Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

The History and Topography of the County of Clare by James Frost

Part I. Topography of Thomond Chapter 8. Ui Cormaic; Ui Donghaile

Ui Cormaic

Drumcliff Parish; Church and Round Tower; Clonroad Castle; Notices of Franciscan Abbey at Ennis

The church of Drumcliff is composed of various patchings, made from time to time as the building wanted repairs or the congregation more room. No part of it seems to be of great antiquity except a window on the south wall, and part of one in the east gable. At a little distance stands a round tower, having the upper part as well as one of its sides greatly injured by time or lightning. [3] On the west side, at a height of thirty feet from the ground, it has a quandrangular window. The stones of this round tower are enormous at the bottom, rounded by the weather, and not laid in regular courses. After it reaches a height of twelve feet they decrease in size. No patron saint of Drumcliff is remembered. To this parish belongs Clonroad, which, about the year 1200, became the principal seat of the O’Briens. Donogh Cairbreagh O’Brien constructed an earthen fort, round in form, on the south side of the river, opposite Ennis, in a marshy place. Subsequently a stone castle [4] was built near the present bridge of Clonroad by Turlogh O’Brien, and it continued to be one of the residences of the Earls of Thomond for three hundred years. It was demolished at last in order to furnish stones for the building of a house for the new proprietor, Mr. Gore. The adjoining town of Ennis was anciently called Inish-laoi (Calf Island), and sometimes Inish Cluain Ramh-fada (Meadow of the long rowing). We find two holy wells in the parish of Drumcliff, one in the townland of Rathkerry dedicated to St. Kieran, the other at Croaghaun, under the patronage of St. Ineenboy, of Killenaboy. At Inchbeg in 1580 stood a castle belonging to Conor MacClancy.

About the year 1240, Donogh Cairbreach O’Brien built a beautiful monastery for conventual Franciscan friars at Ennis. From its size, beauty, and surroundings, it was regarded as one of the principal convents of the order in Ireland. [5] Its ruins, in tolerable preservation, exist at present, and the fine east window is an object of admiration to all who see it. The following notices of the abbey occur in Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum, in the Annals of the Four Masters, and in those of Inisfallen:—

A.D. 1305. The monastery of Ennis was enlarged by Turlogh, son of Teige Caoluisge O’Brien, and endowed by him with the holy crosses, gilt books, and embroidered vestments, excellent windows, cowls, and all requisite furniture.—Annals Inisfallen.

Ennis Abbey, East Window
Ennis Abbey,
East Window

A.D. 1306. Turlogh O’Brien, king of Thomond died, and was buried in the monastery he had built and white-washed with lime at Inis-an-laoigh.—Idem.
A.D. 1306. Cuveda More MacNamara died and was buried with his king (O’Brien) in this monastery.—Archdall.
A.D. 1311. About this time Donogh king of Thomond, bestowed the entire revenues of his principality towards the support of the poor friars of this monastery, and for enlarging and beautifying their house.—Archdall.
A.D. 1313. Dermot O’Brien, prince of Thomond, was buried in this monastery, in the habit of a Franciscan friar.—Idem.
A.D. 1343. Murtagh, son of Turlogh king of Thomond, died on the 5th of June, and was buried here. In the same year Mahone Dall MacNamara, who built the refectory and sacristy of the church, was buried here in the habit of the order.—Idem.
A.D. 1350. Pope Clement VI. granted several indulgences to this monastery, and Turlogh, the son of Donogh O’Brien, was interred therein.—Idem.
A.D. 1364. Dermot O’Brien, late king of Thomond, died on the vigil of the Conversion of St. Paul, at Ardrahan in the county of Galway, but he had his resting place in this monastery.—Idem.
A.D. 1370. Mahone Moinmoy O’Brien, king of Thomond, dying on the feast of St. Philip and St. James, was also interred here.—Idem.
A.D. 1375. This year King Edward III., moved with compassion for the poverty of this house and the scarcity of provisions in that part of the country, granted a licence dated at Limerick, August 22nd, to the guardian and friars, to enter into the English Pale and purchase provisions of every kind. And he also granted a licence to Marian Currydanny, a brother of the house, to go to the city of Argentine (Strasburg), in Almania, and there to study in the schools.—Idem.
A.D. 1540. The monastery of Cluain Ramh-fada (Clonroad), was given to the friars of the Strict Observance by order of Murrogh (the Tanist), son of Turlogh O’Brien, and the chiefs of Thomond, and by the consent and permission of the superiors of the Order of St. Francis.—Four Masters.
A.D. 1577. In a rental of the Crown for this year, in the public Record Office, Dublin, the queen was then in possession of the site of this monastery, a mill on the Fergus, an eel and salmon weir, with some houses and gardens in the village of Ennis, and on the first of June, 1621, all these were granted to William Donegan, Esq.—Archdall.

