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KNOCKMOY ABBEY, COUNTY GAL WAY.
BY J. A. GLTNN, B.A.
[Submitted August 9, 1904.]
Hthe Abbey Of Knockmoy was founded in 1189 by Cathal Crovedearg O'Conor, King of Connacht, half brother of Roderick O'Conor, last king of Ireland. The story of its foundation is that it was erected to commemorate a great victory gained by Cathal over" the Normans, under Sir Amoricus St. Laurence, at Knockmoy. O'Donovan (" Annals," 1218, p. 194) states that no such battle was fought, and that the whole story is a myth, arising from a misunderstanding of the meaning of the name Knockmoy. Most historians say that the name is Cnoc mBuaidh, or ' the Hill of Slaughter.' This reading of the name would point to the fact that a battle was fought there; and hence probably the story of the battle arose. O'Donovan, however, states that the correct name is Cnoc Muaidhe, or 'the Hill of Muaidh,' i.e. the 'Hill of the Good "Woman,' and that it bore this name centuries before the date of Cathal O'Conor. If we are to believe the ancient annals, Knockmoy was a famous place many centuries before Christ. It is stated that Irial, son of Heremon, the first Milesian king of Ireland, founded a royal fort at Knockmoy, and lived there ten years; and the "Ogygia" says that Gillehad, another king' of Ireland, was slain on the plains of Muaidh.
Knockmoy was founded from the Abbey of Boyle, and was endowed with large grants of lands, including the lordship of Clanfergil, granted by Cornelius of Muinter Moraghan, with the consent of Cathal O'Conor. The lordship of Clanfergil comprised the site of the present towns of Gal way, Roscam, and Oranbeg—in all, twenty-four villages. The deed was witnessed by Catholicus, Archbishop of Tuam; H., Bishop of Annaghdown; L., Bishop of Elphin; and others. The abbey held these lands until 1484, when the Wardenship of Galway was established, and these lands transferred to the "Warden. A curious relic of this ancient connexion between Knockmoy and Galway exists, or did exist, until quite recently. On St. Bernard's Day, the fishermen of the Claddagh journey to the hill of Knockroe, which looks down on the ruins of Knockmoy, to perform the station around the holy well on the summit. To the east of the abbey is a well called after the founder Tubber Cathal; to the north another called Tubber-na-Fion, supposed to have the same effect as wine; and a third called Frinchais, believed to have powerful medicinal properties.
The abbey was not long without its troubles. In 1200 its royal founder, Cathal, was expelled from his kingdom, and whilst its protector was in exile, William Burke plundered the abbey. Cathal was restored in 1202; and Knockmoy enjoyed peace whilst the strong arm was there to protect it.
In 1211 Koderick, son of Roderick O'Conor, King of Ireland, died, and was buried in the abbey; and in 1217 Moy, the wife of the founder, was buried there " with great solemnity.".
Cathal O'Conor himself retired into the monastery, and took the habit of the Order. He died in 1224; and his death was accompanied by strange portents, which are set out in the " Annals of the Four Masters " :-—" An awful and strange shower fell this year in Connacht, extending overHy-Many and Hy-Diarmada, and other districts, followed by terrible diseases and distempers amongst the cattle that grazed on the landswhere the showerfell; and their milk produced extraordinary internal diseases on the persons who drank it. It is no wonder that these ominous signs should appear this year in Connacht, for great was the evil and affliction which was suffered this year—namely, the death of Cathal Crovedearg O'Conor, son of Torloughmore, King of Connacht, a man who, of all others, had destroyed most of the rebels and enemies of Ireland ; he who most relieved the wants of the clergy, the poor, and the destitute; he who of all the Irish nobility that existed in his time had received from God most goodness and greatest virtues, for he kept himself content with one married wife ; and from the period of her death till his own, led a single and virtuous life. During his time the tithes were first collected in Ireland. This just and upright king, this discreet •prince and justly-judging hero, died on the 28th of the summer, on a Monday, in the habit of a grey friar, in the monastery of Knockmoy, which he himself had dedicated to God and granted to the monks, and in which he was interred with due honours and solemnity."
In 1228 the abbey was again plundered, but by whom does not appear.
Twelve years later the ruling abbot got into very serious disgrace, and narrowly escaped being deposed, because he allowed his head to be washed by a woman. As a punishment for his transgression, he got a six clays' penance with two days' bread and water. He was deprived of his abbot's stall for forty days, and a caution was given that no person in holy orders should again be guilty of a like offence.
In 1266 and 1267 four other members of the royal house of O'Conor were buried in the abbey. In 1290 Laurence O'Loughlin, the abbot, was created Bishop of Kilmacduagh.
In 1295, 1401, and 1403 we find records of the interments at the abbey of members of the House of O'Kelly of Hy-Maine.
The interment of 1401 was that of Malachy O'Kelly, chief of HyMaine, whose tomb is to be seen in the chancel to the left as you face the east window. In the recess of the tomb may still be traced a drawing of the Crucifixion. Mr. Martin J. Blake, in his exceedingly valuable Paper on the Charters of Knockmoy, published in the " Journal " of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. i., No. 11., p. 73, gives the Irish inscription on the tomb, and the following translation:—
"FOB MELAGHLIN O'KELLY, KING OF HI MANY, AND FINrOLA, DAUGHTER OF o'CONOR, MATHEW O'anlt ERECTED THIS NOUTMENT."
