About Clare Abbey

Clare Abbey is a ruined Augustinian Monastery located near Ennis, along the banks of the River Fergus, and was the first, largest and most important Augustinian House in Co Clare.

It was founded some time prior to 1189, possibly by Donal ‘the Great’ O’Brien, King of Thomond, who confirms the foundation in a 12thC charter.  He was a descendent of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland 1002 – 1014.

Despite a seemingly poor location on rocky grassland, its position in O’Brien’s territory on the River Fergus, in addition to its extensive possessions, ensured its status as one of the most important monasteries in the diocese.

Even though it experienced a turbulent history, the abbey remained in use until the 17thC. A number of later additions to the body of the abbey survive as well as later buildings.

There are a number of interesting sculptural features for the observant visitor.

Information boards are available on site.

The remains of Clare Abbey are rather extensive and while the architecture is simple, its setting and a few notable features makes it well worth a visit. The remains consist of a church with a belfry, and two ranges of domestic buildings to the east and the south, around a cloister garth. The church was originally a long oblong building and the interior was subsequently divided into a nave and chancel by a belfry tower.

Some parts of the single-aisled church date back to the 12thC, while the tower, east window and domestic buildings were probably constructed in the 15thC.

Sources indicate that Clare Abbey grew in importance from the late 14thC, but recent archaeological excavation revealed that wine and storage containers were imported from southwest France and Bristol from the 12thC onward, and that the monks already enjoyed a rich diet of fish, beef, pork and mutton at the time.!!!

History of Clare Abbey by Date

1189: According to the 1461 ‘copy’ of a confirmation charter, Donal ‘the Great’ O’Brien founded the abbey and that year confirmed its possessions.

1226:  A papal letter was issued from Honorius III against Robert Travers, who was accused of being appointed bishop of Killaloe unjustly through simony.

1278: Mahon, son of Domhnall Connachtagh O’Brien and his adherents billeted (temporary lodging of soldiers in a civilian dwelling) themselves at Clare Abbey.  They marched out to meet the forces of Domhnall O’Brien in battle but were ambushed and massacred.

1302-06: In the taxation for these years the abbey was valued at two marks.

1394-1490: Clare Abbey’s Abbots were the executors of twenty-seven mandates.

1399: Donatus Mac Craith was made Bishop of Killaloe.

1434: An indulgence was granted to penitents visiting and giving alms for the repair of the church.

1458: Matthew Mac Craith takes over his father Roderick as Abbot. He later becomes bishop of Clonfert, but remains as Abbot  until 1470.

1461: Thaddeus Mac Craith, Bishop of Killaloe (1460-3), commissioned the exemplification of Domnall O’Brien’s foundation charter of Clare Abbey, possibly forging the document altogether.

1470: Another Matthew Mac Craith is named Abbot.

1483: Toirdelbach O’Brien, Bishop of Kilalloe, is given the abbacy of Clare Abbey. Despite protest from Matthew Mac Craith, now Bishop of Clonfert, a papal investigation later decides in favour of the O’Briens.

1543: The abbey is dissolved and the site and possessions are granted to Domnall Ramhar (meaning ‘the fat’) O’Brien, 2nd Earl of Thomond and 1st Baron of Inchiquin.

1555: A papal bull was issued to Matthew Ο’Griffa, Canon of Killaloe, in order to assist the Bishop of Killaloe, Turlough O’Brien, in implementing certain papal ordinances that were to take effect concerning the administration of Clare Abbey.  It admonished various clerics and laymen for their inadequate management of their office, including financial mismanagement.

1573: The abbey was regranted to Conor O’Brien (d.1581), 3rd Earl of Thomond.  It was confirmed to other Earls of Thomond, including in 1620 to Donough O’Brien (d.1624), 4th Earl of Thomond, and in 1661 to Henry O’Brien (d.1691), 7th Earl of Thomond.

1613: Nicholas O’Nelan, Abbot of Clare Abbey, is given in the list of monks living in the diocese of Killaloe.

1622: The abbey and 320 acres of land were leased to Robert Taylor and his family.

In the same year, Teige O’Griffa, a priest, officiated at Dromcliff, Killone, and Clare Abbey.

1681: A sketch by Thomas Dyneley shows that the Abbey’s kitchen, in the south range, had been converted to a house.

1690 & 1691: Sources attest to the presence of a Jacobite horse camp, which was primarily composed of Irish cavalry and dragoons. It is also recorded that a Jacobite Irish garrison occupied Clare Castle ½ mile to the south, and that French Officers and Cavalry were in this location as well.

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