Quin Abbey

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Quin Abbey
Quin Abbey, Ireland.jpg
Quin Abbey
Quin Abbey is located in Ireland
Quin Abbey
Location within Ireland
Monastery information
Other names Quin Friary
Order Franciscans
Established c. 1350 (church),
1433 (abbey)
Disestablished 1541
Founder(s) MacNamara family
Heritage designation National Monument
Style Gothic
Groundbreaking 1402
Completed date 1433
Location Quin, County Clare, Ireland
Public access yes (strict opening hours)
Official name Quin Abbey
Reference no. 15

Quin Abbey is a ruined Franciscan abbey or friary in Quin, roughly 9 miles from Ennis, County Clare in Ireland. The friary was founded around 1402 by Síoda Cam MacNamara and became an Observant Reformed house in 1433. While many friaries were founded on the site of earlier religious houses and monasteries, Quin friary occupies the site of the Anglo-Norman de Clare fortress that was built after 1278 and destroyed in 1318.[1] The remains of the castle are still visible as they were incorporated into the friary, with the foundations of three of the corner towers of the curtain wall surviving to varying degrees. The abbey continued to be inhabited by a small number of friars until 1820. Despite its suppression and suffering repeated attack in the sixteenth century, substantial remains of the friary survive, making it one of the most intact medieval Franciscan friaries in Ireland.[2] Today, Quin Abbey is a National Monument (SMR CL042-027002-).


The church that later became Quin Abbey was founded by the MacNamara family around 1350. From the 14th century the MacNamara clan was the most powerful family in the Baronies of Upper and Lower Bunratty and Upper and Lower Tulla. Making use of the remains of an earlier Norman castle (see below), notably the south curtain-wall, they constructed a church. North of the church, a residence for the clergy and a small sacristy were added. Sioda Cam MacNamara built the cloisters in 1402. In 1430, the bell-tower and Lady Chapel were built by Mahon MacNamara. In 1433, he gave the property to the Franciscan order and allowed them to establish their friary there.[3] Reportedly, the first friars were Fathers Purcell and Mooney.[4]

In 1541, during the Reformation, King Henry VIII suppressed and confiscated the abbey and it passed into the hands of the O'Brian (or O'Brien) family, eventually to Conor O'Brian, Earl of Thomond.[3][5] After the dissolution of the friary, the friars continued to live in Quin under the protection of the earls of Thomond.[6] By 1548, the abbey had fallen into disrepair, and was described as "one great church, now ruinous, covered with slate, and a steeple greatly decayed".[3]

In 1584, Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland, had one Donough Beg O'Brian half-hanged from a cart, his bones broken with the back of an axe, and hung, still alive, on the steeple of Quin Abbey. The abbey served as a barracks for English forces until another Donough O'Brian burned it down.[3] In about 1590, the MacNamaras regained control of the abbey and once again set about repairing and restoring it, helped by some other local families.[3][5] The high quality of construction had ensured that the walls suffered little damage. By 1604, the choir and Lady Chapel had been roofed over and the ground-floor living areas made habitable again. In 1617, the Irish Franciscan Provincial, Father Donough Mooney, took note of the repairs and described the two or three friars then in possession as being "old, helpless men with scarcely a memory of the pre-suppression friary". An altar plate of gold and silver had been given to one of the MacNamaras of Knappogue for safekeeping, but had died before he could divulge the location of the hiding place.[3] In about 1640, the building became a college and is alleged to have had 800 students.[5]

In 1651, Cromwellian forces killed the monks and destroyed the abbey. Fr. Rory MacNamara was shot and beheaded, Fr. Donald Mac Clancy and Br. Dermot MacInerney were hanged. By 1667, the Franciscans had returned and Fr. Moriarty O'Griffin was named as guardian in 1670.[3] In 1671, the abbey was once again restored, but never regained its former status.[5] By 1681, the abbey was reported empty once again. Yet by 1691 the friars had returned when the cavalry of the defeated Irish army was encamped around the walls of the abbey after the Battle of Aughrim.[3]

The friars were expelled again by Colonels William and Henry Stamer (of Carnelly, High Sheriffs of Clare) at some point before 1760, but remained in the nearby townland of Drim. One friar continued to live in the abbey ruins and others succeeded him. The last Friar, Father John Hogan of Drim, remained at the abbey until his death in 1820, by which time the buildings were ruined by neglect. Around 1880, the Board of Public Works took over and the abbey was made a National Monument.[3][5]

Earlier structures[edit]

A far earlier monastic or ecclesial building had existed on the site, which burned down in 1278. A Norman castle was built soon after by Thomas de Clare[7] in order to subdue the MacNamara clan. It was a massive fortification with large rounded towers at each corner, the foundations of which can still be seen today. In 1286, the castle was burned down in an attack by Cuvea MacNamara, avenging the death of a chieftain of the O'Liddy (or Liddy) clan, killed earlier by the Norman garrison. Most of the defenders were killed.[3]

Parts of the castle towers still remain at the south-east, south-west and north-east corners of the abbey. Part of the vanished north-west tower, or at least its site, is also still visible. Most of what remained of the castle walls was incorporated into the abbey's south and east walls.[3]

Abbey structures[edit]

The cloisters at Quin Abbey
  • The Lady Chapel is the resting place of the MacNamara chieftains, including the last, John "Fireball" MacNamara who died in 1836. Tombs date back to at least 1450.[3]
  • Church tower with spiral staircase[3]
  • Cloisters[3]
  • Tower to the north of the main complex with a lavabo, or medieval toilet[3]
  • Dormitory[3]


Although mostly roofless, the structure of the abbey is well preserved. The medieval stone high altar remains in its original position, and to the right of this are the very rare remains of an early seventeenth-century stucco crucifixion, on the wall above a tomb. The intimate cloister, the chapter room, kitchen, refectory and dormitories stand almost as they did at the time of the dissolution.[8]

A visitor centre is located near the abbey and the structure and grounds can be visited free of charge. A caretaker is seasonally based at the abbey. Floodlighting has been installed which illuminates the site at night. The graveyard surrounding the abbey is still in use.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Quin Franciscan Friary | Monastic Ireland". www.monastic.ie. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 
  2. ^ "Quin Franciscan Friary | Monastic Ireland". www.monastic.ie. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Quin, Places of Interest". Clare Library. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Commissioners of Public Works (1906). 75th Annual Report of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland; Clonmacnois, King's County. A. Thom & Co, Dublin. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Meehan, C.P. (1877). The Rise & Fall of the Irish Franciscan Monasteries. James Duffy & Sons, Dublin. 
  6. ^ "Quin Franciscan Friary | Monastic Ireland". www.monastic.ie. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 
  7. ^ Brian Hodkinson, Was Quin Castle Completed?, North Munster Antiquarian Journal, Vol. 44, 2004, pp.53-8
  8. ^ "Quin Franciscan Friary | Monastic Ireland". www.monastic.ie. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°49′9.43″N 8°51′46.87″W / 52.8192861°N 8.8630194°W / 52.8192861; -8.8630194