The Mysticism of Ross Errilly Friary

Finding Ireland in a Frolic and Detour

Driving from Cong to Galway, two visitors spot what looks like a castle in the distance, one that does not appear in any of their guidebooks. They decide to investigate. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Driving from Cong to Galway, two visitors spot what looks like a castle in the distance, one that does not appear in any of their guidebooks. They decide to investigate. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Returning to Galway from a day trip to Cong (where The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne, was filmed), we cannot help but notice in the distance what appears to be a very big castle. Somewhere on this weeklong roadtrip, we stop making many specific plans and allow ourselves to stray when we see something that may prove interesting. So we see this castle and we make our way to it, driving along a very narrow (one-car) lane and on a dirt road to see what we can see.

A warning to keep the gate closed doesn't mean the place itself is closed, right? Already, this place called Ross Errilly is mysterious. Photo credit:: M. Ciavardini

A warning to keep the gate closed doesn’t mean the place itself is closed, right? Already, this place called Ross Errilly is mysterious. Photo credit:: M. Ciavardini

For us, Ireland is the sum of small things, the sheep, the abandoned castle/abbey/friary, the old as old pub, the elderly man wearing a kilt and nail polish, the bullet holes on the post office building. It is an understanding of another British colony, one that took much longer to get free. It is an understanding of the colonizer that ripped the place of its resources, of its oak trees, like it did in Belize with the mahogany trees. There are signs everywhere about the mess that English leader Oliver Cromwell wrought—apparently, it was not enough that the Church of England came into existence; the one with Roman Catholic loyalties apparently had to be obliterated.

Ross Errilly was a Franciscan friary originally built in the 1300s. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Ross Errilly was a Franciscan friary originally built in the 1300s. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

So after making our way up the dirt drive to what we will come to learn is the Ross Errilly friary, we blow right past a little sign warning us to keep the gate closed and hope that the place is both open and open to the public.

Sheep graze on the grounds of Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary in County Galway, Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Sheep graze on the grounds of Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary in County Galway, Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

We soon find that it is, although it is spooky and unmanned. The wind whistles through this place, playing a haunting tune. Covered by a thatched roof at one time, it is now subject to the elements. Even so, another sign informs us, this is a particularly well-preserved friary, one that was founded in 1351 and then enlarged in 1498, and that Franciscan monks were expelled repeatedly, once by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1656.

A seemingly modern Jesus peers down at visitors to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary in County Galway, Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A seemingly modern Jesus peers down at visitors to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary in County Galway, Ireland. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Quickly joining us on our visit is what seems to be a proprietary neighbor, someone who seems concerned by our presence here. But she leads us on a tour and shows us the kitchen area, where the monks kept an indoor water tank to keep live fish before cooking them, presumably in the nearby fireplace. A river, our guide explains, used to come right up to the friary, so the monks could net the fish and place them in the well right in their kitchen. It was a stream-to-table sustainable existence. We also see a figure of Jesus peaking down at us from above.

Sheep, spray painted to show their owners, graze outside the friary.

This becomes my favorite place in Ireland, one that we do not plan for, do not know exists, until we stumble upon it.

For Bashful Adventurers

  • Parking is available at the friary.
  • Sometimes you just need to take a chance. Start following the castle signs that you see along roads in Ireland and take your own frolic and detour. We did not see any sign for Ross Errilly, but castle signs led us to other good places, although some were not open to the public.
  • Driving in Ireland takes a certain amount of courage. First, driving on the left side of the road is an adjustment, and then drivers just might need to pray for the best when making their way on a lane where there is no room for oncoming traffic. We survived, and, more importantly, are grateful to have made the journey.

—Lori Tripoli

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