Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary

Site 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 inside the nave of the church, where the local population would have gathered to attend services and hear sermons from the friars, probably dispensed in the gallery accommodated above the tower arch. The tower, as the lateral aisle separated from the nave by an arcade just seen on the right of the picture, were additions to the original, single-aisled nave.

A view of the east end of the nave from the transept, showing the secondary altars placed on either side of the tower arch, a common occurrence in mendicant churches.

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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.

To the south of the nave is a lateral aisle and a large ‘double transept’ which more than doubles the space of the nave. These are later additions to the church, but the absence of any particular mouldings or sculptural details makes it impossible to date them precisely. The arcade separating the nave from the aisle and transepts has round-headed arches instead of the typical Gothic pointed arches, which is a feature of late Irish Gothic.

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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.’

These two structures with individual pitched roofs make up the so-called ‘double transept’ abutting the nave and aisle to the south. They were later additions to the church, and the result of two separate campaign of construction, starting with the eastern structure. Their construction demonstrate the popularity and prosperity of the community, successful in attracting important patronage from local families such as the Clanricarde Burkes, who were probably responsible for the expansion of the church sometime in the sixteenth century. These two structures were used to accommodate a number of chapels served by secondary altars, as well as the benefactors’ burials.

A view into the western section of the ‘double transept’. The south window is typical of late Irish Gothic, a triple-light with switch-line tracery and pointed transoms across. The floor is covered with modern grave slabs, and one of a number of burial monuments built within the church stands in the middle of the room.

This rounded wall niche in the east wall of the transept contains one of the many secondary altars in the church, and is one of two underneath the two windows in the east wall, framing the entrance into an additional chapel abutting the transept to the east.

Another view of the transept, looking into the eastern section of the double structure, separated by the same round-headed arcade than it is from the nave. Under the south window is another secondary altar, with its associated piscina to the left.

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

To the west of the double transept another chapel was built later on, with a lean-to roof, demonstrating the ongoing popularity of the friars with local families, even after the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1540s, thanks to the support and protection from the powerful Clanricarde Burkes.

Another chapel was built to the east of the transept, entered through a rounded arch between the two chapels accommodated under the transept east windows. Like the transept south windows it is a triple-light with switch-line tracery, although the transom section has round-headed arches.

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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.

The western arch of the tower is divided between a low round-headed arch leading into the chancel, and a gallery above, probably a platform from which the friars preached to the local congregation. As in other mendicant friaries the tower would have also acted as a stone screen separating the nave from the chancel, and additional timber screens might have been fitted to the arches to provide further separation between the public space of the nave and the private space of the chancel. Like the transept and chapels in the nave, the tower was a later addition, and it recalls a similar but more elaborate stone screen in Ballindoon Dominican priory (Co. Sligo), dating to the sixteenth century.

A spiral staircase is located in the northwest angle of the tower, giving access of the gallery opening onto the nave in the first floor, and the floors above, as well as the apartment in the upper floor of the west range; whoever was staying there would have been able to access the church directly using these stairs, as well as a higher floor of the tower in which a window on the east side looks into the chancel, allowing an authorised guest to attend Mass there.

A view of the tower, from the chancel. Unlike the towers in many mendicant churches, the tower arches are low and rounded. A similar example is found in the Observant Franciscan foundation in Kilcrea, Co. Cork. On the chancel walls on either side of the tower are a series of corbels, which would have supported a wooden gallery or loft running along the walls and the west wall of the tower. It was possibly used to accommodate an organ and chanters, or perhaps a larger community.

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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 into the chancel, from under the low tower arch. The east window is typical of late medieval Irish Gothic architecture, a quadruple light with switch-line tracery and horizontal transoms, similar to the windows found in the double-transept. At sixteen meters in length in is quite a long chancel for a late foundation, and it has been suggested that the chancel was extended to the east at some point, perhaps when the transepts were built, given the similarity of the windows. It would also explain the presence of two doorways in the north wall, one leading into the east range, where the sacristy was originally located, and another further to the east, giving access to the passage leading into Burke’s Tower, also a later addition.

The double piscina in the chancel south wall, where the friars celebrating the Divine Office and Mass would wash the sacramental vessels. It is quite an elaborate example, with a chamfered free-standing column, octagonal moulded base and capital, framed by a chamfered square hood.

This burial monument in the north wall of the chancel is made up of two elements, the oldest of the two being the moulded arch framed by decorative pinnacles, which belong to an earlier wall tomb probably dating to the late fifteenth or the sixteenth century, while the table tomb in front of it is later in date, reusing the arch as a decorative background.

