Donegal Franciscan Friary

Site Plan
Donegal Franciscan Friary Abbey O'Donnell Tirconnell Tyrconnell Ruin Medieval Plan

The nave is the area in the western part of the main body of the church where the congregation gathered to hear sermons preached and to attend Mass.

A view of what remains of the interior of the nave, with only its north wall still standing. Nothing remains of the west gable and of the central tower that used to stand between nave and chancel.

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Towers served as belfries, ringing out the hours of the Divine Offices, which called the religious community to the church. They were generally built over crossing or the intersection of the nave and chancel.

There is almost no remains above ground of the tower that stood between the nave and the chancel. Its extant on the side of the chancel is hypothetical, but its general position indicates that the friars would have accessed the south transept through the tower, with a doorway likely giving them access to the cloister on the opposite side.

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The chancel is located in the east end of a church and is reserved for the use of the clergy and choir, and is where the altar is located.

A view of the east window of the chancel, looking through the chancel towards the nave. The water beyond is where the River Eske meets the Atlantic Ocean. The friary would have been an impressive sight in its heyday, welcoming ships as they arrived into Donegal harbour.

A view into the chancel, looking towards the nave. The ruins of the friary are part of the modern cemetery, continuing the tradition of local people being buried in and around the friary church, which would have begun as early as the foundation of the friary in the fifteenth century.

The remains of this piscina, which was originally comprised of two pointed arches resting on a free-standing column, is all that is left of the chancel’s liturgical furniture.

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The aisle is an area that runs parallel to the nave or chancel, separated from either by a row of arches and columns known as an arcade. It often contained side altars and was used for liturgical processions.

Donegal Franciscan Friary Abbey O'Donnell Tirconnell Tyrconnell Ruin Medieval Plan

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The transept is the space which intersects the nave and chancel, giving the church its characteristic cruciform appearance. These rectangular extensions to the north and south of the church provided space for additional altars dedicated to various saints and serving as mortuary, burial or chantry chapels for the community’s benefactors. In a mendicant context, only one transept arm is found, in most cases abutting the nave, or the nave and the tower between the chancel and the nave, known as a ‘one armed transept.’

All that remains of the south transept is its south gable. The chapel to the east is completely gone. It gives a good idea of the damage the friary endured during the 17th century. The destruction of the friary was largely a result of its occupation by English forces under Niall Garbh O'Donnell in 1601, when large parts were damaged in an explosion.

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The chapel is a small separate space (usually off the aisle or transept) which contained a secondary altar, often dedicated to a particular saint. They were usually erected by members of a specific family as a private chapel.

In addition to the south transept, a chapel projected off its east wall. Nothing survives of it and modern graves stand in its place. Its existence is known only because remains of its south wall did exist in the early twentieth century when a survey of the friary was carried out and a ground plan drawn by architectural historian Harold Leask.

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The cloister garth was the uncovered central space within a cloister. The cloister garth is surrounded by the cloister arcade and the cloister walk or alley.

A view of the cloister garth and of the ruins of the church beyond, showing the east side of the cloister arcade, which survives most extensively.

A view of the northern arcade of the cloister. Donegal friary had what is called an 'integrated cloister', in which the top floor of the domestic ranges extended over the cloister walk, which was vaulted.

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The cloister walk (or cloister alley) was the covered walkway that surrouded the cloister garth, connecting the domestic ranges to the church. It was often used as a burial place for members of the order or for important benefactors.

A view of where the eastern cloister walk would have been, between the cloister arcade and the east range. The cloister was integrated, meaning that the upper floors of the domestic ranges extended over the cloister walk, which would have been vaulted.

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The sacristy (or vestry) is a room off the church, where vestments, church furnishings and altar plate are stored and where the clergy robe for church services.

The sacristy would have stood to the north of the chancel, extending eastward from the east range of the domestic buildings.

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The east range contained the rooms essential for conducting monastic life, such as the sacristy, chapter house, calefactory and dormitories above. The range was connected to the church via the chancel or transept.

The dormitory was the room in the upper floor of the east range where the monks, friars or canons slept in common. In the later Middle Ages some dormitories were partitioned into cubicles to provide privacy.

A view of the eastern arcade of the integrated cloister and the northern wall of the chancel (to the left of the photograph). The impact of centuries of subsequent burials in the friary is clear from the raised ground level and the reduced height of the cloister arches.

A view of the south end of the east range, looking at the archway that led from the north cloister walk into the east range. Next to it (to the left on the picture) was a flight of stairs leading up from the cloister to the friars’ dormitory on the upper floor of the range.

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The south range (although sometimes located to the north of the cloister) of domestic buildings contained the rooms where the religious community dined, including the refectory, kitchen and a warming room known as a calefactory.

A section of the north side of the cloister arcade is the dominant surviving structure in the picture. Most of the north range of the cloister, which would have probably included the refectory and the kitchen, was lost to erosion of the shoreline, which you can see to the right of the photograph.

Another view of the north range’s integrated cloister arcade, which stands isolated, as the only extensive remains of this domestic range, most of which was lost to coastal erosion.

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The west range of domestic buildings was where the community interacted with the secular world, where visitors and alms were received. In Benedictine and Cistercian communities, the west range was reserved for the lay brothers.

A view of the south end of the west range, this wall section abutting the north nave wall being all that is left of it. It forms a passage which likely used to accommodate a flight of stairs leading up to the upper floor of the range, which housed another dormitory, or perhaps a guest room. There was another staircase at the north end of the range which gave access to the upper floor from both the west range and the north range.

A closer look at the passage where a staircase probably led up to the upper floor of the west range, at its south end. The wall was reinforced during restoration work by the addition of a square pillar.

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Red Hugh O’Donnell (1429-1505) was the son of Niall Garbh O’Donnell (1380-1429), chief of Tír Conaill.

He spent much of his life engaged either in civil war in Tír Conaill with other members of the O’Donnell family or in conflict with the O’Neills of Tyrone over control of Connacht and Ulster.

He died in 1505 and was buried in Donegal friary.

Maurice Harron's 'Red Hugh O'Donnell Commemorative' from 2007.

The bronze statue stands on the pier beside the friary O'Donnell founded, looking out to the Atlantic to the west.

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