The picturesque ruins of this Augustinian friary ("abbey") stand in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, the mountain of Saint Patrick. It is located on the south shore of Clew Bay, County Mayo.
The ruins have been declared a national monument.
The Abbey was founded in 1457, after a letter from Pope Callistus III dated 12th February 1456 gave permission to an Augustinian Hugh O'Malley of Banada Friary, County Sligo to establish a Church and Priory at Croagh Patrick because "the inhabitants of those parts have not hitherto been instructed in their faith."
The land was donated by Thady O'Malley, who is described as a chieftain of that area.
Hugh O'Malley O.S.A. was in Italy in 1457, and on 5th March 1547 was appointed vicar of the Augustinian Chapter to be held in Ireland.
The friary (popularly called an Abbey, which is more of a Benedictine than an Augustinian term) was built on the reputed site of the original church founded there by Saint Patrick.
Historically, the Abbey is intimately connected with Croagh Patrick, the famous mountain peak nearby where Saint Patrick fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights. The Abbey quickly became the preferred starting point for pilgrimages up Croagh Patrick. Before then, pilgrims approached the mountain from AnTóchar Phádraig, which starts in Aughagower.
All that is left of Murrisk Abbey today are ruins that are of significant historical and archaelogical interest.
The ruins consist of (1) a church with one central aisle. It has unusual battlemented walls and a fine east window, and (2) the east wing of the domestic buildings.
The church was long and narrow. Attached to it was the sacristy, and a chapter room that had a dormitory above it. The church contained the tomb of the ancient family that founded it.
It had an altar cross of elaborately carved granite, and other holy objects from antiquity.
Behind the main altar space, the beautiful east window is the finest architectural feature of the ruins. It had human heads carved on the wall outside it.
At the west end of the church there was a belfry tower, the lower part of which was vaulted, but this had already disappeared by 1800. The tower was inserted after the church had been completed; all that now survives of this tower, however, is a ribbed vault.
There was an east wing domestic building. The south and west wings may never have been completed.
(Continued on the next page.)