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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 through an arch of the southern section of the cloister arcade, which runs along the church. The pillars have chamfered angles and capitals and bases with simple profiles, and the arches they support are in fact made up of two cut stones resting against each other.

A view of the cloister garth, showing two sides of the integrated cloister, whereby the upper floors of the domestic ranges extend over the ground floor and the cloister walk, creating larger spaces upstairs. The arcade on the north and east section are different, with the pillars on the east side simple, oblong slabs with chamfered angles, while on all three other sides of the arcade they are dumb-bell piers with bases and capitals, almost identical in design to those found in Moyne friary (Co. Mayo). Despite the entire claustral complex being extensive in size and impressive, the cloister quadrangle is actually the smallest that survive in Ireland.

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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.

The cloister walk running along the church to the south of the quadrangle is the only one that was covered by a simple lean-to roof, rather than with the floor of the upper storey of the range.

A view down the northern cloister walk, which led from the east range towards the west range and into the north range also.

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This is the passage that connected the east range to the three-storey building located to the northeast of the chancel, known locally as Burke’s Tower, and which probably housed a new sacristy after it was built. This passage also connected the chancel to the new building through a doorway, which would have been used by the clergy celebrating the Divine Office and Mass.

Visitors and guests of the friars would access the claustral quadrangle through this corridor corridor running along the north wall of the nave, and which had a doorway in its west wall, now blocked, and another one in its north wall. This passage would have served as a vestibule/entranceway leading visitors to the west range, where the porter’s office and parlour were probably located. From there, if authorised, they would have then accessed any other parts of claustral complex.

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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

A view inside the three-storey structure known locally as Burke’s Tower, located to the northeast of the chancel. It probably housed a new sacristy, perhaps in the middle floor, lit by triple-light windows on its north and south wall. The architecture of the building suggests it might have been built as late as the seventeenth century, as the friars, supported and protected by the Clanricarde Burke family, remained in the friary for most of that century.

A view of Burke’s Tower from outside the friary, with the windows marking the three storeys. It is not known exactly when this structure was built, but its mullioned windows suggest a date as late as the seventeenth century.

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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.

A view of the east domestic range, which was extended, perhaps in the sixteenth century, to accommodate a new refectory for the friars. The room in the forefront was probably the chapter room, located just beyond where the original sacristy might have been, to the very south of the range, directly connected to the chancel.

This well preserved staircase led to the upper floor of the east range, where the friars’ dormitory was located. When the eastern range was extended to the north, so was the dormitory space, with at its northern end the access to a new garderobe (lavatory). From the dormitory the upper floor of Burke’s Tower was also accessible.

A view of the east range, from the refectory, showing the spatial division in the lower floor between the chapter house to the left and the cloister walk to the right, while the upper floor of the range would have covered both, allowing for more space. This is called an integrated cloister. The extension of the range to the north did not follow this arrangement and the refectory in the ground floor covered the full width of the range.

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The refectory was the main dining room of the community, normally located in the cloister range parallel to the church. Each refectory contained a pulpitum, or reader’s desk from which a member of the community read devotional material during the silent communal meals. There was a lavabo at the entrance for the religious to wash their hands.

A view inside the refectory, built as a northward extension of the east range. It was accessed by the friars through the north range, and there was also a doorway in its north wall, now blocked, which connected it, via a small passage, to the bakehouse and beyond, the kitchen. In the upper floor the friars’ dormitory was extended, and the corbels that supported the wooden floors survive. The square niches seen here in the west and north wall were probably presses where friars could keep books.

This niche, accommodated in the thickness of the wall and the north-most window of the refectory is where the lector’s desk was fixed, and he would have sat on the left hand-side of the window, benefitting from the natural light while reading.

A view of the refectory from outside, with its four large ogee-headed windows. Beyond the friary was the garderobe structure. In the first half of the twentieth century, historian Canice Mooney was still able to trace the water supply system of the friary, running under Burke’s Tower, the garderobe and the north end of the west range, where a watermill operated, connected to the small river a few meters north of the friary.

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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.

This staircase is located at the north end of the west range, and at the top of the stairs to the left was the access into the west range upper floor, and to the right a couple of more stair steps took you into the upper floor of the north range, and from there into the upper floor of the west range of the outer court.

A view of the west range. Looking where the upper floor would have extended over both the lower floor and the cloister walk. The Upper floor of west ranges in mendicant friaries could accommodate guestrooms, or provide additional accommodation for lay friars or novices. Here it was accessed by the stairs located at the north end of the range, but as we can see there was also a doorway connecting the room to the tower and tower staircase, leading down into the church.

