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 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.