Some time, in late 1976, when walking along the Tuam Road, near my home at Athenry, I noticed a small black book lying on the ground. It was a rainy evening and even though the book was getting damp and wet, and looked as if it might have been thrown away, I was sufficiently curious to pick it up and shake the water off it thinking that it might have dropped out of a child’s school-bag on his or her way home from the Presentation College or School.

On opening it I discovered that it was an unlined notebook in which was handwritten a collection of poems, most in green ink, a few in a bluish green, some in an unusual light blue ink, and the last three in a darker blue ink.

I took the little book home, dried it and examined it. It is 8 ¾  inches high, 5 ½ by inches wide, by a quarter of an inch thick. It has a handmade look, or at least the black cloth-bound cover seems to have been made [especially for it. It consists of 62 pages (counting both sides of 31 folios) of which the last eleven are blank – except for the last one on which is written in pencil:

Sayings – Time improves but it can also condition.

On the first page of the book, written in green ink, is the never completed four lined comment, “Most of these poems were written between …. and ….

The second page gives a clue to its author with the dedication “This single self published edition is given with love to Meabhdh and Maurice Mac Ghearailt with love from their daughter Aoife.” As in all good publishing, the date, “Made on the 3rd day of March, 1976”, is written at the bottom of the same page.

The third page is the title page. On it, nicely spaced out is: The Quizzical Search By Aoife Nic Gearailt

The next 36 pages are filled with 30 poems, all but the last one dated. The first 32 of these pages are numbered in Roman numerals. The poems mostly are confined to one page, and date from 1967 (one poem), 1970 (one poem), 1973 (two poems), 1974 (nine poems) 1975 (nine poems) and 1976 (seven poems, of which two are specifically dated to the “2nd, Sep, 76”, and one to “early 76”. They are not arranged chronologically, but with the result that the 1967 one, an excellent well-thought-out poem fulfilling the collection’s title, is on page XIV. It reads as follows:

Why am I existing?

Why was I conceived?

Where do I come from,

What do I perceive?

Are we all puppets,

Of a greater mind,

Or are we really links,

Of an infinite kind,

Do we think, or

Just obey.

Could you tell me,

Do you know?

What am I, and you

 

 

The shortest and perhaps the most imaginatively arranged, showing an unexpected maturity, is that on page IX, composed in 1976. It well describes and encapsulates one’s feelings and impression of an unexpectantly cold winter morning. It reads:

floating

through

the

Cosmic

Void

Beautiful nothingness descends.

And covers all, in its thick

Mantle of frost.

These poems, despite their occasional misspellings and need of some re-arrangement of erratic punctuation, are surprisingly mature and display an active, thinking mind and wide meaningful vocabulary.

Many of the poems are of a high standard and most contain at least one or two line of thought-provoking brilliance! – others are less easy to understand.

When I die, let the mossy bog be my covering.

And let the scavengers, of the preying place,

Feed upon my corpse, and be filled with life anew.

So, creating a harmony, in the circle of nature.

The second last poem in the book was composed in 1970 and is, I personally believe, the best and most memorable, albeit the most pessimistic and gloomy of them all: ,

He sat there staring not knowing anything.

Even though in the eye of the world he knows, for he is wise.

He bends his head, for he is disillusioned and defeated,

Knowing what he’ll do, ignoring the fact of no return

Hoping still, when he comes again, in the shape of another being.

Maybe then he’ll have learnt the meaning of life.

S0 thinking he let himself slide into the waters,

And offered no resistance as the tide sucked him down into the deep.

To conclude, it is clear to me that Aoife Nic Gearailt had, in the 1970s, great potential as a poet. Shortly after finding her little book I made a few real, if perhaps not serious enough, efforts to find out who she was and how I could return her precious book to her or to her parents. I asked some of the clergy, some of the teachers and among some of my Athenry friends, but without avail. Even a look through the telephone directory did not help.

