Late 12th century Cistercian Abbey

On the northern edge of the hard, limestone “karst” landscape known as the Burren is this lovely fertile valley where the Cistercian monks chose to construct an abbey which would be isolated yet promote self-sustenance. Corcomroe Abbey is said to have been built of local limestone by Donal Mór Ua Briain late in the 12th century. He was also responsible for several other important churches in Thomond which include St. Flannans Cathedral in Killaloe, St. Mary's Cathedral in Limerick, and Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary. The church is cruciform in plan although the north and south transepts are quite short. There was a chapel in each transept, and a thick nearly-central wall topped by a small tower.

It was customary of the Cistercians to divide their churches into two parts by a screen across the nave. This screen and tower were most likely constructed 14-16th century. The west gable, (shown in the middle photo near the bottom of the page), has two tall lancet windows over a pointed-arch door, while the east gable, has 3 tall lancet windows topped by single lancet windows. The roof above the choir contains some finely carved rib vaulting in the Romanesque style, while capitals (some of which are shown below left) on arches leading to transept chapels are finely decorated including lotus leaves, human masks and dragons' heads. Situated on the floor of the presbytery is a stunning collection of graveslabs, see image at bottom of this page.

From the southeast

From the southwest

Capitals Carvings

Capital head

In the north wall of the choir there is a tomb-niche holding a recumbent effigy of King Conor na Siudaine Ua Briain, benefactor of the abbey and grandson of the founder, who died in 1268. The tomb is one of the very few examples remaining of an Irish Chieftain. The effigy is believed to be a copy of the Felim O’Conor (d. 1265) figure at Roscommon Friary, but it is not as sophisticated as the Roscommon carving. The King ruled from 1242-1268.


Tomb and Sedilia

Next to the tomb is a double Sedilia. Sadly, nothing remains of the cloister arcade, but it is clear that the abbey was once a magnificent example of the best architecture of the time. The monastery fits superbly into the surrounding landscape and is one of the Burrens many treasures.

Some of the graveslabs on the presbytery floor

Situated: From Ballyvaughan travel east on the N67 towards Galway. After 7 kilometres turn right onto the L1016 after 200 metres turn left. The Abbey is at the end of this road.

Discovery Map 51: M 2944 0899. Last Visited Apr 2012.

Longitude: 9° 3' 15" W

Latitude: 53° 7' 37" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

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