Murrisk Abbey is located at the foot of Croagh Patrick and is wonderfully situated on the shores of Clew Bay. It was founded by Augustinian friars because ‘the inhabitants of those parts have not hitherto been instructed in the faith’ (National Monuments Service, n.d.). It was in 1457, that father Hugh O’Malley, a local Gaelic chieftain (National Monuments Service, n.d.), founded the Murrisk house of Augustinian friars, which was dedicated to Saint Patrick (Michigan State University, 2009). The source called ‘Mayo-Ireland’ (2023) says that the abbey was built on the site of a previous church founded by St. Patrick.
Permission for the abbey was granted by Pope Callixtus III (Mayo-Ireland, 2023) and the site was around one hundred years old when it was leased to James Garvey in 1578 (Hughes, 1991). Garvey was brother of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh. Little is known about the occupants of the friary from that time until the 1800’s, but it is said that they suffered persecution. One friar in particular, Fr. Myles Prendergast was forced to spend many years on the run in the Clifden area (Hughes, 1991). And in the early 1800’s, when Murrisk Abbey finally stopped in its then function, it is believed that the remaining monks moved to Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. (Mayo-Ireland, 2023).
While the friars might not have always stayed at the abbey, there is some evidence that they administered their flock by staying in the area (Hughes, 1991). It appears that Fr. Philip Staunton was the last monk in Murrisk and later he died in Ballintubber (Hughes, 1991).
The Physical Aspects of the Abbey
It is understood that the friary also had a defensive aspect to it because of the battlement parapet on top of the south wall (Michigan State University, 2009). What survives of the ruins at Murrisk Abbey is a small church and the living quarters above. Below it is an edifice known as a chapter house, where the friars met to discuss their affairs. The church structure is typical of Augustinian style architecture—with its long and narrow nature, as well as the east window which is above the location of the altar. Known as Ogee windows, this type of design is a gothic design typical of the 1500’s. This design was incorporated by many Augustinian churches (Michigan State University, 2009).
There are two faces engraved into the wall on its exterior side of the abbey. There appears to be no solid evidence as to why these faces were engraved, but one idea is that in early Christianity, friendly faces were carved on the exterior walls of churches in hopes that unbelievers passing by would be inclined to go into the church (Michigan State University, 2009).
Outside the abbey lay many gravestones, some of which are for notable families, both Catholic and Protestant alike. Many of the Protestant O’Malley’s lay within the sanctuary, while the Garvey’s repose near the high altar (Mayo-Ireland, 2023).
It should be noted that not long after the abbey’s foundation, it became more popular to start pilgrimages to Croagh Patrick at Murrisk—something that continues to this day (Clew Bay Archaeological Trail, 2003). One of the final celebrations of mass at Murrisk Abbey was in 1942 by Fr. James Campbell, a relative of the Campbells who run a well-known pub at the base of Croagh Patrick (Clew Bay Archaeological Trail, 2003). The Abbey is now supervised by the National Monuments Service (Mayo-Ireland, 2023).
Clew Bay Archaeological Trail (2003). County Mayo: South West Mayo Development Company Ltd. p 28-29.
Hughes, H. (1991). Croagh Patrick: A Place of Pilgrimage, A Place of Beauty. Dublin: The O’Brien Press. P 73.
Mayo-Ireland, (2023). Murrisk Abbey in Co. Mayo. Available at: https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/murrisk/visitors-guide/murrisk-abbey.html Accessed 4th of April, 2023.
Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Murrisk Abbey. Internal Report: Folder 4, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.
National Monuments Service, n.d. Murrisk Abbey, Carrowkeel, Co. Mayo. Available at: https://www.archaeology.ie/monument-of-the-month/archive/murrisk-abbey-carrowkeel-co-mayo Accessed 4th of April, 2023.