Known locally as the best preserved monastic Franciscan ruins in all of Ireland, the Ross Errilly Friary has been an imposing presence on the banks of the Black River - just two miles from Headford - for around and about six centuries now! An eye-catching sight with a great deal of history behind it, let’s take a glimpse into the past of this Franciscan friary...
Shrouded in ambiguity, the vast building has origins ranging from the mid-fourteenth to the late fifteenth century, receiving its first official reference in 1469, when Galway native John Blake bequeathed forty pence to Ross Errilly Friary is his will. The building’s surviving architecture has indicated to historians that likely foundations occurred in 1460, but between potential dates of inception and varieties of name spelling, the building has its fair share of mystery attached.
In the same vein, a vagueness surrounds the identity of the original founder of the friary. While both the Clanricarde Burkes and the Gannard family were prominent benefactors of the building over the years, the Gannards experienced a loss of both power and influence during the fourteenth century. At this point, the Burkes became the majority landholders in Headford but unfortunately there is little to tie them to Ross Errilly directly. You see what I mean? Mysterious!
Nevertheless, the Earls of Clanricarde became patrons and protectors of both the building and its community for the coming centuries until 1540, when the friary was officially dissolved during the general suppression of monasteries. Not long after, Queen Elizabeth I granted Ross Errilly Friary to the 2nd Earl of Clanricarde - Richael Burke - where the friars were eventually allowed to reestablish themselves once again and order was restored.
After a short-lived stay, the friars were promptly expelled once again in 1596, when English soldiers occupied the building during the Nine Years’ War. During their stay, it is said that these soldiers burned all records and books within the friary, amplifying the already uncertain history of the place. Lingering nearby until it was safe to return, 1601 saw the Protestant Archbishop of Tuam order the arrest of the friars who had reoccupied Ross Errilly, giving them ample opportunity to escape unscathed with a word of forewarning.
A game of back and forth, the friars returned once again in 1611 under the protection of the 4th Earl of Clanricarde, where they remained until the final suppression by the provincial of the order in 1832. During the intervening centuries, the famous Maria Montij Jennings chalice was made for the friars of Ross Errilly, a relic that was since auctioned off to an English parish in 1872. The Massacre at Shrule took place in 1642, a violent tragedy that saw the attack of hundreds of Protestant English refugees, the survivors of which would be sheltered and protected by the Franciscans of Ross Errilly.
Now maintained by the Office of Public Works and freely open to the public, a visit to the grounds of Ross Errilly Friary will fill you with wonder and admiration for the community of people who once called the place home. What remains of the once extraordinary building include the well-preserved church, tower, chapels and friary. Find your way there by clicking HERE.