I then put the booklet aside with the intention of following the search later on — but somehow mislaid the book in one of several collections of miscellaneous papers and small books! It re-appeared now and again in the following years, but until now I never seemed to have an occasion to re-instigate the search. I wonder is she from Athenry at all? Even now, twenty-four years later, I’d like to meet her to congratulate her on her poetry and to apologise for the unforgivable delay in only now making this serious attempt to let her know what happened to what may well her magnum opus. Prof. Etienne Rynne, Athenry

Earlier this year, on the 16th of June, a new antiquity was added to Athenry’s links with the past: a souterrain.  On that day I received a telephone call from Mr. Thomas Cleary, 4 Abbey Row, Athenry, to inform me that when burying a dog in the field immediately outside the shed behind his house, a stone-built tunnel had been found.  Abbey Row is built along the site of the western side of the former cloister (destroyed about 1750) of the adjacent Dominican Priory of SS.  Peter and Paul; the gardens behind Abbey Row are on the site of the cloister garth and the sheds are built along the site of the former eastern cloistral buildings.  The souterrain therefore ran under these latter buildings. I inspected the discovery that evening and examined it on the following morning.

The discovery was made when two large stones were encountered at about 40cm. below the present ground surface, at a point 1.15in. east of the back of the shed wall and 15.70m. south of the wall of a shed against the southern wall of the Priory (this shed adjoins and is in line with the 16th century sacristy).  The find spot can be marked on the O.S 6-inch scale sheet 84 for Co. Galway, at a point 43.8cm. from the western margin and 17. 1 cm. from the southern margin.

The two stones encountered covered a small gap between two much larger slabs, and when removed the resultant opening measured only 40cm.  N – S and 22cm.  E – W, which was unfortunately too small to allow entrance.  However, it was possible to look into the souterrain, though not easily, by which means it could be seen that it was built with walls of small well-set-stones, apparently with the top stones corbelled and was roofed by large transversely – laid lintels.  It could also be seen that the portion discovered was the end of a straight passage or gallery running East-West, terminating at a distance of 70cm. from the eastern edge of the opening, and blocked by earthen fill about 2.00m. west of the opening this fill may well be the result of the probable discovery of the souterrain when either the cloistral buildings or the sheds were being built.

The souterrain as revealed measured almost 3.00m. in length, averaged 1.00m. in width, and was at least 90cm. in height (the earthen fill prevented a more accurate measurement being made).  Three large stone lintels could he seen, one to the east of the opening, covering the end of the souterrain, and two to the west, the second one being lower than that at the opening.  All the stones seem to be of limestone.

Souterrains’ or ‘caves’ as they are often referred to by local farmers and others, are underground tunnels consisting of galleries / passages, or chambers, or a combination of both, and which may include ‘creeps’, recesses, cubbyholes, air-vents and other features, There are some 3,500 known in Ireland, being particularly common in the North-East, in Louth and Meath, in Connacht and Clare, and in West and South Munster; some similar monuments are known in Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany, but they tend to be earlier than the Irish ones and any relationship remains doubtful.

Some of the souterrains in the South-West of Ireland were made wholly or in part by tunnelling in the hard subsoil or rock, but the vast majority of Irish souterrains were constructed by first digging the desired passages and chambers in the earth, lining the resultant excavation with drystone walling and then roofing it with large transversely-laid stone lintels.  Though wide – ranging dates, have been suggested for Irish souterrains, a recent in-depth study by Dr. Mark Clinton (and as yet unpublished doctoral thesis for the National University of Ireland, Galway) indicates that their floruit was between about 750 and 1250 A.D., those in the South, and perhaps also in West.

In September 1988, Mr Anthony Waldron, of Kingsland, Athenry, brought me a small block of limestone, 21.5 cm. by 10.8 cm. by 10.4 cm., which bore an inscription in low relief on one face. He had found this block about 1985, some three years previously, in a stone-built railway wall near “The Red Bridge”, to the west of Athenry, across the Galway Road. The townland is Gortroe, and the find-spot can be plotted on sheet number 84 of the Ordinance Survey six-inch scale maps for County Galway, at the point about 12 cm. from the western margin and about 2.3 cm. from the southern margin.

