Abbeyknockmoy (Co. Galway / East)
Abbeyknockmoy (Mainistir Chnoc Muaidhe – “Abbey of Muaidh’s Hill”), historically aka Abbey, is a village and parish best known for its C12th monastery.
Mainistir Chnoc Muaidhe
Established in 1190 by the king of Connacht, Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, in fulfilment of a vow made prior to a victory gained against Norman forces under Almeric de St Lawrence, the new foundatiop was occupied by Cistercian monks from Boyle Abbey. Cathal himself died a Cistercian monk and was buried here in 1224.
The monastery was plundered by William De Burgo in 1200 and by others in 1228. In 1240 the Abbot was censured for having his hair washed by a woman. In 1483, the Abbot was accused of setting fire to the complex.
The sculptors at Abbeyknockmoy can be identified as the same sculptors who worked in Boyle Abbey. Traces of medieval wall paintings survive, depicting Saint Sebastian, the Crucifixion, the Trinity etc.; one of the surviving fragments also depicts a hunting scene.
According to Roger Stalley, “there is a fine royal head on one of the nave piers. The nose and chin are smashed, but the carefully defined eyes, elaborate crown and long curly hair are still intact“. He suggests that the carving actually represents Ua Conchobair, and “was perhaps a tribute to his benefactions“.
Monivea (Co. Galway / East)
Monivea (Mhuine an Mheá – “Meadow of the mead”) is noted for its broad main street, flanked with wide swathes of grass once used to dry flax for the local linen industry. (Photo – www.galwayphotographsite.com)
The former ffrench estate
Monivea Castle was built c1600 for John Crosach O’Kelly, who sold it and the surrounding land in 1609 to Patrick Fitzrobert ffrench. Confiscated by the Cromwellian Commissioners, it was repurchased by his descendants in 1702, and within 30 years the family had “added” Monivea House, which they later altered and extended at intervals.
Monivea House & Castle (Photo – www.jean-lombard.com, website of the author of An Irishwoman in Czarist Russia, an excellent biography of the most interesting member of the ffrench family)
Successive generations of the ffrenches worked hard to reclaim useful land from an estate which was mainly bogland, spreading lime and burying sheep’s carcasses to encourage the growth of plants, especially trees, to dry out and stabilise the soil. In the C18th members of the family represented county Galway in the Irish Parliament and established the linen industry at Monivea. Arthur Young wrote extensively on improvements made to the the estate in his Tour of Ireland (1780).
By the time Robert Percy ffrench came into his inheritance in 1876, the estate exceeded 10,000 acres. A high-flying career diplomat, he travelled extensively, and married Sophie, daughter of Alexander Kindiakov, a wealthy Russian landowner. His wife having gone back to Russia, Robert died in Naples in 1896, and his corpse was repatriated to be interred on the family’s estate.
His only child, Kathleen / Catherine ffrench, took on the task of restoring her family’s lands near Simbirsk on the River Volga, and spent many years there until the Bolsheviks’ October Revolution intervened. The property was seized and she was imprisoned, but fortunately was able to escape via Finland.
During Kathleen’s years away, the Galway estate was managed by her cousin Rosamund ffrench, who was not pleased to see the proprietress come home. The two women fell out so badly that Kathleen never settled in Monivea, seeing out her days travelling in China and Mongolia (including the then independent Republic of Tannu Tuva). She died in Harbin in 1938.
In her will she stated: “I give devise and bequeath to the Irish Nation the demesne of Monivea with the Castle including Kilbeg and Currendoo, the bogs, reclaimed lands and plantations, on condition that no parcel of these remains of my former estate shall ever be sold or the old trees cut down unless they fall to pieces.” She also stipulated that her ancestral home should be used as a refuge for artists.
The Irish government blithely demolished the main house and put the surrounding Demesne under the control of the Forestry Commission.
Monivea village grew up as a cluster of dwellings for the farm labourers and domestic servants employed over the years on the ffrench estate, and shops etc. to meet their needs.
Monivea church (CoI), completed in 1769, was in use as a place of worship until 1924, but has since suffered damage from subsidence and lightning.
Monivea Demesne, now run by Coillte, consists mainly of mature mixed woodlands, and contains several interesting artefacts, notably an old icehouse.
Monivea Castle, today in ruinous condition, is surrounded by five rows of enormous beech trees and a stone wall with two handsome gate lodges.
The ffrench family Mausoleum, long set in a clearing amidst the trees of Monivea Wood, was designed by architect Francis Persse (younger brother of the more famous Lady Gregory), and took four years to construct, at a cost of £10,000.
Inside, high-vaulted ceiling and granite arches shelter a black and white marble altar carved with a Maltese cross. A central window set into the stone wall depicts the Resurrection, while the east-facing triple-lancet aperture allows the rising sun to illuminate a life-size Cararra marble effigy of Robert Percy ffrench, wearing the insignia of a Knight of Jerusalem. The statue was carved by Francesco Jerace, a leading Calabrian sculptor of the day, while the stained glass windows portraying 12 of the 14 Tribes of Galway were crafted by the same Munich-based firm as those in Armagh cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The inscription reads “Il lui sera beaucoup pardonne car il a beaucoup aime.”
Catherine ffrench‘s body was interred beside her father’s grave in the crypt below his statue. Her cousin Rosamund, who died soon afterwards , was buried just outside the building.
The Mausoleum, now cared for by the Roman Catholic Church, is in need of repair, and has recently become exposed to the full glare of sunlight.
Monivea Woods, once the scene of many an exciting hunt by the Galway Blazers, has long provided a natural habitat for native plants and animals such as fox, hare, squirrel, song birds, wood pigeons, jays, sparrow hawks and migratory species.
Despite Kathleen ffrench’s will, over a third of the trees in the Woods have been cut down in recent years. The fate of the cleared portion is the subject of heated local debate: replanting holds out the hope for a return to a natural state, while a residential development would boost the local economy and relieve the housing crisis of neighbouring Galway City, but at great environmental expense.
Ballgluinin Park House, an C18th country house with C19th additions, is now owned by Opus Dei and used as a conference centre.