Abbey, or Corcomroe-Abbey (Barony of Burren)

SourceThe Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland

ABBEY, or CORCOMROE-ABBEY, a parish in the north-west corner of the barony of Burren, and on the north border of co. Clare, Munster. It lies 8 ½ miles west-north-west of Gort; and partly skirts Galway-bay, directly opposite the town of Galway. Area, 4,714 acres. Pop., in 1831, 2,493; in 1841, 1,442.* Houses 223. The surface, in a general view, is green and pastoral, boldly tumulated, much diversified in outline, and not a little prominent among the features of the rich southern hill-screen of the brilliant and far-expanding bay. A rocky mountain which overhangs the sea exhibits some curious marks of ancient and unrecorded mining operations. At its foot is a large chasm, which appears to have been partly formed by the quarrier, and whence local tradition asserts the stones to have been taken for the construction of the well-known monastic pile of the parish; and on the mountain’s side are two mining-shafts, one of which is computed to be about 960 feet deep, exclusive of an unknown depth of water at the bottom.—

In a lonely winding vale, near the northern boundary of the parish, stands the splendid ruin of the abbey of CORCOMROE. A spectator who stations himself near one of the angles at the west end of the nave, immediately under the square steeple or belfry, commands an interesting view of the interior, and one which forms a fine subject for the pencil. The choir, in front, exhibits a groined arch, inferior, perhaps, to none in Ireland, except those of Holycross; the north and south transepts, on the right and left, open by large plain circular arches, and show two small pointed-arched chapels, immediately flanking the choir; and the foreground, or open area, is an impressive and almost chaotic assemblage of human bones, rugged monumental stones, and earthless fragments of rock. A square plot of ground, about six acres in extent, and with the abbey in its centre, was enclosed with a wall ten feet high, and entered by an arched gateway opposite the west end of the pile. Corcomroe, the present designation of the ruin, is a corruption of ‘Corcam-ruadh,’ the confluence of the three Erse words, Cor, Cam, and Ruadh, which mean, respectively, ‘a district,’ ‘a quarrel,’ and ‘red;’ and the name seems commemorative of some signal, though unrecorded one, of the early sanguinary fights which occurred in the vicinity. Another ancient name of the fabric was the abbey De viridi saxo, or ‘of the green rock;’ and alluded to the amazing fertility of the circumjacent mountainous and stony land.

According to the red book of Kilkenny, the abbey was founded, in 1194, for Cistertian monks, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, by Donald, king of Limerick; but, according to other authorities, it was founded, in 1200, by his son, Donogh Carbrac. The monastery was colonized from that of Suir; it had afterwards annexed to it the cell of Kilshanny, in the barony of Corcomroe, and became subject to the celebrated abbey of Furnes in Lancashire; and, according to Archdall, it was eventually, with eleven quarters of land, granted to Richard Harding. The Cistertian monks continued to cling to it so late as at least 1628; but, from the date of the suppression, appear to have been subject to the Cistertian abbot of Holy-cross. John O’Dea, a Cistertian monk, formerly of the Irish college of Salamanca, and possessing some obscure claims to the honours of authorship, was appointed superior of the abbey about the time we have named, and probably was the last who ever nominally held the office. An abbot of Corcomroe, of the name of John, was, in 1418, made bishop of Kilmacduagh. In 1267, Donogh O’Brien, king of Thomond, was killed at the battle of Sindaine in Burren, and solemnly interred in the abbey; and, in a niche on the north side of the choir, may still be seen the mutilated remains of a grand monument and effigies which were erected to his memory.—

The village of Abbey, to which, as well as to the parish, the monastic edifice gives name, claims to be superior to the latter in antiquity. Though now an obscure place, inhabited, in 1831, by only 128 persons, it figures, in the remote year 1088, as the scene of three successive plunderings by Roderick O’Connor and Dermot O’Brien. In 1317, not far from the village, was fought a great battle, in which Teige and Murtogh Garbh, sons of Brien Ruadh, king of Thomond, and many other leading persons among the O’Briens, were slain. The scene of action was along the skirt of a height which is now called the Hill of the Gallows; and it still occasionally yields up doleful memorials of slaughter and interment. Other matters of interest in the parish, including fisheries and trade, are connected with the villages of BURREN, BEHAGH, and CURRENROE: which see.—

This parish is in the diocese of Kilfenora; but excepting the townlands of Aughinish, Behagh, Finavara, and Kilmacrane, which are annexed to Kilcorney, it is wholly impropriate. There is neither parish church nor Roman Catholic chapel. The commissioners of Public Instruction computed the parishioners in 1834 to be 4 Churchmen, and 2,673 Roman Catholics; and they found only one school, a hedge-school, with an average attendance of 40.

* Four townlands ecclesiastically annexed to the benefice of Kilcorney, appear to have been assigned by the census of 1831 to the parish of Abbey, and by that of 1841 to the contiguous parish of Oughtmanna.