The Carmelite Abbey of Ballinasmalla

Lying a mile or so northeast of the town of Claremorris are the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, of Ballinasmalla (for which, variant spellings include Ballinasmaul, and Ballinasmale). The Abbey was a significant locus of religious service in the parish of Kilcolman (Clanmorris).

In 1984, Stephen Josten, O.Carm. wrote an excellent essay of the history of this Abbey from 1288–1870. This essay is the primary source for the timeline of historic events for the Abbey, interspersed with points of local history, which follows (unless otherwise stated):

  • 3500 B.C.: The area in and around Claremorris was inhabited by Neolitihic man. [pg. 6]
  • 480 A.D.: "The area was in the early Christian era called Tir Nechtan because it was settled by descendants of Nectain and Enna, sons of Brian Orbsen who was king of Connaught ... A tribe from Munster, called the Ciarraighe, descendents [sic] of Ciar, the son of Fergus MacRoigh and Maeve, became dominant in the area [which] became known as Ciarraigh Uachtair." [pg. 6]
  • 400s: "There were Christians in the parish as early as the days of St. Patrick. There was a Bishop Colman, who gave to St. Patrick his church of Cluain Cain, and this would probably be the present church of the parish, and from the saint the parish took its name. This Colman was obviously not St. Colman of Boffin and Mayo, and we therefore must conclude that he was simply a bishop of St. Patrick's time, and that he laboured in the modern parish of Claremorris." [D'Alton, 1928]
  • 1170: Maurice de Prendergast came to Ireland with Strongbow. [pg. 5]
  • 1288/9: The Carmelite Abbey of Ballinasmale was "established with Papal Approval in 1288/9 by the Prendergast famiy of Brees (Brize) Castle. ... There is a tradition that the Carmelites established their monastery ... on the site of a much earlier Irish monastic foundation, perhaps dating back beyond the 8th century, A.D." The Carmelites "lived a strict monastic life, observing the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and giving much of their lives to celebrating Holy Mass, chanting the Divine Office and silent prayer as prescribed by the Rule." [pp. 5-7]
  • Between 1452–1471: Blessed John Soreth, who was General of the Carmelite Order from 1452–1471, visited Ballinasmale. Soreth promoted reform in the Order, and founded the convents of contemplative Carmelite nuns. [pg. 7]
  • 1537–1829: The Carmelites of Ballinasmale suffered keenly "from the time of the Elizabethan Dissolution of the Monastery almost until Catholic Emancipation in 1829." [pg. 4]
  • 1581: The ancestor of the Mayo branch of the More family, John Moore, was appointed Clerk of the Crown of the Province of Connaught and Thomond on July 13th. [pg. 4]
  • 1585: "Queen Elizabeth took ownership of the Abbey of St. Mary's and a quarter of land (approximately 120 acres) attached to it." [pg. 7, citing T.F. Doohan, O.Carm., "Ballinsmale," Terenure College Annual (1955, 7-9), in turn, citing the State Papers of 1574-5]
  • 1591: Sir Brian O'Rourke, first husband of Lady Maria More, and a prominent Catholic, was beheaded in London on November 3rd. [pg. 4]
    (See also the entry for 1624.)
  • 1595: Red Hugh O'Donnell spent Christmas with the Prendergasts at Brize Castle. [pg. 6]
  • 1603: "Richard and Myler MacMorris lost possession of Castlemacgarrett about 1603 to Dominic Lynch." [pg. 6]
  • 1605: "The site and precinct of St. Mary's Abbey of Ballinasmall was granted by King James I to John King of Dublin, son of the notorious Archbishop King." [pg. 7]
  • 1607: John Moore came into possession of the castles of Brize and Murneen. [pg. 6]
  • 1616: "Donogh Boy O'Gormley [Father O'Gormley], late Prior of the Priory of Ballinasmall of the Order of Carmelites in Co. Mayo was seized of a quarter of land." [pg. 7, citing the Inquisition of August 27th]
  • 1624: The More Chapel was built. [pg. 4] (See also the entry for 1591.)
  • 1625: During a time when "the priests, monks and friars were hunted and murdered," the Carmelite Father General, Straccio, wrote about his concern for the Abbey at Ballinasmale. [pg. 15]
  • 1627: "Ballyhowly Castle was acquired by Edward Dillon before 1627." [pg. 6]
