Rosserk Friary
At a Glance
County Mayo
OS Map 24
OS Coordinate G 125 325
Archaeological Inventory
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Irish Churches Home

Rosserk Friary, Co. Mayo

Location:From Ballina take R 314 north toward Killala approximately 5.5 km. to a side road on the right (it is the 2nd crossroad on R 314 from Ballina. At the next intersection (approx. 1.5 km) turn left onto another side road. Turn down the first lane on the right (about 2 km). Rosserk Friary is at the end of the lane. There is parking available for several cars, at least.

Features: Built on the estuary of the River Moy and surrounded by farmland, Rosserk's interesting romanesque doorway faces west (inland) and leads into a wide nave with an unobstructed view of the elaborate-traceried east window. The church is cruciform in plan with a tall battlemented and string-coursed bell tower dividing the nave and the chancel by gothic arches. The hole for the bell rope is quite visible. Each of these arches terminates in a point below which are carved (respectively) an angel, a lion, and two different foliated designs. The rectangular south transept also contains a very nice window with tracery work, though not as elaborate as the east window. The domestic parts of the friary are joined to the church on the north wall, where the community ate, slept and cooked on the upper level. The lower level contained barrel-vaulted rooms to either side of the courtyard. These rooms may have served as classrooms, storage or workshops for the Third Order.

On the south wall of the chancel is a rather unusual double piscina. A piscina is a special basin for washing items used in the church service that has a drain directly into the ground. This double piscina is framed by two small gothic arches. To either side of the apex of the right arch can be found carvings of two angels holding some of the instruments of Christ's passion. On the left- most pillar here, is the rare carving of a roundtower. On the far right pillar, an animal (easily seen from the side, but not from in front of the piscina) is carved, the head is now defaced, but it resembles a lion or an ox, perhaps. The lovely but worn romanesque doorway has faint buy easily discernible flower designs at the base of its columns.

Comments: This is quite a gem, with it's interesting carvings in expected and unexpected places. There are other enticing architectural features which make it worth the trip down the very narrow lane. The setting is quite serene and the view is wonderful, even on a windy overcast "spitting" day.

History:Duald McFirbis wrote in the mid 17th century that Rosserk derived its name from Searc, a miracle-working daughter of Cairbre, son of Amhalgaidh, who blessed the 'baile' and the 'ros' which are at the mouth of the river Moy. A church on this site is mentioned in a list dated 1198 and Petty marked it on his map of Mayo in the mid-sixteenth century. In Ireland, Franciscan Third Order Regular (TOR) was made up of both clerics and non-clerical members. Elsewhere, females could join in such a community, but here in the west of Ireland, the community was wholly male. The religious endeavored to work in the community but their speciality was teaching. Each monastery had its own "free school" for boys and concentrated on the cultural and local interests of Gaelic Ireland. Thus, a major preservation of the history, songs, sagas, and stories of heroes was preserved. Rosserk was built sometime before 1441, a date established by references from that time. It was a thriving community until the Reformation. This abbey was destroyed in the 1590s by Queen Elizabeth's governor of Connacht, Sir Richard Bingham.

Other Items of Interest:Partway down the lane that leads to Rosserk is a hand-wrought sign pointing to a holy well. Tobar Mhuire is unusual in that it is housed in a small church-like structure which was built over it in 1798 by local landlord John Lynott. August of 2007 saw a rededication of Tobar Mhuire and a major renovation of the pathway leading to the well and the shrine itself. The pathway had become a tangled overgrown mess which made passage to the well rather difficult. Plans were for a small carpark along the road here as well, but whether it has been completed is unknown.

  © 2005-2007 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.