Banner: Knocknarea at Sunset.
A watercolour of Sligo Abbey viewed from the destroyed west end of the building, painted by William Wakeman in 1879.
A watercolour of Sligo Abbey viewed from the destroyed west end of the building, painted by William Wakeman in 1879.

The Dominican Friary of Sligo

The Abbey of Sligo is most pleasingly situated on the banks of the river Garrowoge, which originates in Lough Gill. It was a spacious and magnificent building, as well as one could judge by its remains of very good workmanship. The east window is beautiful. The altar under it was covered with bones and skulls in such quantity that they would serve to load a small vessel. The cloisters, of which three sides are extant, are magnificent.

Gabriel Beranger, 1779

The Dominican Order of Preaching Friars was founded by the Spaniard Dominic de Guzmán between 1215 and 1217; the order spread rapidly throughout Europe, arriving in Ireland by 1224 where they established their first foundation in Dublin. The Dominican Friary of Sligo was constructed in 1252 by the Anglo-Norman warlord Maurice Fitzgerald, grandson and namesake of one of the original Norman leaders who spearheaded the conquest of Ireland. Fitzgerald granted a large parcel of 150 acres of land on the south side of the river Garavogue to the Dominicans, in the area still known today as Abbeyquarter. This location may have been chosen because of a connection to Saint Patrick, who is said to have blessed the river with an abundance of salmon. By 1245 Fitzgerald had constructed his large castle at Sligo, which overlooked the strategic crossing point on the river Garavogue.

The cloister and bell tower of the Dominican Friary in Sligo.
A plan of the Dominican Friary in Sligo, taken from History of Sligo Volume II by William Gregory Wood-Martin.

The Norman Conquest of Connaught

The Norman invasion was one of the most important epochs in the history of Ireland, and an event whose repurcussions have vibrated throughout the land ever since. Within two years of their arrival, in 1169, the 'foreigners', as they were called, with their well-equipped army, had little difficulty in gaining possession of a number of cities and towns, principally in the Leinster area. As a result, some Irish chieftains made their submission in person to King Henry II on the occasion of his visit to Ireland in the winter of 1171. Before his departure he made grants, or feudal fiefs, of large tracts of confiscated land to his vassals, and more especially to those adventurers who had led the invasion and succeeded in securing a foothold for the Crown in Ireland. Ignoring the status, and the hithertofore unrivalled claims of the 'royal' O'Connors to the territory west of the Shannon, Henry proceeded to establish a lordship of Connaught as one of four great Lordships which were intended to pave the way for a complete conquest.

Over half a century later, in 1226, the greater part of Connaught was granted, by royal charter, to Richard de Burgh, the son of William and nephew of Hubert de Burgh, Justicar of England. The continuing dissentions among the O'Connors and the other western clans presented a favourable opportunity for extending English dominion over the Province. In 1235 there was a general muster of the feudal host, under Maurice Fitzgerald, to secure the submission of Connaught. The Normans experienced little difficulty in over-running the Province, the lesser chieftains seem to have been ready to submit and became vassals of de Burgh. Feilim O'Connor, the titular King of Connaught, was not so forthcoming at first. Finally, he bowed to the inevitable and made peace with the Justicar, Fitzgerald. In return, he recieved a grant of five cantreds, free of cattle-rent and tribute.

The 'Conquest of Connaught' was one of the most triumphant and spectacular in the history of Norman feudalism. A tremendious enfeoffment followed. De Burgh immediately set about rewarding those who had supported him by granting them large fiefs in different parts of the Province, to be held by knight's service and low rents. Hugh de Lacy got five cantreds, namely Carbury, Corran, Luighne, Tireragh and Slieve Lugha, which, with the exception of the modern barony of Tirerrill, equated, more or less, with the present County of Sligo. Shortly afterwards, de Lacy gave Carbury and the northern half of Luighne to Maurice Fitzgerald. This was the nucleus of the Geraldine manor of Sligo which was subsequently enlarged in two directions—when Maurice Fitzgerald acquired the southern half-cantred of Luighne from Jordan of Exeter; and his son and sucessor in Connaught, Maurice Fitzmaurice, acquired the cantred of Corran from Gerald de Prendergast. Thus, the Geraldine manor of Sligo eventually included the present baronies of Carbury, Corran and Leyney (Tireragh having passed to Piers de Birmingham), as well as a theoretical claim over Tir Conaill. Sligo marked the furthest limit of the burghal movement on this side of the Shannon, and, as such, functioned as a manorial centre for the Geraldine possessions in the north-west until the end of the thirteenth century.

