Murgagagh Abbey is only a short distance from the village Shrule in Co. Mayo. This ruinous abbey and graveyard is also known as ‘Killeenbrenan of the Virgin’ and ‘Kille Abbey’. Many aspects of the history of Murgagagh have been forgotten but we do know that it was founded around 1428 on the site of an earlier church.
The abbey was possibly the first and most important houses of the Third Order of St Francis to be established in Ireland, and was built with the help of the De Burgo family.
The order is thought to have been established by St Francis himself for married men and women who wished for a Franciscan life.
‘Notes on the early history of the dioceses of Tuam, Killala and Achonry’ written by Hubert Thomas Knox in 1904 mentions the site which already must have been in a very dilapidated state, “Murgagach is Irish for cracked, having a crack or chink, and is a descriptive name.”
Much of what we do know about Murgagagh comes from folklore, at the wall furthest from the front gate there is a hole in the stone about a meter and a half above ground level. Legend states that if you stand back seven steps, close your eyes and walk towards the wall with your arms outstretched, if you manage to get your hand into the hole within three attempts you will have a wish granted or will have secured your place in heaven, depending on which legend you follow!
The ‘Schools Collection’ from the 1930s, one of the most important sources we have about local folklore, tells us several tales of ghosts and shadowy figures seen in and around the abbey. One story from the folklore collection tells us that during the time of Cromwell’s conquests of Ireland the monks got a tip off about the approaching forces and headed towards Shrule but not before burying their chalices and other artefacts. A local man named Tom O’ Toole said that the finest chalice had been buried under the gate of the abbey and remains there to this day! Shortly after the monks left the roof of the abbey was blown off by cannon fire.
Murgagagh Abbey is a beautiful place to visit however it is very overgrown and its hard to know how long its crumbling walls can continue to stand.
GPS: 53.53966, -9.11238
The following is a transcript of an in depth study of Kill Abbey by Yvonne McDermott
By kind permission of the author Yvonne McDermott
Click to download this article relating to Kill Abbey which appeared in Cathair na Mart magazine Vol 29 Killeenbrenan_friary
Here is one of the local stories relating to the Abbey – 1930’s
Kille Abbey is now surrounded by a trim high wall, built by the Land Commission some years ago. There was also a new entrance built, as it has been used as a graveyard for several years. Still the old road leading to it was untouched, as it leads right up to the grand old archway which is still to be seen.
But even though there is a nice new wall built around it, there are many large rocks and boulders, some hidden and some half hidden by over growing grass, in the surrounding fields.
It is apparent that the abbey and monastery covered a larger space of ground, but some of the ruins are covered with grass and weeds. There are ruins in the field next to the abbey. The monks who lived there belonged to the Benedictine Order. It is said that there were so many monks in the abbey that when they were forced to leave in Cromwellian times, the first monk was in Shrule when the last monk locked the door of the abbey. They were warned of the coming of Cromwell’s soldiers by some good Protestants of the district. So they carried all their sacred vessels with them, and they had only left a short time
when the roof was blown clean off the Abbey. It is said that the cannon was set on a hill in Dooley’s wood. There are lights supposed to be seen shining from the windows of the Abbey on very dark nights. An old monk used to be seen walking around the Abbey carrying a lantern.
The Abbey is several centuries old, and even the oldest person in our neighbourhood cannot tell much of its history. Stories about people who saw ghosts when passing by the Abbey are frequently told in our village.
One very bright night, as a man was passing along on the road near the Abbey, he saw a person in white come out of the ruins.. He stood still, and kept his eyes glues to the spot. Then he saw a woman walk swiftly away from the graveyard, and across the fields.
Another bright night a man went to fish for eels in a deep pool near the Abbey. This pool is called “Poll an Teampuill”, as it is near where the ruins of the old chapel are still to be seen. It is said that the monks used it as a fishing pond, and we now own the field where the old pool is.
Well, this man went to fish for eels,and when he came to the pond it was so calm that he thought it looked like glass. Then when he was about to begin to fish he heard a voice saying: “Come here, come here, and you will get plenty of eels”. But, on looking around, he could see no one near him. Then he listened and he heard the voice once more. This time he felt that there was a supernatural being near him. Then he listened, and he heard it once more. So he went home, too frightened to catch any eels. People afterwards said it must have been a spirit in the waters of the pool.
Long ago there used to be one or two large wooden gates across the side roads So it happened that there were two or three gates across this road near the Abbey. There were a few men coming home from a wake one night, and just before they came to the gate, it swung open. Then when they passed through, it closed again swiftly. The strange part of it was that no person could be seen near the gate. But there was a person (a woman) passing by very late another night, and she saw a strange figure standing at the gate, and she was very frightened.
Long ago when Cromwell was persecuting monks and priests, and burning and plundering Abbeys, very often the priests and monks had to bury sacred vessels in order that they might save them from the hands of the Cromwellian soldiers.
We have heard that the monks of Kille Abbey were warned of their danger beforehand. So they had barely time to get away, and to carry away the sacred Vessels. But there was a beautiful chalice which the last monk was carrying, and he just had time to reach the gate of the Abbey. There he buried it beneath the gate, where it is supposed to be to the present day.
(This story was told by a man named Tom O’Toole who lives near Kille Abbey.)
Kill, Co. Mayo
Kill, Co. Mayo