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Ross Abbey
History Of A Franciscan Friary

Ross Abbey, locally known as Ross Errilly Friary, is the best preserved Franciscan friary in Ireland.

The history of Ross Errilly is closely linked to Ireland’s history as a nation- a history of centuries of oppression of the Catholic faith and of Irish people secretly practising their religion and secretly supporting religious communities.

View of Ross Errilly Friary, County Galway, Ireland.

Ross Errilly is a 15th century Franciscan Friary near Headford in County Galway. In our opinion, it is one of the top tourist attractions in the area.

It has left a superb ruin with many interesting features, well worth an afternoon's excursion from Galway City.

Ross Errilly is considered the best preserved ruin of a friary in Ireland.

Click here for visitor information on the site which includes our review and special tips.

Family memorial plaque at  Errilly Friary.Ross Abbey, County Galway, memorial plaque

Who Sponsored the Friary?

The friary never had an abbot, yet it is called ‘abbey’ by the locals who have a long history of supporting the friars who were resident here. Its real name is Ross Errilly Friary, home to Franciscan friars from at least the 15th century until long after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII- well into the 18th century.

The friaries main sponsors and supporters were the Norman De Burgho family, one of the 'Galway Tribes' who later anglicised their name as ‘Burke’.

The unusual internal cloiser at Ross Errilly Friary, County Galway, Ireland.

First Evidence

The first recorded mention of the abbey can be found in the "Annals of the Four Masters". The founding date of the friary is given here as 1351. The Friary was founded by Archbishop of Tuam Co. Galway Dr. Malachy McHugh who wa a member of the Franciscan order and he died in 1349.

The next documentary evidence of the monastery dates from around 1469 when a local man made it a benefactor in his will. There are claims dating its foundation to the mid 14th century, but if there was any previous building on the site it was either erased or incorporated into the present building in a 15th century style.

From the onset of the reformation on the monastery underwent a turbulent existence. The friars would have lived under constant threat of eviction or persecution.

Narrow doorway at Ross Errilly Friary.


At one point, in 1538, many monks were killed while 200 were imprisoned by the English authorities. After each act of eviction at the hand of the authorities, the monks were eventually able to move back into the building under the support of the DeBurgo’s.

In 1612 again there was an order right from the top, from the Lord Deputy of Ireland Lord Chichester, to evict the monks and to demolish the building. The monks were warned and managed to save themselves and the most precious items.

In 1656 Ross Abbey was destroyed, defiled and looted by Cromwellian soldiers. Thankfully the 140 or so monks had been warned and were able to flee.

Ross Abbey, County Galway, rear gable

Read More About Irish Heritage Sites

Find visitor information here on Ross Errilly including our opinion and tips.

Find out about Clonmacnoise, the Rock of Cashel and Boyle Abbey, also early Christian sites.

The Decline Of Ross Abbey

After that Ross Abbey was occupied on and off until around 1753 when it finally had to be abandoned.  Practicing the Catholic faith was illegal under the penal laws, and the penalties were severe. It came to the stage where local support for the monks while they were living in the building was no longer viable. The monks then built huts on a small river island nearby.

After being abandoned, the building was still used as a cemetery for a handful of families. You can find a good few memorial plaques in the walls with the families’ crests, see the one higher up on this page.

Hi there, hope you enjoyed this article on the medieval Ross Errilly Friary in County Galway, Ireland.

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Regards, Susanna and Colm

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