The references to the abbey from that date until 1542, -when the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII., are exceedingly few.
In 1542 Hugh O'Kelly was abbot in commendam, which leads us to believe that he was a layman, to whom the control of the temporalities of the abbey had been entrusted, according to a custom fairly common at the time. By deed dated 24th of May, 1542, Hugh O'Kelly surrendered the abbey with all its possessions to Henry VIII., renounced the Pope, and got from the king a grant of the abbey and its landB to himself for life on condition of furnishing sixty horse, a battle of gallowglasses, and sixty foot-soldiers for service in Connacht, and twelve horse and twenty foot-soldiers for service out of Connacht. Hugh O'Kelly died in 1566. After passing through various hands, the abbey was assigned in 1622 by Sir Dudley Norton to Valentine Blake, who got a charter from King James I. creating the lands a manor, with a court attached, with power to hold a weekly market every Tuesday, and a yearly fair on the 10th and 11th of August. The lands remained in the possession of this family until 1766, when they passed to Anstace Blake, daughter of Sir Ulick Blake. She married Francis Foster, who took the name Blake-Foster, and their descendants held the lands until 1855, when they were purchased by the late Martin Joseph Blake, uncle of the present owner, Robert Blake, Esq., of Ballyglunen.
Mr. Martin J. Blake, in the Paper from which I have already quoted, deals with five charters of Knockmoy, which are in his possession. The first of these charters is dated 1383, and is a lease made by the abbot, Dermot O'Conor, to Henry Blake, of Rent Tithes of Dowlis for twenty years. The second charter is dated 1482, and was made by John de Burgo, <l Commendatory" of Knockmoy, to Valentine Blake, confirming previous grants and leases made by the abbots to the ancestors of Valentine Blake.
The third charter was made in the year the abbey was dissolved, 1542, and is really an award made by the Archbishop of Tuam and Edmund Lynch in reference to a dispute between the abbot, Hugh O'Kelly, and Nicholas Blake. The latter complained that the abbot exacted double the rent payable out of the lands mentioned in the first charter, and the Archbishop decided in favour of Blake. The fourth and fifth charters were both made in 1557. The one is the appointment by Odo O'Keally, the abbot, and the prior, of Nicholas Blake, as their attorney, to collect the tithes, &c, within and without the town of Galway. The other charter is a mortgage of portion of the tithes of the abbey to Nicholas Blake to secure the repayment of 6£ marks lent to the abbey by Blake.
The most interesting features in the abbey are the fast disappearing frescoes in the chancel. Wilde, in the "Catalogue of the Antiquities of the Eoyal Irish Academy," page 316, gives the following interesting particulars :—
"One ancient specimen of native art still remains in the country—the curious fresco painted on the wall of the abbey of Knockmoy, near Tuam, County of Galway, a fullsized copy of which, made by Mr. MacManus for the Dublin Exhibition in 1853, now hangs in the tea-room of the Academy. It consists of two portions. The lower represents the oft-repeated scene of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, naked, bound to a tree, and pierced with arrows, with two archers in the act of drawing their bows. To the right of the centre there is a very fine sitting figure, representing the Almighty, having on the head a nimbus, resembling one of our golden semilunar ornaments; the right hand is raised in the act of benediction, and in the left is some square object, believed to be part of a cross. Beyond this figure is an imperfect one of a recording angel, holding a balance, but its outlines are much effaced. An opinion, first promulgated by Ledwich, has long existed that this scene represents the execution of young Diarmaid, the son of MacMorrough, King of Leinster, when he was a hostage with Roderic O'Conor, King of Connaught, at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1172. When, however, the question was brought under the notice of the Acodemy in 1853, Dr. Todd showed clearly that the subject of the picture was the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, and not the execution of one of the hostages at Athlone, 230 years before the picture was painted.
"In the upper compartment there are six crowned figures—three skeletons, and three draped kings—the popular medieval Moralite, entitled ' Ze dit det trots mortt et des trois rifs,' but believed by Irish antiquaries to represent living and extinct members of the O'Conor line. It has been proved that this work was executed about the year 1400, by Connor O'Eddichan, a native artist, for Malachy O'Kelly, chieftain of Hy-many, who also caused a monument to be erected in that abbey to the memory of himself and his wife, Finola. . . .
"The archers are clad in tight yellow hose or braccse, and short greenish jackets, fastened round the waist with a belt, which also holds the quiver; one is bare-headed, and the other wears a small conical head-dress, known as the Phrygian cap, in which the Anglo-Saxon peasantry are occasionally represented. Their bows resemble those used in England in the eighth century, in which the strings are not made fast at the extremities, but permitted to play at some distance from them. This figure measures 5 feet 3 inches. The left arm and part of the bow have been effaced.
"The toyal personages, of whom the central figure, 5 feet 11 inches high, including the crown, is represented above, are also obliterated. They are dressed mostly alike; each wears a loose green tunic, with a white border, gathered round the waist by a belt, and also a short green cloak, together with a thick roll of stuff round the neck. The artist evidently intended to represent a hawking-scene. In this figure there are indistinct indications of the band which was held on the left wrist, while the right hand appears to have been raised, as if in the act of caressing it. The dress of the third king, who is armed with a sword, differs slightly from that of his companions; he appears to have just flown his hawk, a fragment of the painting of which still remains. Each of the figures in the painting—kings and archers—wears precisely the same description of buskin or half boot, slit at the side."