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Rosserk Friary recalls Island of Saints and Scholars

Rosserk Friary near Ballina is a link to a time when Ireland was known as the Island of Saints and  Scholars.

The Franciscan Friary at Rosserk was founded around 1440 and is one of the best preserved Franciscan monasteries in Ireland.

Its beautiful riverside location, overlooking the River Moy, not far from the river’s estuary in Killala Bay, is a place of tranquillity with only birdsong to break the silence.

A perfect place for a religious order to live, pray and share their knowledge.

Today, Rosserk Friary offers us a continuing link with a more spiritual and less worldly time – and a visit to this sacred place is always rewarding.

Franciscan Third Order Regular

In its heydey in the 14th and 15th centuries, Rosserk Friary was home to a community of Franciscan Third Order Regular (TOR), made up of both clerics and non-clerical members.

The religious worked in the local community and taught children in the monastery’s classrooms. Along with Latin and maths, boys were taught about Gaelic Ireland’s history, songs, and its fabled heroes.

Rosserk Friary, more commonly referred to as Rosserk Abbey, is located about 4kms north of Ballina, at the end of a lane, off the old Ballina to Killala road; the same route taken by the Humbert’s French Army in 1798.

The Franciscan Friary was founded by the Joyce family for the Third Order of St. Francis in 1460 and was burnt by Sir Richard Bingham, governor of Connacht, in 1590 during the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

The impressive bell tower of Rosserk Friary, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The impressive bell tower of Rosserk Friary, Co Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey

An impressive bell tower

However, the structure is in a very good state of repair with an impressive bell tower, which can be climbed. The finely carved west doorway, single-aisle church, leading to the altar and double piscina (a shallow basin used for washing the communion vessels) are also impressive features of Rosserk Friary.

The skills of the stonemasons and sculptors are still evident in the carvings and architectural features throughout the abbey

The layout of Rosserk Friary comprised a dormitory, refectory, and kitchen on the upper floor, where two fireplaces still remain back-to-back.

Rosserk (Ros Eirc) refers to the wood or headland of Earc and it is believed that before the monastery there was a church on this site as far back as 1198.

Also worth visiting is the nearby Tobar Mhuire, St. Mary’s Holy Well, which is well signposted on the lane to Rosserk Friary.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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