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.
Expulsion of the Augustinians from Murrisk
The Protestant Reformation did not affect the abbey at Murrisk until 1577, when the Augustinians were driven from the property and its lands confiscated by the English Crown. After that date the Augustinians remained in the neighbourhood, however, ministering to the people. In the year 1578 the lands that had been confiscated from the abbey were leased to James Garvey, a brother of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh. Very little is known about the Abbey between 1578 and the early 1800s. There is evidence that Augustinians nevertheless stayed in the area and ministered to the people of Murrisk.
National Famine Memorial
Murrisk is also the site of Ireland's National Famine Memorial, designed by Irish artist John Behan, which abstractly resembles a coffin ship filled with dying people. The monument was unveiled in July 1997 by the President of the Irish Republic, Hon. Mary Robinson.
Magic Lantern slides of Murrisk Abbey, George Eastman House, New York, United States of America, taken probably in the year 1890. http://www.geh.org/ar/strip60/htmlsrc/m198705340323_ful.html#topofimage
Murrisk Abbey. It was founded in 1457 by Hugh O'Malley for the Augustinian Friars. It is the traditional starting place for the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. www.irishantiquities.bravehost.com/mayo/murrisk/murrisk.html The Augustinian Friaries in Pre-Reformation Ireland. The full text 0f 384 pages. A reference source of considerable value. Murrisk is mentioned briefly. https://archive.org/stream/TheAugustianFriariesInPre-reformationIreland/TheAugustianFriariesInPre-reformationIreland_djvu.txt
The Irish Augustinian Friaries in pre-Reformation Ireland. By F. X. Martin O.S.A. (6), April 1956: Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain. pp 346-384.
ID2796 Ireland: Murrisk – 03 St Augustine : Murrisk Murrisk
Revisiting Murrisk. By Raymond Hickey O.S.A., Ireland, December 2003.
(To gain a better understanding of what is written here, first read the description above.)
"I had climbed Croagh Patrick by night on the last Sunday in July in 1953. Fifty years later I was back there and the fine summer in June 2003 made the climb a pleasant if arduous experience. I spent the previous night in a family bed-and-breakfast house in Murrisk, which had an extensive library on the area. I read in one of the books that the Archbishop of Tuam reported in 1801 that there was still an Augustinian friar in Murrisk. He may well have been the last, because another booklet stated that the Abbey finally ceased to function in the early 1800s. A fine photograph of the ruins of the Abbey was on sale in the Information Centre at the base of the Reek. Unfortunately, it gives no details of the Abbey or the Augustinians.
Elsewhere we learn that the community was established by Hugh O'Malley O.S.A. of the Banada friary in 1457. Like other Augustinian foundations in Connaught, it belonged to the Gaelic rather than the Anglo-Norman tradition in Ireland. Both suffered the same fate after the Act of Supremacy (of the English Parliament), and Murrisk Abbey was suppressed in 1578. Nevertheless the friars - our ancestors - continued to minister to the Catholics of Murrisk for another 220 years. The ruins of Murrisk Abbey retain their design and dignity. The oratory is particularly well preserved, and Dr H. Leask, the authority on Irish Church building, has written that the east window behind the altar "is perhaps the best window of its type in the west of Ireland."
The entire site has been declared a national monument, and the Office of Public Works is responsible for its upkeep. An Office of Public Works plaque gives the story of the Abbey, which it also describes as an "Augustinian friary." Another plaque informs us that two priests from Murrisk (a Vincentian and a secular priest) celebrated Mass in the ruins of the Abbey on 11th August 1942 and (using the terminology of those times) "for the first time since its suppression by the heretics." How fitting it would be for an annual Augustinian Mass to be celebrated here, and indeed in other sites made holy by our (Augustinian) forebears in the Irish Province.