This small carved figure of the crucified Christ is found in the angle of the opening in the south wall of the west range, which gave access into the tower, and from there down into the church.

A view of the west range, looking down from the top of the stairs at the north end of the range. The large two niches in the south wall across the height of the entire range look like they could have been fireplaces, but they don’t seem to be connected to chimneys through the south gable. They might have been wardrobe to accommodate the possessions of guests in the upper rooms. The small room on the ground floor was at the end of a corridor or passage running along the north wall of the nave and might have been the porter’s office, from where authorised visitors could be received into the parlour, the next room in this 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 view inside the building which was built as an extension of the north range to the west. It is difficult to assess what function it might have had, although in the north wall are two large recess that look like they could have been used as some sort of storage cupboards. The fireplace in the upper floor leaves little doubt that the room was used as accommodation, perhaps for important guests. That room was accessed by the staircase in the north end of the west range, and also communicated with the upper floor in the outer court’s west range.

A view of the ground floor of the north range looking west. This range stood between the cloister and the outer court, and as such was at the centre of the entire claustral complex and connected most of the buildings together, linking the west range and extension of the north range to the west range of the outer court and the new refectory on its east side, which was not accessible directly from the cloister walk.

Another view of that connecting north range, looking east towards the entrance of the new refectory. To the left was the outer court, to the right the cloister, only accessible through a doorway at the west end of the range.

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A view of the outer court of the friary, which was basically created by the extension of the existing east and west domestic ranges, and the addition of a range connecting the extensions to the north. Unlike the first quadrangle, this court was not fitted with a covered walk and an arcade, although communication between the ranges was facilitated by doorways leading onto the court in each ranges. Unlike the cloister also, this court and the building surrounding it are more secular in character, housing service buildings where non-religious activities were carried out such as washing and baking.

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The kitchen was used for preparing food, baking and sometimes brewing and was located adjacent to the refectory. Due to the risk of fire, kitchens were occasionally located in separate buildings.

The kitchen is located at the north end of the west range of the outer court, although originally it would have been accommodated in the buildings around the cloister, probably in the north range. To the northeast corner of the room is a fish-pond, connected with the watermill beyond the range, and to its left is the remain of a stone water pipe, through which fresh water from the Black river was channelled through to the kitchen via the watermill. The scullery, where dishes were washed and other dirty household work took place, was probably located in that end of the kitchen.

A look at the stone fish-pond in the north wall of the kitchen, where fish, probably taken from the Black River directly running directly to the north of the friary, could be kept alive and fresh. Water was channelled through the wall from the watermill abutting the range to the north.

In the west wall of the kitchen is a large fireplace, where the cooking of the friars’ meals would be done. The fireplace is also connected, on the other side of the wall, to an oven placed in the northwest corner of the bakehouse, the large room making up the northern range of the outer court, and accessed from the kitchen by the doorway to the right of the fireplace. To the south of the kitchen is another room, which have served as a store room to keep the foodstuff, such as meat, fruits, vegetables, wine and beer.

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The northern range of the outer court is occupied by the bakehouse, connected to the kitchen in its west end. In its northwest corner as seen on this picture was an oven, which worked with the heat generated by the large fireplace in the kitchen on the other side of the wall. There the friars baked their bread. The upper floor of the building was used as additional accommodation as evidenced by the presence of a fireplace in the west wall, perhaps for lay friars in charge of the cooking, baking and cleaning.

The other end of the bakehouse (east end) is connected, via a passage through the doorway on the right, to the refectory, through which the food was probably passed on to the friars.

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The garderobe, which is also known as a reredorter, was the communal lavatory usually situated at the northern end of the dormitory. It consisted of a room with a long bench and a pit below into which the waste fell.

The garderobe, lavatory or washroom, where the friars, is in its usual location to the north of the east range, accessible from the dormitories in the upper floor.

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The remains to the north of the kitchen, beyond the western range of the outer court, was probably a watermill, powered by water from the River Black. The friars would have thus been able to produce their own flour, used to make bread in the bakehouse. The water piped to the watermill would have also made its way into the kitchen and fed into the fish-pond there.

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A view of this approach to the friary, showing the doorway in the passage or corridor along the north wall of the nave where visitors would have gained access to the claustral buildings, and the west doorway of the church, where the laity entered the nave to attend services and to hear the friars preach. Nestled between the passage and the extension of the north range is a modern mausoleum.

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