  • 1633–4: "Sir Richard Blake did in January 1633(4) purchase of Everlin Moore, alias Richards, and her husband Robert Moore the late dissolved Abbey or Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ballinasmally; and 1 qr. [quarter] thereunto belonging called Carrowdronmyne for the consideration of £84 st. and of a lease for 3 lives unto them made of the qr. of Lissenricken, and the qr. of Ballinasmall for the yearly rent of £3 st." Sir Richard appears to have promised protection for the Carmelites of Ballinasmale. [pg. 17, citing the Stafford Inquisition of Mayo, 1625–35]
  • 1640: Throughout the persecutions of the 17th century, the Carmelites held on at Ballinasmale, "except for one priest, Fr. Shea." [pg. 7]
  • 1645: In a letter written  to the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop John Baptist Rinuccini, "the Carmelites explain ... Our Fathers in Ireland have been either expelled or slain," and mention the Carmelite house at Ballinasmale as one of several known to them. [pg. 8]
  • 1649: "Sir Richard Blake lost his title to the Abbey lands." [pg. 17]
  • 1660: Gerald Dillon came into possession of the Abbey lands. [pg. 17]
  • 1670–1740: Religious persecution of Roman Catholics. Records were lost or, owing to the disruption of monastic and religious life, not capable of being kept. Often, priests roamed from place to place—not wearing the religious habit—carrying Penal crosses [with short arms, which could be tucked up a sleeve if need be] and offering Mass, in secret, at Mass rocks, farmhouses, or caves. [pp. 18, 22]
  • 1684: "Fr. Shea was the sole survivor of the Order in Ireland." [pg. 16]
  • 1688: Fathers Finn, Thomas, and James Fitzmorris were amongst the priests who were "sent secretly on a mission to England ... by the Reformed Province of Touraine." The names, Finn and Fitzmorris, are frequently found in Mayo. [pp. 16-17]
  • 1691: Five members of the Ballinasmale community are said to have attended the funeral of the French general, St. Ruth, after the Battle of Aughrim. [pg. 18]
  • 1695: Williamite Penal legislation was enacted: All popish archbishops, bishops, vicars-general, deans, jesuits, monks, friars and all other regular popish clergy, and all papists exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, shall depart out of this kingdom before the 1st of May, 1698; If any of the said ecclesiastical persons shall be at any time after the said 1st of May, 1698 within the kingdom, they and every one of them shall suffer imprisonment until he or they shall be transported beyond seas; and if any person so transported shall return again into this kingdom, they and every of them shall be guilty of high treason and suffer forfeit (for life) as in the case of high treason. [pg. 18, citing Wm. III, cap. 26, sec. 1]
  • 1700: The estimated time at which the village of Claremorris came into existence, which was named for Maurice de Prendergast: "Clár Clainne Muiris probably means the plain (Clár) of the clan or family (Clainne) of Maurice (Muiris)." [pp. 5-6]
  • 1702: After the death of William III, Fr. Peter Hughes, O.Carm. who had studied theology in Touraine, France, returned to Ireland and "regained Ballinasmale and started a small novitiate there." Fr. Hughes "professed candidates to the order and sent them to France and Spain to study." Fr. John Burke was another 17th century Carmelite at Ballinasmale. [pg. 15; and 20, citing Arch. Ord. II Hibernia II, 1, pg. 47]
  • 1703: Fr. Malachy Stanton was "a chaplain to the Irish soldiers in the bodyguard of the Duke of Parma. Stanton is another name found frequently in Mayo. [pg. 17]
  • 1700s: "The Carmelites in their peaceful times used to hold a procession from the abbey to the Blessed Well at Knocka Tubber* and on a mound near the road at Cartownacross (Cartun Na Croise) they had a large crucifix erected on the day of the procession to Tobar Muire (Mary's Well.)" [pg. 16; citing Dr. Conor Maguire, in his Local History of Claremorris, Co. Mayo] *Note: Knockatober townland is situated about a mile-and-a-half east-southeast of Ballinasmale.
  • 1715: The sacred buildings of the Priory having been destroyed during the persecutions, "the Carmelite Friars (called the White Friars in mediæval times because of their white cloak) occupied a cabin among the Ballinasmale ruins." [pg. 20]
