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

Thomas Johnson Westropp
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Clare County Library

Abbey of Clare

The Ruins

The O’Briens having chosen Ennis Friary as their burial place from the 13th century, and the Macnamaras founding Quin and using it as their cemetery, the chiefs seem to have lost all interest in the Augustinian houses. Accordingly, it is only in the bell tower and a few windows in Clare, in a few windows and doors in Killone, and in the transept of Inchicronan that we find any trace of work later than the period of the foundation.
The name of Kilmony suggests that Clare (like Inchicronan) stood on the site of an older church, but if so the only suggestion of a pre-Norman building at Clare may be an early-looking bullaun in a rounded block of pink granite, and, perhaps, a carved block over one of the northern windows of the choir.

Plan of Clare Abbey

Plan of Clare Abbey.
Reference. – A. Doorways. B. Window (fig. 1, right).
C. Window (fig. 2, right). D. Window (fig. 3, right).
F. Tomb and early Slit Window.

The ruins consist of a church and cloister with ranges of domestic buildings to the east and south of the garth, and a gateway and enclosures.
The church was originally a long oblong building, 128 feet by 31 feet, externally. The interior was subsequently divided into a nave and chancel by a belfry tower 15 feet 9 inches, and the chancel 48 feet 5 inches. The west window had fallen in 1680, but the gable was held up by its own solidity and the tightly-knotted ivy. It is now supported by a modern arch. There are a number of putlock holes in the north wall. In the same wall are a pointed door and a late traceried window of the same period as the east window, the hood ending in a human face to the north end (fig. 1, infra). Both walls are capped by plain neat cornice and broken battlements.
Clare Abbey Windows
Clare Abbey Windows.
(1) North Nave. (2) North Chancel. (3) East Chancel.


The belfry has no staircase; it had three floors resting on corbels, the second had a double light window with cinquefoil heads in each of the sidewalls. The lower was reached by two large slightly-pointed doors opening on to the gutters. The battlements of the tower are low and badly-proportioned. The barge stones were nearly all loose, and some were balanced in most precarious state; they were reset in the repairs of December, 1898, and January, 1899. The arches underneath are pointed, are made of finely-cut limestone, with ribs resting on neat corbels; there are also corbels for a rood loft. The belfry dates from about the middle of the fifteenth century. A large tomb slab stands in the north recess under the tower, which is lit by a very primitive round-headed window slit with the usual chamfer and recess. The slab has no carving of inscription.
The chancel had three north lights, a double one near the belfry, its head now destroyed, another of the time of the foundation. This has the pointed head recess and chamfer characteristic of the period, while over it on the outside is set a stone carved with scrolls (fig. 2, supra). East of it is a low arch, and between it and the other window is a pointed arch, long built up. The east window is late and of the same period as the one in the nave; it has two shafts interlacing into two large pear-shaped loops, and a smaller one at the apex (fig. 3, supra). The whole is set in the arch of the older and larger window which, like the opes at Killaloe and Canons Island, probably once had five lights. A modern tomb of the Laffan family occupies the site of the altar. The only others of note are those “of Charles Hallinan, dyed ye 15 iune, 1692.” Owen O’Haugh, 1726, and others of the same family; and one of Dennis Flin, 1755, near the altar, with a quaint epitaph:?—

“Death’s Our end, and to the grave We go,
But Where of When no man can tell or know.”

The church lies along the north side of the cloister garth, and projects 14 feet beyond the eastern rooms. A range of domestic buildings adjoins from the chancel, and another lies along the southern side of the garth. There were no buildings to the west of the cloister. The latter space is nearly square, being 85 feet by 85 feet 9 inches. The corbels and weather ledge along the church wall shows there was a roofed walk, probably without an arcade. It had a skew arch, like those at Clare Galway and Canons Island, but with a plainly chamfered rib and no corbel, at the south-east corner.

Clare Abbey South Window
Clare Abbey, South Window.
The southern wing contains a kitchen and refectory divided by a double fireplace with a lofty chimney, which leans ominously towards the east since 1868, when I first remember it. This was evidently an afterthought, and does not bond into either wall; a door lay to the north of it. The western room was two stories high, with a wooden floor resting on corbels. Much of its south wall fell out in 1875 or 1876. The south wing has nearly all its features defaced; there only remain two double-light windows with trefoil heads and heavy angular hoods, a type which was in common use in county Clare (both in churches and castles) in the middle of the fifteenth century. One of these is in the west gable, another in the eastern room; another window is thickly ivied, but seems to have had only one light. The rest were destroyed before 1793. [6] Four breaks, of which those at the extreme angles were evidently doors, open into the garth. A late gateway near the church is the only one in the west wall. Another leads into the nave, and three gaps and a door into the east wing, besides a long gap, probably made when the vault of the Crowes of Dromore was constructed about 27 years ago.
The eastern wing, like the southern, is 20 feet 6 inches wide; it is 109 feet long. There is no visible trace of sub-division, and all the features are defaced except a small window-slit at the south-east angle and in the east wall, a rude door in the west wall, and a window in the south gable. This originally consisted of two oblong lights, the sill and shaft of which were broken away; above these is an elaborate and boldly cusped tracery, consisting of six trefoils and a quatrefoil, the whole framed in a projecting hood, richly moulded and coming down the sides. It recalls a window at Ballyhack, and a simpler one at Rathfran, in Co. Mayo. Nearly all the outer wall of this wing has been levelled.
The site is in a grassy field with outcrops of rock, closely beset on three sides by swamps, into which the Fergus finds its way in floods. It was an unpromising site, very unlike those of the other monasteries and even churches, and, unless some sanctity attached itself to Kilmoney, seems badly chosen, being neither sheltered nor commanding, while better sites exist close to it in every direction. The district was, however, in some sense a focus of religious activity in the older times, six centuries before Donald More. Less than a mile to the north the grim stone faces on the ivied church of Doora stare across the swamp. Little over a mile to the east stands the venerable church of Killoe (Killuga in 1302), the cell of some Lugad, perhaps the earlier patron of Killaloe. About a mile from Killoe, the “Cyclopean” foundations, rude earthworks and well of Kilbrecan or Carntemple, mark the monastery, traditionally the earliest in Clare, founded towards the end of the fifth century by Brecan, son of Eochy Baillderg, one of the earliest evangelisers of Thomond and Aran.

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