Just outside Killala lies the ruins of Moyne Abbey, a Franciscan Friary, which is now a National Monument.
Legend has it that MacWilliam Burke donated lands in Tirawley, beside the Moy to the Franciscans. It was a bird who first marked the site for the abbey by tracing an outline in the grass full of dew and the monks took it to be a sign from God. The church was consecrated to St Francis by The Bishop of Killala, Donatius O'Connor in 1462. A stone wall enclosure around the abbey allowed the monks to raise cattle and a stream under the monastery provided water for the corn mill and also formed a pool in the kitchen for cold storage of fresh fish, which can be seen today.
Around 50 monks lived there making it a valuable educational facility. The church and living quarters are designed around a central cloister. Its western doorway was added on in seventeenth century. With its six story-high square tower, vaulted chapter room and part-vaulted sacristy, this medieval gothic abbey was a remarkable building for its time. The chapter house served as the meeting room for discussing events and planning the monks’ days. A walk through the ruins reveals some architectural gems, including the switchline tracery in the east window. For a taste of 16th century graffiti, see the wall of the west nave for what appear to be drawings of ships from the Spanish Armada fleet.
The abbey suffered the same fate as so many religious buildings in Mayo during the reign of Elizabeth I, whose attempts at church reformation brought great destruction of religions buildings throughout Mayo. Moyne Abbey was burned by Sir Richard Bingham, the British Governor of Connacht, in 1590. Ownership of the damaged abbey was granted by the Queen to Edmund Barrett, but the Friars managed to eke out an existence here for another 200 years, until the 18th century.
Though it is a roofless and lifeless building today, its scope and size, as well as its architectural detail and artistry recall the vitality of an industrious religious community, whose aspirations live on in the stone walls of these impressive ruins.