Some further particulars relating to the abbey of Ennis are collected from the Annales Minorum, and from other sources. I give here an abstract of these. In the choir, originally built by More (Morina in Latin) O’Brien, wife of MacMahon, of Clonderalaw, stood the ancient tomb of that family, as well as the monument of the Lords of Inchiquin. The chapel of St. Michael contained the tomb of the founder, made of polished marble, while other parts of the church gave sepulture to the families of MacGillariabhach (anglicised Gallery), Clancy, Neylan, O’Dea, O’Hehir, Considine, and others. [6]
Ennis Abbey, South Transept
Ennis Abbey, South Transept

The sepulchral monument of the Earls of Thomond was in the church of St. Francis, and as a mark of his affection, one of them erected near it a tomb for the family of MacBrodie, the hereditary poets and historians of Thomond. There, for many generations, they were interred, all of them except MacBrody of Maynoe, his place of sepulture being at Inishcaltra. [7] In the choir, as before stated, was raised the tomb of the MacMahons, in the form of an altar, ornamented with columns and statues. Turlogh MacMahon, the husband of More, thought proper to have himself and his descendants buried in his own territory, and with that view constructed a splendid monument for them in the church of St. Mary, at Clonderalaw. Aided by his wife, he either built or endowed in his principality no less than twelve parish churches, as was proved by ancient manuscripts preserved in Clonderalaw castle. [8] It is related that in the convent of Ennis resided, in 1440 (recté 1496), a brother named Fergal O’Triain, who was called, from the smallness of his size, Fergal Beg. Conor na Srona O’Brien, King of Thomond, being mortally wounded, refused to confess his sins or to receive spiritual ministrations of any kind. The persuasions of Fergal Beg however brought him to contrition. The news of his conversion was immediately imparted in a vision to a friar at Lismore, and he instantly communicated the information to the Earl of Desmond. [9]

Amongst the friars of this convent was father Anthony Hickey who died in 1619. He was author of many valuable works on Theology and Canon Law, and was Professor of Theology successively at Louvain, Cologne, and Rome. He lived for many years at St. Pietro in Montorio, in Rome, and died at St. Isidore’s there. [10]

By order of Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connaught, in which province Thomond was at that time included, the monastery of Ennis was suppressed and the friars driven forth to Spain, France, Belgium, and other places. He converted the conventual buildings into a court-house, the refectory constituting the jail, and in these, in 1586, the first assizes ever held in Clare were carried on. About the year 1642, when the Kilkenny Confederation had established the power of the Catholics, Ennis was again opened to the friars, and it continued to be the last place in Ireland where a school of theology was taught by the Franciscans, until they were a second time expelled by Cromwell, and forced again to leave their native country. Under the guardianship of the Earls of Thomond, the Abbey of Ennis continued in a perfect state of preservation up to the year 1733. [11]

Another of the friars of this convent was Dermot Brody, the son of Maoelin MacBrody, of Mount Calary, and of his wife, Johanna MacMahon. After studying in Spain he returned to his native county, and there went about amongst his kindred offering them spiritual consolation. Being engaged in that laudable occupation he was seized amidst the mountains on the north side of Limerick and carried into the city in 1603. After a protracted imprisonment he was, by the intervention of the Earl of Thomond, set free. He recommenced his labour of preaching in Clare, residing mostly in the convent of Ennis in company with a lay brother; there he died in August, 1617. [12]

As above stated, the friars took possession of their monastery at Ennis in 1642, under the auspices of the Confederation of Kilkenny. MacBrody names two of them, viz., a Father Carrighy, who, in 1651, was hanged by the Cromwellians, and Father Owen O’Cahan, a Clare man by birth. The latter after making his profession at Rome, came to Ireland, and in 1643 opened a school at Quin. In the work of teaching he was aided by Father Teige O’Brien, and their school soon attained to great eminence. Its existence was short-lived however, for in five years it was dispersed, and its teacher being made prisoner was hanged in 1651. [13]
At the right side of the east window stands the tomb of the family of Creagh of Dangan. It is modern, but inserted in it are two slabs of marble which in the olden time appear to have formed part of the high altar of the church, or else of the tomb of the MacMahons of Clonderalaw. On one of these are carvings in high relief of subjects taken from the Scriptures, and on the other Christ and His Apostles in the form of a reredos. The inscriptions relating to the Creaghes are as follows:—

“M. Creagh filia Mathei M‘Namara de Cratillagh, obiit A.D. 1641: Piers Creagh maritus ejus, et nobilis Franciæ, obiit castello suo Danganensi A.D. 1667: Simon Creagh, filius eorum, obiit circa A.D. 1700: Maria MacMahon de Clenagh, uxor ejus, obiit eodem tempore: Piers Creagh, filius eorum, obiit 1743: Uxor ejus Domina Elizabetha Mathew de Thomastown, de domo Llandaff, et soror uterina Ormondiae Ducis Magni, obiit A.D. 1745: Elizabetha Creagh, alias Davoren, filia Percii et Elizabethae Mathew, obiit A.D. 1750: Pierce Creagh, filius primus ejusdem Piercii Creagh et Elizabethæ Mathew, obiit 1770: Catherine Quin de Adarensi, uxor prima ejus, obiit 1753: Gertruda Macklin, uxor secunda ejus, obiit 1757: Lavinia Pennefather, uxor tertia ejus, obiit A.D. 1806: Robertus Creagh, filius supra dicti Piercii et Gertrudæ Macklin, obiit 1842, sine prole: Ricardus Creagh, filius primus Piercii et Lavinia Pennefather, obiit 1836: Uxor Ricardi ejusdem, Christina O’Callaghan, obiit 1812: Simon Piercii Creagh, filius junior Piercii et Laviniæ Pennefather, obiit A.D. 1814: Dora MacNamara uxor ejus, et neptis Elizabethæ Creagh, alias Davoren supra dictæ, obiit A.D. 1834: Pierce Creagh, nepos Simonis Piercii, et filius Piercii Creagh et Belindæ Butler, obiit anno ætatis secundo, A.D. 1841.”

Other tombs are found in the nave, viz. those of Dermitius O’Considin, A.D. 1631; Laurence O’Hehir of Drumcaran, A.D. 1649; and of Owen Considin, 1686.