The stone seems to be entire, except for one end where it is badly damaged and perhaps broken short; apart from the inscribed face, all of the other four faces have been dressed flat, in such a way as to indicate that this block was fitted into a carefully made wall or other structure.

The inscription consists in two lines of what appear to be letters. There is a ridge-like border along the bottom of the inscription and indications that there was a similar border along the top, though this is now much chipped and not easily distinguishable.

Irrespective of the damage and chipping at both ends, it seems to be only part of a longer inscription as will be clear from the drawing (by Angela Gallagher, Dept. of Archaeology, U.C.G.) with this note. The letters are ribbon-like and average about 8 to 10 mm. in width and stand about 4 mm. above the cutaway background. The letters at the end of the upper line and at the beginning of the lower line are now incomplete, and some of the others are not clearly identifiable. The inscription seem to read : AVOC[?]  [???] OW

However, you are free to make up your mind on that interpretation – and if you have any bright ideas about it please let us know in the next edition of The Athenry Journal.

This interesting, if enigmatic, inscribed stone probably dates from the late 18th or, more likely, the early 19th century, and is been kept safely with a view to exhibiting it in the Athenry Heritage Centre when it opens.

In the last (the first, really) issue of The Journal, I wrote about the great number of archaeologists in and from Athenry, but one was inadvertently omitted, namely Deirdre Ryan, of Bengarra, about halfway between Athenry town and Newcastle. Deirdre has just recently obtained her B.A. degree in Archaeology and Philosophy, and will be conferred.

But what makes her someone special, for she is no ordinary student? Deirdre is from Co. Donegal – McCafferty is her maiden name, a name which in Athenry has for long been associated with one of O’Donnell’s leading men when he raided and sacked the town in the late 16th century. However, despite this background, Deirdre found herself welcomed in the town when she married Michael Ryan in 1973. Apart from being a good housewife minding the home, her husband and six children, she started up a curtain-making business in Old Church Street right in the middle of the town her namesakes/ancestors wrecked and plundered four hundred years earlier. But the ‘academic bug’ caught her, and in 1991 she sold out the business and went to U.C.G. as what is called a ‘mature student’, ready to match her wits alongside the younger students freshly out of school.

For first arts she chose psychology, history, philosophy and archaeology, retaining the latter two as her degree subjects. Despite now having eight children, four boys and four girls, namely Declan, Gerard, Noel, Ciaran and Michelle, Linda, Martina and Patrice, not to mention Leticia, a grand-daughter, and despite continuing curtain-making from her home, Deirdre found time to study and successfully pass both subjects in her final degree examination. Deirdre is,  of course, a member of the Athenry Archaeological and Historical Society and no doubt if there was a Philosophical Society in Athenry she would somehow find time to join that tool.

northgate athenryComing soon…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of about 300m. due south of the south-eastern corner of Athenry’s Medieval town-wall is an ivy-covered ruined stone wall, now about 7.90m. long, 1.00m. thick, and 6.00m. high.  It is in the townland of Bawnmore, in the front ‘garden’ of Ivymount House, and is marked on the Ordinance Survey 6-inch scale sheet no.84, at a point 42.5cm. from the western margin and 10.5cm. from the southern margin; not named on the 1st edition when surveyed in 1833, but indicated as “St. Bridget’s Church (in Ruins)” on the revised editions of 1892 and 1927-28.  Built of roughly coursed-mortared rubble, the presence of very short lengths of even more dilapidated walls to its north and south show that it is the west gable of the building. It is featureless, showing that the doorway into St. Bridget’s church must have been in either the north or south wall.  As the remaining west gable starts to narrow inwards at about 3m/ height it is clear that that was the original height of the church’s sidewalls.

