “for the welfare of my soul and the souls of my parents” in the undoubted charters. It is true that the king’s epithet “magnus” is suspicious, but the coincidence of the presence of the bishops of Kilfenora and Limerick, whose rights were touched at Caheraderry, Iniscatha and Kilkerrily, and of the chiefs MacMahon and O’Conor, in whose territories certain lands were granted, favours the genuineness of the document. We may also note the inclusion of Killone and Inchicronan, the sites of the other Augustinian houses among the possessions of the abbey of “Forgy.”
We next hear of the abbey in 1226, [2] Pope Honorius III. wrote from the Lateran to his son “T,” abbot of the monastery of SS. Peter and Paul, “de Forgio,” directing the judges to proceed against Robert Travers, who had “unjustly and by simony been made Bishop of Killaloe” by the influence of his uncle Geoffrey de Marisco, the justiciary, and the connivance of Donchad Cairbreach O’Brien, chief of Thomond, in 1217. The abbot took much trouble in the matter, and even went to Rome to inform the Pope as to the facts of the case, for which labour his expenses are directed to be paid by the bishopric.
In 1278 Thomand was the theatre of a civil war of unusual horror, and, backed by the English of Bunratty, Donchad, the son of the late chief Brian Roe, had attained a temporary success. His rival, Torlough O’Brien, however, ventured out of the woods of Furroor to the west of Ennis, and went to the MacMahons of Corcovaskin to claim their aid. In his absence his brother Donall, with the Macnamaras, O’Deas, and the men of Owney, in county Limerick, determined to strike a blow at the adherents of Prince Donchad.
They concealed themselves for four days among the thick green oak woods and clear streams of Drumgrencha on the bank of the Fergus. At length their unsuspecting opponents, Mahon, son of Donall Connachtagh O’Brien with his adherents and the O’Gradies, billeted themselves at Clare Abbey (the first usage of this name for “Forgy.”) Their rest was but short. Soon an alarm was raised, and they saw advancing the embroidered standard of Donallbeg O’Brien and the crimson coats of his followers. They “agreed that their lives would be longer for getting out of his way,” and rushed out of the abbey in the utmost confusion, so “the rout of the abbey on Mahon O’Brien” became a proverb in the mouths of clan Torlough. Unfortunately the matter did not end in honourable battle, but left a stain on Donallbeg’s bravery and his followers. They captured many of the “soldiers, fair-haired women, little boys, servants, kerne, horseboys, and herdsmen,” making of them “one universal litter of slaughter, butchering both prisoners and cattle in the bog of Monashade,” between Furroor and Dysert. “The carnage of Clare” took place almost in the presence of the united forces of Sir Thomas de Clare and Donchad’s uncle, Murchad O’Brien; the slayers then escaped between two detachments of their foes at Dysert and Rath, taking refuge in the hills of Echtghe then covered with wolf-haunted forests and nearly impenetrable.
It is stated (though not in the “Wars of Torlough” or the older Annals) that when retribution overtook Donallbeg not long afterwards—when he was carried on horseback, dying in that fierce gallop, with the steel of an English mason fixed in his back—his body was brought from the gate of the “round towered castle of Quin” to be buried in Clare Abbey. If so, no monument now remains.
In the Papal taxation of 1302-1306, the abbey “De Forgio” was assessed at two marks, and the temporalities of its abbot at three marks. No other record occurs for a century and a half.
About the end of that century, to judge from the ruins, the long church of Donald More was divided into nave and chancel by the erection of a plain and somewhat ungraceful belfry tower resting on two pointed arches of much better design than the rest of the structure.
On June 18th, 1461, Thady, Bishop of Killaloe, seems to have been called upon to examine and exemplify the ancient charter. At the present time it is impossible to discover the reason for the event, and the evidently contemporaneous repairs of the southern wing of the domicile. It occurred while Teige Acomhad O’Brien was prince of Thomond, but the annals of his not very eventful reign do not help us. We might at most conjecture that the prince may have undertaken some works on the abbey to ward off disease or unpopularity, for MacFirbis, in recording his death, says “ the multitudes envious eyes and hearts shortened his days.” “Know all”—writes the prelate—“by these letters and the ancient charter of Donellusmore Ibrien, King of Limerick, founder and patron of the religious and venerable house of canons regular ‘de Forgio’ ”—what are the possessions of the abbey and its rights and alms. The full copy of the older charter is given, compared, attested, and sealed by Eugene O’Heogenayn, the notary, in the monastery of Clare, July 18th, 1461, the third year of the bishop’s consecration. It is witnessed by Donat Macrath, vicar of Killoffin; John Connagan, cleric, and Donald MacGorman. [3]
The convent was formally dissolved by Henry VIII., and granted with other lands and religious houses, to Donogh, Baron of Ibracken, in 1543. The grantee was pledged to forsake the name “Obrene,” to use the English manners, dress, and language, to keep no kerne or gallow-glasses, obey the king’s laws and answer his writs, to attend the Deputy and succour no traitors. In 1573 and again on October 2nd, 1578, it was re-granted to Conor, Earl of Thomond. It was held by Sir Donnell O’Brien and his son Teige in 1584, and confirmed to other Earls of Thomond—to Donough on January 19th, 1620, and to Henry on September 1st, 1661. It was occupied by a certain Robert Taylor about 1635.[4] Its monastic history had not, however, closed. Nicholas O’Nelan, Abbot of Clare, is given in the list of monks living in the diocese of Killaloe in 1613, seventy years after the dissolution. [5] Teige O’Griffa, a priest, officiated at Dromcliff, Killone, and Clare Abbey in 1622. The Rev. Dr. De Burgho, Vicar-General of Killaloe, was its Abbot, 1647-1650, and two years later Roger Ormsby and Hugh Carighy, priests of Clare, were hanged without a trial by the Puritans. They were, however, possibly parish priests, and not monks.
In 1681 Thomas Dyneley’s sketch of the abbey shows it as unroofed except the south-west room with its high chimney. A small chapel, its gables boldly capped with large crosses, adjoined the east end of the abbey church, and was evidently in use. Dyneley tells us that the building “was also thought to have been founded by the sayd Duke (Lionel of Clarence, 1361), for the love he bore and in memory of a priory of that name in Suffolk, where his first wife was buried.” Dyneley probably heard this unfounded legend from some English settler, who tried to account for the name, oblivious of the plank causeway across the muddy creek which, perhaps, for centuries before Duke Lionel’s time, had given the neighbouring village its name, Claremore, or Clar atha da Choradh.
Allemand very briefly notes the place in 1690, but does not imply that the monks held it at that time.

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