Sunday, September 20, 2015

Life...and Ross Errilly

During my recent trip to Ireland, I spent some time at Ross Errilly Friary--one of the best-preserved medieval Christian sites in the country.

My mother at the gate to Ross Errilly

Located a couple of miles outside the village of Headford (County Galway), Ross Errilly has a long and traumatic history, and--according to locals--can claim at least one resident ghost.

The friary was founded by Franciscan monks sometime between 1350 and 1460 (depending on who answers the question). It is a "friary" rather than an "abbey" because it never had an abbott (though I'm told it's only writers and medieval scholars who split that hair).

Front of the Friary - note the missing roof (it was originally thatched)

Like many Christian sites across England, Scotland, and Ireland, Ross Errilly suffered greatly during the English Reformation. Between 1538 and 1753 (when the friary was permanently abandoned for the final time) the monks were expelled, arrested, or forced to flee from Ross Errilly on seven different occasions. The friary even had a "visit" from Cromwell's soldiers in 1656 (and it didn't turn out very well for the monks on that occasion, either).

The view through a ruined cloister window.

A less disciplined person might consider that a lot of medieval monk-y business.

Nice image to cancel out the immediately preceding obnoxious pun.

One interesting facet of Ross Errilly is the stone "well" designed to hold live fish destined for the friary's kitchens. The fish were caught in the nearby river, and the well has a drain connecting it to the river to allow for water flow to keep the fish alive until their turn in the pan.

The well remains, though its finned inhabitants (like the tonsured ones) are but a memory.

Medieval fish tank.

The cloister remains mostly intact (except for the roof), and contains at least one haunted corner at the top of a set of stairs. People claim to feel a startling cold when standing there, and some of the photographs taken there contain the shadowy form of a monk who haunts the staircase and the cloister area. (This isn't just conjecture--one of the people in our group has a remarkable image which does, indeed, appear to have a shadowed monk in the background, and I can personally guarantee the shadow wasn't there when the image was taken.)

I didn't photograph the haunted bit--I'm willing to believe in ghosts, if only so they don't feel any need to prove their existence to me--but here's an adjacent portion of the cloister.

This image certified ghost-free.

Though abandoned, the friary is still in occasional use as a burial site--we saw a fresh grave there the day we visited.

The newest grave at Ross Errilly

The people buried within its walls died from many different causes--from persecution to illness and old age--and, most likely, some were murdered for their beliefs.

Even so (and despite its resident haunt) Ross Errilly struck me as a peaceful, lovely, sacred place.

One thing I love about traveling, and visiting historical sites, is the sense of unity I feel with people from different times and places. The men who inhabited Ross Errilly lived in a very different time and place, and yet I can relate to the lovely, peaceful place they built. I can only imagine the lives they lived, but as I walked through the ruined halls, I could almost feel them there--living and working and praying, and seeking to make their world a better place, much as we hope to do today.

The tower and ruined cloister wall.

The time and place in which they lived made that objective difficult--and in some places, it's not all that much easier now.

I wish we could have left the persecution and hate behind at the end of the medieval era, but walking Ross Errilly's hallways and learning about its history left me both humbled and inspired. It also reminded me that no matter how many sites I visit, thousands more remain to be seen--and to have their stories told.

Which is one reason I love being part of the gang at Murder is Everywhere--it lets me see more interesting sites than I could ever see alone!

--Susan, once again waxing poetic about death on a Sunday.


  1. Thanks, Susan, great visit. I find it amazing that people are 'allowed' to bury folks there these days. Are the 'new' burials inside or outside the walls?

    1. The new grave was inside the walls--and actually inside the sanctuary, right in front of the original altar. I think it was a clergyman--most of the people buried inside the church itself were either nobility or important members of the clergy. I wish the stone had been finished and laid--we were curious about who the individual was.

  2. Interesting thoughts, Susan. I often wonder about evolution and civilization. I think the latter is a set of rules that we agree to live by, and meet rather poorly in many cases. As for the former, I'm not so sure that our hard-wired drives are very different from those of Homo naledi, although, of course, I can provide no evidence for that.

    1. Just look around you at just about any news item, Michael. QED.

    2. I agree with you about civilization...and I'm not encouraged by the "evolution" we've managed. I think we've got a long way to go, as a species. Still, there are a few bright spots!

  3. Galway and Connemara are some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, Susan. I do envy you your trip. And it looks like you had some wonderful weather, also! (There's usually a reason Ireland is so green ...)

    I have always loved exploring ruined ancient buildings and envisioning how people lived and worked and died there. Thanks for such a vivid post.

    1. Thanks Zoë! We had an amazing time - we were actually in Galway and Connemara for the entire week (I was there ten days, but I went early). I also apparently brought the California drought along with me, because we had only a few showers, and one rainy afternoon, the entire time. Lucky, indeed!

  4. This post is a reason I love you being part of the gang at Murder is Everywhere--because you let me see more obnoxious puns than (EvKa and) I could ever come up with alone!

    1. Don't go dragging me into this, you're in a cloister of your own, you old devil.