The fact that this ruin was a church is confirmed by a copy of a map of Athenry in the Down Survey of 1657, where it is described as a “ruinated chapel” with walls then standing.  Whether it was a pre-or post-Reformation building is not clear, but it is unlikely to be much more than four hundred years old.  Its siting outside the town-walls indicate that it was an Irish church, clearly not built for the urban congregation within the walls who would have worshiped in either St. Mary’s parish church or the Dominican Priory, a fact borne out by its dedication to an Irish saint.

That the dedication to St. Bridget, as is indicated on the maps, is correct is strongly supported by the inscription on an interesting, if unrecorded and generally unnoticed carved limestone plaque, now built into the northern jamb of the small gateway, 6.00m. from the Southwest corner of the church and leading from The Pound Road to the front door of Ivymount House.  It measures 44cm. high by 33cm. wide by 13cm. in thickness.  The carving is sunken by about 2cm. leaving a raised frame about 3cm. wide around it; the bottom part and also the lower half of the right side of the frame are now badly damaged and partially missing.  All the carving is in low relief.

The upper third of the slab is carved with two figures ; one of the crucified Christ and the other of a large kneeling, rather buxom female figure, who may be St. Bridget, but has more the appearance of a medieval donor and may, therefore perhaps be Mary Hynes, widow of Thomas O’ Kelly (see below).  While the figure of Christ has radiating nimbus or halo, the kneeling figure has not.  She, in fact, seems to be wearing a sort of diadem or crown, though this is by no means certain – it may be merely a band encircling the top of her head to retain in place a hooded (hairy? fur?) cloak she is wearing.  She prays with clasped hands raised towards the crucified figure.  Centrally placed between the two figures are the letters IHS, with a cross rising from the cross-bar of the H – there are several interpretations for these letters, including In Hoc Signo [vinces] meaning ‘By this Sign’ [you will conquer], In HAC[Cruce] Salus, meaning ‘In this [Cross] is Salvation’, Jesus Hominum Salvator, meaning ‘Jesus Saviour of Men (=Mankind)’, and perhaps most likely the monogram made up from the first three letters of the Greek form of Jesus, namely Iésons, the Greek capital é being like H – but they are often popularly thought to stand for “I Have Suffered”!

The lower two-thirds of the slab is carved with the inscription below- in places difficult to read even after a careful rubbing, e.g. the name at the end of the second line is certainly O’Kelly, while a letter seems to be missing at the end of the fifth, sixth and seventh lines; some of the letters are ligatured (joined):

PRAY.FOR.THE.SOUL
OF.THOMAS.OKELLY
HIS.WIFE.MARY
HYNES.&.THEIR.POS
TERITY.WHO.EREC
ED.THIS.IMAGE.IN.R
MEMBERANCE.OF.SA
NT.BRIDGET.1728

Finally, it must be mentioned that a not-easy-to-read INRI is carved in raised letters (only the first two and part of the third are visible) on the frame’s level above the crucified Christ’s head. That one can make out two names, apparently but by no means certainly IOHN.ROYEN, on the frame’s level at along the bottom. I.N.R.I., of course, is what one would expect above the head of the crucified Christ, being Pilate’s inscription (according to the Gospel of St. John, chapter 19, verse 19) representing Iesus Nazarerus, Rex Iudaesium, meaning ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’.
But what about the name Iohn Royen, if that is what it is.  It is probably the name of the carver of the plaque, and it is interesting that in the Dominican Priory, a rather difficult to read graveslab dated to the 1690’s (last digit is very unclear) which commemorates a William Royne, his wife and children, and which also bears the added name of James Royan.  Is this the same family name as on the plaque?  Merely another version perhaps – spelling was not always consistent in those days.  Is Ruane the modern version? And is this the name associated with the nearby townland of Caheroyan?

As can be seen, the Bawnmore plaque is a most interesting and unusual one.  It deserves to be kept cleared of the ivy  which tends to regularly cover it and to be properly marked as an historic monument and as a fine piece of early 18th-century Folk Art.

