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Donegal Franciscan Abbey

The ruins of this once stately complex can be found on a scenic parcel of land at the mouth of the Eske River, where it pours into Donegal Bay. Built in 1474 by Hugh O'Donnell, the abbey withstood ransacking, burning and ravaging before it was finally abandoned in the early part of the 17th century. Known locally as "the old abbey", the only recognizable parts of the ruins today are the south transept, choir, and parts of the cloisters. The adjoining graveyard is filled, providing evidence that people were buried here well into the 18th century.

Known locally as "the old abbey", the only recognizable parts of the ruins today are the south transept, choir, and parts of the cloisters. The adjoining graveyard is filled, providing evidence that people were buried here well into the 18th century.

Annals of the Four Masters

This abbey near Donegal town is perhaps most well known for its association with the authors of The Annals of the Four Masters, written by one of the Friary's displaced monks, and three of his associates, during the early 17th Century.

Following the British taking of the Franciscan Abbey, and fearful of the demise of the old Gaelic culture in Ireland under continual waves of English invasion and rule, four scholars led by the Franciscan monk Michael O'Clearly gathered together all of Irelands various "annals". These annals were a popular form of records that listed important events in each year. Individual sets of annals had been recorded by monks, and by Gaelic nobility, throughout Ireland, from the early middle ages. The aim of these collated Annals, to be known as the Annals of the Four Masters, was to preserve the history, records and traditional mythology of Ireland, from its very beginnings up until 1618.

The scholars (only one of whom was a monk) worked on this project in this Franciscan Abbey between 1632 to 1636. The resulting Annals of the Four Masters remains one of the most important documents for Irish historians and genealogists alike. Although the original works are kept locked away safely, people can examine the copies on display at the National Library in Dublin.

Due to its connection with the document, Donegal Abbey is sometimes referred to as the Abbey of the Four Masters. However, the Annals were not actually written at this abbey, which was in British possession at that time. They were mainly compiled in nearby abbeys in south Donegal, and in County Leitrim.

History

The abbey was built in 1474 by a prominent Gaelic leader, Sir Hugh O'Donnell, who ruled over much of the area of Tyrconnell, that is today known as County Donegal. O'Donnell built the abbey for Franciscan monks. In 1588 it was sacked by British forces, but was soon captured again by the most famous of the O'Donnell clan, Red Hugh O'Donnell.

The Franciscans repaired the building, but Red Hugh fled Ireland after suffering defeat in the Battle of Kinsale in 1602, in a famous episode of Irish history known as The Flight of The Earls. O'Donnell and other leading Gaelic figures left Ireland seeking European help that never arrived; nor did the noblemen ever return.

Following the Flight of the Earls, British forces dominated in Ireland. The abbey was taken by Crown forces and granted to Sir Basil Brooke, who also owned Donegal Castle. The Franciscans were forced to move from location to location. One of these friars, Brother Michael O'Cleary,  led the Annals of the Four Masters project.

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Franciscan Abbey ruins, Donegal. Image: Master Phillip

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