This 15th century Abbey can trace its foundation back to Sir Richard De Burgo (Burke) – Lord Mac William Oughter – Chief of the Burkes of Turlough who was known in Gaelic as “Risteard an Cuarscidh” literally translated as ‘Richard of the curved shield’. Richard in his elder years allocated land and monies to the Order of St Dominic for the construction of the abbey. Richard resigned his Lordship and took the habit under the Dominican Order. He resided here until his death four years later in 1473.
Initially the Abbey was a timber construction however, the Archbishop of Tuam Donal Ó Murry granted permission for the founding of the stoned walled Abbey. Since Pope Boniface VIII, some 100 years earlier, it was prohibited to accept the site of a religious house without prior permission of the pope. A directive which the founder and the Archbishop were unaware of. Nevertheless, in a papal bull dated the 9th of February 1486, Pope Innocent VII declared the foundation as being “irregular”. However, he gave permission for the erection of the Abbey which included dormitories, cloisters, cemetery, refectory along with a church, its steeple and bell. He pardoned all those that commenced on the construction prior to his approval.
The next century saw the Abbey flourish. Its peaceful community taking on the role as pastors, physicians and hospitallers for the wider parish. Ireland at this time saw a big religious revival with the greatest progress being made in Connaught.
In 1563, at the young age of 14, Honoria De Burgo (Nora Burke) daughter of Richard an Ierain (Iron Dick) received the habit of the 3rd order of St Dominic in the order of St Catherine of Sienna from Fr Thaddeus Ó Duanne. Despite her father who was the second husband of Grace Ó Malley (Granuaile) himself having great wealth and four castles in the area, she built a small convent close to the abbey in which she lived with her fellow sisters.
Some time around 1580 a band of British Soldiers came to disturb the peaceful convent of Burrishoole. She fled seeking sanctuary to the mountains. However, the soldiers who gave pursuit and had almost seized her, when their path was restrained by a fast flowing water which formed an island around the now praying Sister Honoria. The soldiers abandoned their pursuit allowing sister Honoria to return to the convent once it was safe to do so.
Sister Honoria De Burgo sustained three broken ribs and was stripped bare along with the other three. She was tossed into the boat like a bundle of sticks and left to die. However, she made it back to her beloved convent on the back of the maid before dying. Sister Magaen who managed to flee her captors and upon reaching the lake shore headed for the trees in an attempt to conceal herself. She sought refuge in the hollow of a tree, but was found dead the following day. The sisters were buried together.
This thankfully was the last of the fighting that took place at the abbey. The 17th century saw many friars leave the country. Some were ordered, some were forced. Those that remained lived in simple thatched cottages in close proximity to the Abbey which was diminishing as the years passed. In 1793 the roof collapsed at the Abbey.
The Dominican friars that remained were detested by the rule at that time. They wore plain clothes and showed little regard for the unjust laws of the time. Once such law forbid the opening of schools. A law which the friars defied by opening a school in the nearby woods in 1642 and it remained open until 1967. Records from 1756 show that the community at the Abbey consisted of 5 friars of the Dominican order Fr Francis Mac Donnell (prior), Fr Anthony Mac Donnell (sub prior), Fr Dominic Barret, Fr Dominic Healy and the youngest Fr Francis Bourke. Fr John Mac Donnell was the last prior 1798-1800.
However local accounts speak of a Friar Horan who lived in the vicinity of the Abbey during the early parts of the 19th century. We do know that the last friar to take the habit for Burrishoole was a native of Galway by the name of John Hughes in the year 1862 at Esker Co. Monaghan.
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