Archaeology… I wish they would find a more acceptable name for it – then we’d have more students – big words like that frighten off straight out of school students”.  So said my own Professor, the late Sean ‘P O’Riordan, to a few of us about forty years ago.

We proceeded to discuss alternatives such as ‘ Prehistory’ and Antiquity, but without finding anything better than ‘Archaeology’ – not that our discussion was more than of academic interest ( it couldn’t have changed anything in the university syllabus) but it underlined the situation when I found myself the first ever full time student of archaeology in Ireland.

But times have changed.  The popular notion of an archaeologist used to be, and indeed often still is of a bearded , bespectacled, absent-minded, eccentric and doddering old gentleman peering through a large magnifying-glass.  Archaeology was not therefore considered a subject attractive to ambitious lively young students.  The media, aided by several outstanding discoveries, has helped to bring about a new understanding of what archaeology is all about.  Nor is it merely such enjoyable, facile, trashy but enjoyable films of Indiana Jones, archaeologist/adventurer, which have glamourised archaeology for the younger generation.  Though such films have helped, they also have tended to give the idea that archaeology in this part of the world could never be so exciting as a search in the Near East for the Ark of the Covenant – but in the late 1890s however, a group of British Israelites went digging in the Rath of the Synods, at Tara, in a mad (in every sense of the term) search for the same Ark of the Covenant, a search largely based on the fact that the Anglicised version of Teamhair na Rí, Tara, was the last four letters of ARARAT reversed!

The newspapers also helped.  Rarely nowadays does a week pass without at least one item on archaeology appearing in the press; and not just in the national press either – the local newspapers are no longer afraid of frightening off the readers by referring to matters archaeological.  Not only has the number of archaeology students increased hugely in the universities but popular, readable, well-illustrated books on archaeology are nowadays to be found displayed in all types of shops.  Local heritage and archaeological societies have sprung up everywhere, Societies which are no longer the entertainment centres of an elitist group of well-intentioned sernior-citizens but rather the enjoyable and instructive meeting-places for the more knowledged and well-read general public of all ages in the community.  The Athenry Archaeological and Historical Society is thriving, thank you, and is going from strength to strength thanks to the enthusiasm of all its members.

Archaeology has become the ‘in-thing’ to have studied . It is ranked along with sport, politics and the weather as one of the most popular of all conversational topics- everyone has discovered that it is possible to talk generally about the subject and those who are at all well-read can express a reasonably intelligent and erudite opinion on it – ‘Archaeology’ is no longer a potentially frightening word.

Although the comment with which I started this brief note has stuck in my mind for all these years, another comment made to me by a Dublin-based colleague a few months ago has made an equally great impact.  Out of the blue he said to me that “Athenry has far more qualified archaeologists per capita than any other place in Ireland”.  I had never realised that but it is quite true. What other town in the whole of Ireland ( or indeed anywhere in the World) can boast of so many?

Think on it.  Athenry has one fully fledged Master of Arts in Archaeology, Martin Fitzpatrick and is well on course to shortly have second, Dominic Monaghan.  Both graduated with Archaeology as part of their B.A. degree, as did at least ten others, namely Ann Gannon, Siobhan Archer, Anna McLoughlin, Meave Waldron, Karen Devally, Niamh Greaney, Frank Coyne, Rob Gallagher, Paul McNamara and John Conway, while Niamh Reidy will join them this Summer.  Furthermore two others, Bob Reilly and Pat Heraty are well on their way to being among the first to graduate with the new U.C.G. Diploma in Archaeology. Nor should one forget the numerous students such as Frances Rohan, Geraldine Rabbitte, Gerry McLoughlin and Kevin Kelly, to name but a few, who studied Archaeology for one year in university before moving on to other subjects for their B.A. or B.Comm. degree.

That is a most remarkable and impressive record for any town the size of Athenry.  The uniqueness of its heritage, with its facinating and outstanding medieval monuments, has clearly impinged on and inspired its young inhabitants – this old town of ours need no longer fear that it is more appreciated and understood by curious foreign visitors than by its natives .”An rud is annamh is íontach” adeirtear agus is iontach é an baile seo ‘gainne, Blá ‘n Rí, agus is iontach iad a mhuintear .

