Clontuskert Abbey

Co. Galway


Just of the Ballinasloe Portumna road,about 10 minutes from Ballinasloe, (see map) you will find the remains of Clontuskert Abbey, founded by the Augustinian.

Clontuskert, Co. Galway, showing the layout of the monastery.

The Augustinian Canons Regular established 130religious houses in Ireland in the period of church reform early in the twelfth century. Of these remains of thirty survive, including those at Kells, Co. Kilkenny, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, and Clontuskert, Co. Galway.

The Medieval Monasteries of the Augustinian Canons Regular The Augustinian Canons Regular as an order has suffered considerable neglect by scholars in comparison with the attention that has been given to the Cistercians and Franciscans. This can be attributed to the fact that the order died out in the later medieval period and that it lacked the cohesiveness of the other orders who maintained a close relationship with their mother houses on the Continent. The Canons lack of commitment to their central administrative authority left their Irish houses out of the mainstream of the order's affairs and, as a result, there is an absence of source material and records relating to Ireland in the Continental abbeys and priories of the order.

The role of the Augustinian Canons within the secular community is the main reason for their being the largest single order in Ireland. The Rule of St Augustine laid down the general principles of monastic life rather than a set of precise detailed regulations as, for instance, those followed by the Cistercians. The Canons Regular were less rigorous in their observances than the Cistercians, and through this more flexible approach to the religious life they participated in a great variety of pastoral activities in parishes, hospitals and schools. Some congregations within the order, such as those of Arrouaise and of St Victor of Paris followed the stricter rule which was laid down by St Bernard and their monastic way of life was scarcely distinguishable from that of the Cistercians. The Augustinians' flexible approach to monastic and pastoral duties was very acceptable to the ecclesiastical leaders in twelfth-century Ireland. The Rule of Augustine was appropriate to the new monastic reforms and the pastoral activities were a significant instrument for the restoration of religious discipline which had seriously declined in Irish monasteries.

Clontuskert Abbey

The monastery as a planned space

The claustral plan in which the church and conventual, or domestic, buildings of a monastery were arranged systematically around a central cloister garth (garden) had emerged among Continental monasteries following the rule of St Benedict in the early ninth century and became standard practice among all the orders. St Malachy, the archbishop of Armagh, was a prime mover in the reform movement in the Irish church in the twelfth century and his zeal resulted in the foundation of many monasteries.

By the time of his death in 1148, there were forty-one Augustinian houses, two abbeys of the congregation of Savignac, at least one Benedictine monastery at Cashel, Co. Tipperary, in addition to the Cistercian abbeys, the first of which, Mellifont, Co. Louth, was founded in 1142. At Mellifont we have the earliest remains of a claustral planned monastery in Ireland, but it seems logical to suppose that among the monasteries of Augustinian Canons founded before the advent of the Cistercians in Ireland were some that had been influenced in their layout by the Continental and English monasteries visited by Malachy, other ecclesiastics and secular patrons.

The claustral ranges of the surviving Augustinian Canons' abbeys and priories lie on the south side of the church, with the exception of Inchcleraun, Co. Longford, and Errew, Co. Mayo, where the cloisters are to the north. Questions of lighting for the refectory (dining hall), drainage and water supply may have dictated this change from the normal practice in the case of these two foundations. The siting to the south was for the practical reason of affording as much protection as possible from cold and wind for the inhabitants of the monastery. Normally the conventual buildings of the monastery surround the cloister on the east, south and west with the church sealing off the north side. In a number of monasteries, however, a western enclosing wall replaces the conventual buildings on that side. The claustral ranges, consistently in Ireland as across the Continent, were comprised of specific apartments and thus a monk transferred from one monastery to another would have no difficulty in finding his way around the monastic complex.

Clontuskert Abbey