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Athenry Dominican Friary Church
 

County

Galway

Coordinates

N 53° 17' 54.24"   W 008° 44' 40.5"

Nearest town

Athenry

Grid Ref.

M 50365 27862

Map No.

46

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

41

Date of visit

Tuesday 23 June 2015

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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In a large graveyard are the ruins of the Athenry Dominican Friary. In this photo it's seen from the north.


Athenry Dominican Priory was the first Dominican priory in Connacht to be built inside the town walls.
The town of Athenry was founded by Meiler de Bermingham. In 1241 he bought the land for the priory and presented it to the Dominican friars along with 160 marks for the building expenses. He also provided wine, clothes and horses and sent his knights to help with the work. It was completed in 1261.
The priory was dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul.
Meiler de Bermingham died in 1252 and was buried in the friary.
In the years other notable persons, both native Irish and Normans gave their contribution to the building of the friary. Felim O'Connor (the same king who built the Roscommon Dominican Priory) built the refectory, Eugene o'Heyne built the dormitory, Cornelius O'Kelly built the chapter-house, Art MacGallyly built the infirmary, Walter Husgard built the cloister, Mac a Wallyd de Bermingham built the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1324 the church was enlarged to the east by about 6 metres and to the north with the addition of a transept and an aisle. A central tower was added between 1425 and 1445 on the wave of a reconstruction due to an accidental fire which burned the building.
In 1652 the soldiers of Cromwell attacked the town and destroyed the priory.

The church is a nave and chancel building aligned to the east (100°), with a projecting bay to the north where a pointed arch doorway is present. This early 14th century extension of the building has a wonderful four-light window with an elaborated tracery. A similar window is in the east gable. Probably the west window was much the same, but now only the tracery survives and the lower part of it is walled up to allow a handball alley to be built on this side about one hundred years ago. It seems that not many ancient buildings in Ireland can escape this stupid habit!

The interior of the church boasts many amazing details. On the righthand side of the entrance hallway there are nice grave slabs with beautiful patterns.
To the south of the chancel there's a sacristy built in the 16th century, with barrel vaulted ceiling, but it's closed to the public and used as a storage for fragments from the church.

There are several niche tombs and memorial slabs in the church and under the north window there's an arcade with 9 bays.
The most important graves are the tomb of Meiler de Bermingham in the nave, and the two monumental tombs in the chancel, one for the de Bermingham family, the other for Lady Mathilda Birmingham. This one was badly managed by the Cromwell's soldiers who thought that a treasure was hidden inside. The urn on its top and some other ornaments were made with an artificial stone called Coade Stone, after Eleanor Coade, an English bussinesswoman.

We came here for the first time on May 13th, 2000.


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