Editor’s note – Nor should one forget that the author Professor Etienne Rynne, Department of Archaeology, University College Galway and a resident of Athenry because of his own enthusiasm and generosity of knowledge, time and encouragement may have contributed in no small way to this “remarkable and impressive record”.

The walls of Athenry are easily the finest medieval town-walls remaining in Ireland. A three-year murage grant being obtained in 1310, it would appear that the town was originally walled in or about that time. History, however, records that the town was walled after the Battle of Athenry on the 10th of August 1316, when the Anglo-Normans under William de Burgo and Richard de Bermingham severely defeated Phelim O’Connor, King of Connacht, who was aided by the Princes of Thomond, Meath, Breffny and Conmaic me, the defeat seriously affecting Edward Burce’s Irish campaign.

This record may, however, merely mean that the walls were rebuilt of stone, the earlier walls being most probably of wood, or, alternatively, that the existing walls were fortified by the addition of the wall-towers. Only one of the five town-gates now remains, the North Gate, and it may be a  late 16th or early 17th century addition.  Most of the wall still stands, together five wall-towers(the footings of a sixth were accidentally destroyed some years ago).  The town-walls of Athenry were not of a good military character being very thin, but nonetheless they had ramparts on the top; the main defence, however, was a deep and wide moat, traces of which can still be clearly seen outside the walls.  The walls, towers and moat, were built to provide protection and to lend status to the town.

Meiler de Bermingham, 2nd Baron of Athenry and founder of the town, bought the site from Sir Robert Breynach ( Breathnach / Welsh / Walsh) for 160 Marks in 1241 and presented it to the Dominican friars together with another 160 Marks so that they might build an abbey – reputedly at the request of St. Dominic himself; the saint, however, had died in 1221. He also gave gifts of wine, English cloth, and horses for drawing stones, and furthermore induced his knights and soldiers to contribute to the work.  Meiler himself died in 1252 in a battle near Cashel, Co. Tipperary, and his body was brought back to Athenry and buried near the high altar.

The Dominican Priory
Note the earthen “ramparts” between which was the outer moat.

Dedicated to SS Peter and Paul, building got off to such a fine start that a provincial chapter was held there in 1242.  Both the native Irish and colonising Anglo-Normans co-operated in sponsoring the construction work: Felim O’Connor, King of Connacht and founder of the Abbey of Roscommon, built the refectory, Eugene O’Heyne the dormitory, Cornelius O’Kelly the chapter-house, Walter Husgard the cloisters, Arthur MacGallyly the infirmary, Bernard O’Trarasy and his wife the guest-house, and Rodolf Hallatune gave the altar in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin; Thomas O’Kelly, Bishop of Clonfert, built a vault near the north side of the high altar.  The priory was completed in 1261. In 1324 William de Burgh (Burke) and his wife Fionnula gave 100 Marks towards building the front of the church (the west end, now largely destroyed by a handball alley built into it about the turn of the century) and also lengthened the choir of the then rectangular building by extending it eastwards by 20 feet.  The north aisle and transept were probably built about the same time; worthy of note is the transept’s fine north window, with its tracery of curved-sided triangles, best paralleled at Merton College, Oxford, in the Bishop’s House and Chapter House at Wells, Somerset, and in the Great Hall of The Desmond Castle, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick.

In 1400 Pope Boniface IX granted a Bull of Indulgence to those who visited the priory on certain festival days and who contributed alms towards its upkeep.  In 1423 the priory was accidentally burnt and Pope Martin V granted another Bull of Indulgence to those who contributed to its repair, an indulgence which was renewed in 1445 by Pope Eugenius, there being about thirty friars there at the time.  Alterations made during this lengthy period of rebuilding included reduction of the size of the east window, replacing its ornamental cusped tracery by the more severe switch-line variety, the insertion of an altar-alcove into the north wall of the choir, the replacement/insertion of the north doorway into the transept, and the heightening of the roof of the cloistral ambulatory. The major change, however, was the construction of a large central tower, which necessitated strengthening the aisle’s columns and reducing its arches; under the tower was erected a roodscreen, of which there are only three other examples in Ireland.