  • 1737: Pope Clement XII "canonically re-established the Irish Carmelite Province under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception and St. Patrick," on the 10th October. Two councillors to the restored Provincial, Fr. Lyons, were Fathers Simon Burke and James Prendergast—"common Mayo names." [pg. 20]
  • 1741: Father John Burke was "appointed by the 1741 Provincial Chapter first 'definitor' or Councillor of the Irish Province and probably Prior of Crevaghbane as well." [pg. 21]
  • 1760s: Archbishop Mark Skerrett of Tuam and Bishop James O'Fallon of Elphin gave support and protection to the Carmelites, and allowed them "to continue with their novitiates in their respective dioceses." [pg. 22]
  • 1780: The Sacramental test was abolished. [pg. 21]
  • 1791: Wolfe Tone wrote, "Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland." [pg. 21]
  • 1793–1795: St. Patrick's College, Carlow, and Maynooth College, Kildare, were founded in 1793 and 1795, respectively. Until the founding of these institutions, the Catholic clergy had looked to Europe for their education. [pg. 21]
  • 1798: After a period of increased religious toleration, the failure of the Rising heralded "the era of landlordism, and throughout this time Ireland was owned and governed by the Protestant ascendancy." [pg. 21]
  • 1801: There were "ten Carmelite monasteries which were occupied by twenty-eight priests." [pg. 23]
  • Early 1800s: The Ballinasmale Carmelites ran a hedge-school "of sorts." [pg. 25]
  • 1822: Fr. John Lavin was appointed Prior of Ballinasmale, and Fathers Michael Geoghegan, Patrick Burke, and Martin Fitzpatrick were appointed members of the Ballinasmale community. At the same time, a new Roman Catholic chapel was built in the growing town of Claremorris. (Previously, there had been a mediæval church in Kilcolman townland, and a church in Barnycarroll townland, which may have been served by Carmelites, but which was later moved to Mace.) [pp. 23-4]
  • 1829: Catholic Emancipation.
  • 1840: "The Provincial, Fr. J. Colgan, in his account of the province, writes, there were two priests there then, and adds, the convent of Ballinasmale is a private house in a ruinous state, and the church seems to be a stable. The Prior (Fr. Lavin), who is advanced in years, seems to be able to do nothing towards improving the state of things." [pg. 24]
  • 1845–47: The Great Famine in Ireland. Father James Hughes, parish priest of Claremorris, worked "to relieve the suffering of the dying poor, especially in the Claremorris workhouse."
  • 1852: Death of Fr. Lavin, at Ballinasmale. [pg. 24]
  • 1870: The last Mass was offered in the thatched chapel of Our Lady, which had been reconstructed from the ruins. "The Carmelites left Ballinasmale for two reasons: firstly because of the newly built church in nearby Claremorris town and secondly because of the scarcity of priests at a time of great emigration, particularly from the West of Ireland and the urgent request of the bishops of America and Australia for priests to minister to the Irish." The last Carmelite at Ballinasmale was Father John Carr. [pp. 2, 24]
  • 1871: Fr. John Carr, who had been the last priest at Ballinasmale, and now in Dublin, was appointed Provincial. [pg. 25]
  • 1879: In the evening of August 21st, at Knock,* "Our Lady appeared with St. Joseph and St. John next to the altar surrounded by angels and on the altar stood the triumphant Lamb in front of the sign of salvation, the Cross." [pg. 12] *Note: The village of Knock lies four miles north-northeast of Ballinasmale.
  • 1893: Fr. John Carr died in Dublin on the 24th July.
  • 1979: After an interval of one hundred years, the Holy Sacrifice of Mass was offered in the ruins of the Abbey on July 16th. [pp. 2-3]
  • 1983: The Ballinasmale Abbey Conservation Committee was formed. [pg. 3]

Source: Josten, Stephen. Ballinasmale Carmelite Abbey, 1288–1870. Ballinasmale Abbey Conservation Committee, 16 July 1984.

Return to Claremorris and the parish of Kilcolman index page.
Return to Ireland - Local history notes index page.

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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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