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Story behind Augustinian Abbey in Ballina

Lying largely in ruins, the ancient Augustinian Abbey in Ballina has never attracted the same attention as the other abbeys of the Moy, at Rosserk, Moyne and Rathfran – all of which are mostly intact. Nonetheless, Ballina’s Abbey has an interesting story to tell – stretching all the way back to a golden age in our Celtic past.

No one is quite certain when it was first built, but the Augustinian Abbey in Ballina was originally the site of a religious community known as “Augustinian House of St. Mary of Ardnaree”.

The remains of the Augustinian Abbey in Ballina adjoin the grounds of St. Muredach’s Cathedral on the east bank of the River Moy.

The earliest known references to the abbey date from 1410 when a papal decree mentioned the Augustinian House of St. Mary of Ardnaree. The remains of the Abbey that we see today are believed to have been built around 1427 when it was established by Tadgh Riabach O’Dowd whose family patronage of the monastery continued until its dissolution.

Evidence of the strong O’Dowd family connection with the Ballina Abbey can be found in the adjoining cemetery where Murtagh O’Dowd was buried in 1402.

Most famous priest

The Augustinian Abbey in Ballina is now largely in ruins. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The Augustinian Abbey in Ballina is now largely in ruins. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The Abbey was a centre for learning and among its most famous priests was Gerard Martyn, an Augustinian, who was appointed Bishop of Killala in 1452.

The Abbey suffered the same fate as the other Monasteries of the Moy at Rosserk, Moyne, and Rathfran when it was closed under the reign of Elizabeth 1. Some of the Friars lived locally in Ardnaree following dissolution and Priors of the Abbey were appointed continuously up to 1835.

The grave with the Celtic Cross to the side of the Abbey door is the burial place of the last Ballina soldier to die in the timeline of World War 1. He was Captain William Walsh, M.R.C.V.S.of Lower Bridge Street, Ballina.

Today, Ballina’s Augustinian Abbey is largely in ruins and only the magnificent doorway is a reminder of its former status and grandeur during a golden era when Irish culture and customs flourished.

The development of the Monasteries of the Moy Walking and Cycling Trail, hopefully, will bring a new lease of life to this ecclesiastical ruin, and, at a future date, the means will be available to carry out some degree of restoration of the old friary.

By Anthony Hickey

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

8 replies on “Story behind Augustinian Abbey in Ballina”

Thanks for your articles, I lived in Ballina for most of my youth and always loved the old buildings. The strange thing is we were never educated on the history right where we live.
The education was great, but amiss in local heritage that would foster local pride.
In the States now and missing the roots we sprung from.
School trips should be walks around the town – instead of money-grabbing take advantage of a bus of kids, paying €10 a pop for superficial nonsense in malls and amusement parks.
How many local schools take day trips on the local history? Maybe I’m gone too Americanized. God forbid!


When I was a boy, living in King Street, I used to go down to the Abbey to play – that was in the 1930s. When you went in the doorway, as seen in the photo, there was a small opening in the wall on the left and there was a stairway going up to the top of the wall and a view out over the river. It’s probably blocked now. Nice photo of the door.


Myself and friends used to go up that stairs in the late 90’s in the old abbey – although it was a tight fit. I think it is blocked now. They want get that ivy off it before it crumbles to the ground.


Many thanks! Most informative and interesting – agree with the post above, all children should be educated on the history of their locality.
Ballina has a wealth of historical legacy!
Thanks for your comment, Anna. There should definitely be a greater emphasis on local history in primary school. I know many teachers put a lot of work into local heritage projects, but the Government support, as in many areas of education, is poor. Anthony


Unfortunately, I never appreciated my surroundings when I lived in Ballina – too busy chasing the boys – left in 1964 to come to England.
But certainly, we were never taught about local heritage at school.
Strange how all this suddenly becomes more important as I get older.
Thanks for your comment, Nuala. We’re so lucky in Ballina and Mayo to have such a wonderful heritage and magnificent scenery to appreciate – no matter what age we are.
Anthony Hickey


Do you know if paupers or ordinary people are buried in the Abbey or would it just be the clergy from the cathedral? I ask this because I was told that my great grandparents were buried there, but I have no way of knowing this.
Tina, as far as I am aware, some local people are buried in the cemetery. Anthony Hickey


Lovely article about this building. We visited Ballina from the U.S. in April 2018, and were struck by the craftsmanship on this structure, particularly the charming entry arch.


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