The priory escaped suppression in the Dissolution of Henry VIII, thanks to the intervention of Deputy Anthony Sentleger who in a letter dated the 7th of July 1541 stated that as it “is situated amongst the Irishry … our saide sovereign lord shoulde have lyttle or no profit”, despite which the custos of the friary Adam Copynger, and his fellow-friars had to agree to change “their habit and wedes of a friar into a secular habit”.  In 1510, however, Queen Elizabeth I granted the friary buildings and lands to the provost and burgesses of Athenry for 26/6 yearly. In 1627 Charles I granted the priory to four Galway merchants as assignees of Sir James Craig (a Scotsman associated with the Plantation of Ulster) to hold it for the king.  These merchants, however, were well-disposed towards the friars and the Dominicans were therefore able to re-establish themselves in Athenry in 1638.  There followed a brief period of restoration work, the sacristy and perhaps the hagioscope/’leper squint’/’penitent’s cell’ in the south wall of the nave apparently being additions dating from then.  In 1644, during the period of the Confederation of Kilkenny, the priory of Athenry was erected into a University for the Dominican Order by the decree of a General Chapter held in Rome.

Disaster befell the monastery in 1652 when Cromwellian soldiers wrecked the buildings, a record of which is to be found on a carved stone plaque dated 1682, now mounted in the north wall of the church.

In the mid-18th century the cloistral buildings were demolished and a barracks for a regiment of English soldiers built there.  These soldiers are recorded as having broken or defaced nearly all the tombs and other carved stones in the priory.  About 1850 the soldiers moved to the new barracks built in Cross Street, and about 40 years later the abandoned barracks was demolished and the houses of Abbey Row built.

The Dominican PrioryAn illustration of 1793 shows the church roofless but with its central tower intact.  The tower, however, fell in 1845, the best evidence remaining for its former existence being its spiral staircase which can best be seen from the outside.

Quite apart from the interesting architectural remains, the priory it also noteworthy for many fine grave-slabs and for two fine tombs.  The grave-slabs include a long, low, house-shaped one with a cross carved in relief at either end which is most probably the grave-marker for Meiler de Bermingham, founder of the priory.  Most of the other grave-slabs are of 17th century date. These include a fine one dated 1627 for John Burke and his wife Katren which is not only carved with an intricate cross and animal figures but also has interlaced patterns carved along some of its bevelled edges.  Many of the slabs show the tools associated with the person buried, in most cases farm workers whose graveslabs were marked with a plough-soc and a coulter; only one, dated 1697 and for William Boyne, has a complete plough carved on it.  Worthy of note also is the grave-slab mounted against the wall inside the present entrance which is dated 1631 and not only has a triketra knot carved on it but also a large woodworker’s axe head, an anvil, and other tools.  The finest such grave-slab, however, is that of blacksmith called Tannian.  It is dated 1682 and carved with a cross on either side of which are two bellows, an anvil, a horse-shoe, a claw-headed hammer, a pincers and an augur.

The Dominican PrioryThe two large tombs are noteworthy, particularly the larger one, centrally placed in the choir. It was erected for Lady Mathilda Birmingham who died aged 20 years and 10 months in 1788, fourth daughter of Thomas Earl of Louth, Baron of Athenry and premier baron of Ireland – the last of his line.

