Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cloonshanville Abbey

Cloonshanville Stone Cross
Photograph courtesy Flickr 
In 1385, the MacDermots Roe are said to have established the Dominican Priory of the Holy Cross at Cloonshanville, near modern day Frenchpark in County Roscommon. However, it has been argued that it was, in fact, MacDermot Gall that founded this abbey, since it was in their territory and far from any MacDermot Roe land.

MacDermot Gall was chief of Airteach, which was an area west of the Breedogue River and bordered on the northside by the River Lung and Lough Gara. MacDermot Roe was chief of Tir-Tuathail, lying to the west of Lough Allen. The Abbey occupies the site of an early monastery founded by St Conmitius who was bishop there in the time of St Patrick.

The ivy covered bell-tower still stands and some ruined walls may be seen. The tower has a simple pointed vault with holes for two bell-ropes. Three of the four corbels in the vault are decorated with small floral motifs and simple interlaced crosses. Much of the detail of the outer wall of the tower is obscured by the ivy. An interesting feature of this abbey is the Piscina which is a shallow stone used for washing the communion vessels.

The Dominicans first arrived in Ireland in the year 1224, three years after the death of St Dominic and the arrival of the friars in England. Two foundations were made in Ireland that first year; one in Drogheda and one in Dublin. The Dominican friars initially made foundations in those regions of Ireland under Anglo-Norman control, but they soon established themselves in the Gaelic parts of the island also. Twenty four Dominican communities were founded in Ireland in the thirteenth century.

Piscina - Cloonshanville
Photograph courtesy Flickr 
Monasteries such as Cloonshanville, Boyle Abbey and Trinity Island are a significant feature of settlement in County Roscommon and would have played an important role in the development of a communications network. Two major roads - the Slighe Assail and the Slighe Mhor- linked Connacht to the east-coast ports and to English and continental markets.

In the official records of the Anglo-Norman administration, control of roadways is seen as vital to the safety of local communities and the conduct of the king's business. The Slighe Assail was traditionally the main road from Meath to Connacht and can clearly be seen to be focused on Cruachain or Rathcroghan as it is more commonly known today. In addition to the crucial focal point of Cruachain, the Slighe Assail passes close to a number of early Christian establishments.

In both Longford and Roscommon, minor roads radiate from the Slighe Assail. In Roscommon a number of these converge on important early Christian and later ecclesiastical centres: Mocmoyne (just east of Boyle), Cloonshanville, Tibohine and Elphin, which was the diocesan centre for east Connacht for the greater part of the medieval period.

The River Boyle, the principal tributary in the upper reaches of the Shannon, flows out of Lough Gara and through Lough Key, a shallow lake with many substantial wooded islands. Some of these islands have important archaeological remains: the monastery of Trinity Island, for example, and the remains of the Mac Diarmata stronghold at Carraig Mac Diarmata.

The Shannon River with the two major routeways - the Slighe Assail and the Slighe Mhor - provided relatively easy access to the outside world throughout the medieval period.

In 1977 the National Parks and Monuments Branch of the Office of Public Works carried out a limited excavation at the site of a stone cross close to Cloonshanville Abbey. No archaeological material or any evidence of occupation was found in the excavated area.

An elderly Frenchpark resident recalled that the old people told stories of coffins being left at the cross to be taken into the Abbey later by the monks. It was also said that at times you can hear the sound of church bells coming from the nearby boglands where monks perished while trying to escape to Boyle.

The cross is made from rough sandstone. It has an overall length of 3.90m, only 30cm of which was not visible above the ground prior to excavation. There is a large crudely made boss on each face of the cross at the intersection of the shaft and arms. No further attempt appeared to have been made to decorate the cross. The arms extend 14cm to 16cm out from the shaft. Archaeologists believe that the Cloonshanville cross is medieval in date and probably erected in the twelfth century.

Theobald Dillon got possession of Cloonshanville after the dissolution of the Monasteries. The Dillon’s settled in Ireland after the Norman Conquest in 1169 and were a landlord family from the 13th century in a part of County Westmeath called 'Dillon's Country'. His great-grandson, the seventh Viscount, was a supporter of the Catholic King James II of England and was outlawed after the Glorious Revolution or the Revolution of 1688. He founded 'Dillon's Regiment' of the Irish Brigade in the French Army, which was supported by the Wild Geese and achieved success at Fontenoy in 1745.

No comments: