Kilmacduagh

Kilmacduagh Monastery is a ruined abbey near the town of Gort in County Galway, Ireland. It was the birthplace of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh. It was reportedly founded by Saint Colman, son of Duagh in the 7th century, on land given him by his cousin King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht. Kilmacduagh Monastery is located in a small village of the same name, about 5 km from the town of Gort.

The name of the place translates as "church of Duagh's son". It was reportedly the 7th century Saint Colman, son of Duagh who established a monastery here on land given to him by his cousin King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht, who had a fortified dwelling near what is today Dunguaire Castle.

Round tower

At almost 34 metres in height, Ireland's tallest round tower totally dominates the monastic complex at Kilmacduagh. We could see the tower from a good distance away as we approached the site. This rather unique monument has a number of very distinctive features. There are a total of 11 angle-headed windows present in the tower, some of which have been restored. Probably the most obvious feature of the tower is the very noticeable lean, over 1/2 metre, towards the south-west. The conical cap, which collapsed in 1859 and restored in 1878, overhangs the drum slightly.

Doorway

The walls of the tower are believed to be almost 2 metres thick at the base. Because of the thickness of the walls and the height of the tower we were not surprised to learn that the monument has a diameter of over 5.5 metres. Amazingly the foundations are only 60 centimetres deep. Another rather striking feature is the height of the doorway. It stands at over 17 metres above ground level. This raises the unanswered question about access to the tower -obviously they did not use a 17 metre high wooden ladder and it would have been quite a feat to scale the tower using a rope ladder. Sadly the weather changed for the worst during our visit, but hopefully we will drop by Kilmacduagh again in the near future. As with most dates from this period, the year in which the monastery was founded is somewhat uncertain, but apparently the early 7th century is deemed the most likely.[2]

Colman was abbot/bishop at the monastery until his death. Of his successors, only one appears in the annals by name, one Indrect (died 814), before the arrival of the English.[2]

This site was of such importance in medieval times that it became the centre of a new diocese, or Bishop's seat, the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, in the 12th century. The monastery, because of its wealth and importance, was plundered several times in the 13th century.[citation needed]

A monastery for the Augustinian order was constructed here in the 13th century under Bishop Maurice (died 1283). During the reformation this was granted to the Earl of Clanricarde.[2]

The round tower was repaired in 1879 under the supervision of Sir Thomas Deane,[3] with financial support from Sir William Henry Gregory of Coole Park.

Today

The ruins of the monastery are sometimes referred to as "the seven Churches". However, not all of these buildings were actually churches, none of them dates back to the 7th century. The buildings are:[3]

  • The abbey church, former cathedral, or Teampuil Mor, in the graveyard
  • The "Church of Mary" or Teampuil Muire (also known as "The Lady's Church"), east of the road
  • The "Church of St. John the Baptist" or Teampuil Eoin Baiste, to the north of the graveyard
  • The "Abbot's House" or Seanclogh, further north, close to the road
  • Teampuil Beg Mac Duagh, south of the graveyard
  • The "Monastery Church" or "O'Heyne's Church" (or "O'Heyne's Abbey"), ca. 180 metres north-east of the graveyard (13th century)
  • The round tower, roughly 15 metres south-west of the cathedral

The round tower is notable both as a fine example of this particularly Irish feature but also because of its noticeable lean, over half a metre from the vertical. The tower is over 30 metres tall (111 feet and 11 inches, according to measurements taken in 1879),[3] with the only doorway some 7 metres above ground level. The tower probably dates from the 10th century.

Legends

According to legend, Saint Colman MacDuagh was walking through the woods of the Burren when his girdle fell to the ground. Taking this as a sign, he built his monastery on that spot. The girdle was said to be studded with gems and was held by the O'Shaughnessys centuries later, along with St. Colman's crozier, or staff. The girdle was later lost, but the crozier came to be held by the O'Heynes and may now be seen in the National Museum of Ireland.

It is said that, in the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, no man will ever die from lightning. This legend was put to the test when one unlucky soul was struck, but the force of the bolt made him fly through the air into neighbouring County Clare, where he died.