The tomb is now sadly damaged, apparently by British soldiers searching for treasure before they left Athenry forever in 1922, but is still of special importance for its stucco decoration: one panel mentions Coade of London and the date 1790 while the urn atop the monument shows portrait-heads of lady Mathilda and is inscribed “Coade Lambeth 1791”; Coade was a Londoner who became famous for his invention of a stonelike material known as Coadestone, the secret of its manufacture dying with him.   The other tomb is in the extreme south-east corner of the church.  Its importance lies not in itself but in that it belonged to the De Burgh family and was “repaired” by one of them, Ulick John Marquis of Clanricarde, in 1835., ‘,The family motto UN ROY, UNE FOY, UNE LOY (one king, one faith, one law) is carved on the coat of arms.

The Priory of SS Peter and Paul is now a National Monument in State care.

 Leacht Oliver BrowneAt Cahertymore Cross, on the back road from Athenry to Galway, stands a large and impressive stone-built monument.  In March 1968 the County Council were considering knocking it as they found it so near the crossroad’s that it would obscure the STOP sign which they intended to erect there.

Fortunately they hesitated, someone thought that maybe the Dept. of Archaeology in U.C.G. should be consulted first, and I inspected the site.  Though only six months in Galway at the time, I recognised the monument as being similar to the wayside memorials on the Aran Islands, ( which at the time I had never visited! ) and advised against its destruction, suggesting that if the intended warning sign was not put at the requisite distance from the corner but almost on the corner itself, then it would still be easily seen in good time by approaching motorists.  This was agreed, done and the monument was saved.

The next step was to examine the monument and to find out something about it. It consists of a four and half feet square pillar, seven and half feet high and topped by a projecting ledge above which were the remains of a pyramidal roof-like cap ( the cap was restored in 1978; it now ends in a blunt point and is about six and a half feet high ), the total height of the monument rises about fourteen or fifteen feet above the level of the road.  In the south side, that facing towards Athenry, is a shallow rectangular recess, two foot and ten inches high, two feet in minimum width, and up to ten inches in depth, clearly originally the seat for a now missing inscribed plaque.  The only clue as to whom the monument commemorates was that it is marked Laghta Oliver Brown on the relevant Ordnance Survey 6-inch scale map (sheet 71 for Co. Galway).  In the wall adjoining the south face of the monument is an interesting letter-box but that’s another story!

Further research revealed that there are similar monuments at Menlo, near Galway ( dated 1693 ), at Lavally, near Clarinbridge ( dated 1717 ), at Abbeyknockmoy ( plaque missing ), and also just a very short distance outside the Galway county borders at Cong, Co Mayo, where there were two (one dated 1712 and the other now long gone), and at Tober Phadraig, on the Corker Hill, Co. Clare ( dated 1705 ).  A date within a decade or two on either side of 1700 therefore seems reasonable for the Cartymore monument.  A bit of detective work was required.  A fine carved plaque in the large window of the north transept of the Dominican Priory in Athenry asks for prayers for the souls of Captain Oliver Brown, of Cularan, his  wife Julian(a) Lynch who erected the plaque for them both, and for their posterity, in 1686. Grand!  Coolarne was the Big House up the road from Cartymore, and where better to build a leacht cuimhne (memorial monument) than on the main crossroad’s between where he lived and where he was buried ?  This seemed to provide a possible answer, especially when it is realised from the Athenry plaque that Captain Brown was still alive in 1686 clearly a somewhat later date is probable for the Cartymore memorial.  But could one do any better ? Yes and no. A letter to a former student of mine, Paul Walsh who is on the Archaeology staff of the Ordnance Survey, elicited the information that the Name Book dated 1892-1928 and which deals with the relevant map informs us that the monument, was erected to the memory of Oliver Brown who was killed off his horse at this spot in 1628 as local readers of the tablet on the structure, which is now removed, can testify. If this date is correct, then the Cartymore leacht is sixty-five, seventy, or more years earlier that the other similar monuments, which on the face of it seems extremely unlikely.  Should that date read 1728 ?  As the plaque was apparently removed when that note was written it is quite possible that the hearsay evidence could be inaccurate.  I leave it up to your-selves – and if anyone finds the missing tablet from the monument, please let us know!

This article is reproduced here with kind permission of The Athenry Journal.