Before his death in 1257, Maurice Fitzgerald enfeoffed his second son, Maurice Fitzmaurice in Carbury, which included the Castle of Sligo, and in Luighne. After the latter's death in 1286, all his Connaught possessions were partitioned between his daughters, Juliana and Anabilia,, with the latter receiving the Sligo estates. Subsequently, she disposed of her share to her cousin, John Fitzthomas, the future Earl of Kildare; and, in 1298, in a settlement between Fitzthomas and Richard de Burgh, nicknamed the 'Red Earl', the manor of Sligo passed into the latter's possession, thus bringing to a close the Geraldine association with the Town and the County. In 1300 the 'Red Earl' built a great castle at Ballymote to strengthen the eastern approaches to Sligo. He then rebuilt the Castle of Sligo and set about laying out a town. However, his plans for the development of Sligo were constantly disrupted by the warfaring of the O'Donnells from Tir Conaill. The annalists record that in 1315 Aedh O'Donnell siezed and levelled the Castle of Sligo, a mere five years after it had been rebuilt. Although the 'Red Earl' died in 1326, an inquisition in 1333 revealed that the Manor of Sligo was still in the possession of his descendants, probably his eldest son, Edmond, who was killed in battle in 1338.

Meanwhile, an almost universal rising of the native Irish swept the country, and the Sligo lordshop, which had been successively Fitzgerald and de Burgh property, passed back into the hands of the native chieftains. O'Donnel installed Rory O'Connor in the lordshop of Carbury, which included Sligo Town, as his vassal. This branch of the 'royal' O'Connors, later known as O'Connor-Sligo, continued to hold Sligo in their own right down to the early seventeenth century. According to the 'Annals'&mdash:'Leyney and Corran were wrested from the English, and the hereditary native chiefs (that is, O'Hara and MacDonagh, respectively)' resumed their captainships. By the mid fourteenth century, or possibly earlier, the Irish had regained control of all five baronies. The Norman occupation of Sligo had come to an abrupt end.

Maurice Fitzgerald

Various commentators have conferred on Maurice Fitzgerald, the Norman baron and leading Geraldine of that era, the additional honour of being the 'real founder of Sligo'. Born in 1195, Maurice was the second son of Gerald, 1st Baron of Offaly. In the course of his lifetime he was destined to become one of the most considerable figures in thirteenth century Ireland, and worthily bore the name of his grandfather, the gallant invader. He not only introduced into Ireland the two great religious orders, the Fransiscans and the Dominicans, but also showed considerable ability as a statesman during his tenure of office as Justicar of Ireland, 1232-1245. His accomplishments as a statesman apart, it is as the conqueror of Connaught that he is best remembered. In 1235 he led a large feudal army across the Shannon and within a year had the entire Provence reduced into submission. In the enfeoffment that followed, he received most of County Sligo as well as territories in Mayo and Galway.

As the secular history of Sligo Town may be said to have begun with Maurice Fitzgerald, so also may the ecclesiastical. Even before he built the castle, he had endeavoured to have a religious house erected in Sligo. In this undertaking he was associated with the famous Clarcus Mc Malin O'Mulcrony, Archdeacon of Elphin, and head of the Premonstratensian monastery of the Trinity, on Trinity Island, Lough Cé, the most distinguished Irish ecclesiastic of that time. Maurice Fitzgerald, when Lord Justice, was a great admirer of Clarus, and among other marks of confidence and esteem presented him with a plot of ground in Sligo for a religious house and the means to build it. For some reason, not now clear, the work was not proceeded with. Although that particular religious foundation came to nothing, it was taken up again ten years later in 1252, and carried into effect when Fitzgerald founded a friary for the Dominicans.

Passing through Sligo on his second viceroyalty, while in conflict with the O'Connors of Connaught and the O'Donnells of Tir Conaill, Fitzgerald came to the conclusion that this was a most suitable place for a castle which would serve as both a garrison for the English troops and an obsticle to any co-operation between his Connaught and northern enemies. Although deprived of viceroyalty in 1245, he did not, on that account, desist from his plan to build a strongly fortified castle at Sligo, which was intended to act as a focal point for the Geraldine lordship of the north-west. From that date forward, the Town of Sligo began to grow both in extent and importance and, as a result, found regular mention in the 'Annals' and in official documents. In 1246, Maurice Fitzgerald raised an army at his private expense, and, invading Tir Conaill, divided that territory into two parts, giving one part to Cormac, grandson of King Roderic O'Connor, and leaving the other to Melaghlin O'Donnell, requiring of him, in guarantee of good faith, hostages which were taken to Sligo and imprisoned in the castle. O'Donnell, chafed under this indignity, advanced on Sligo the following year in an effort to recover the hostages. Although he managed to force his way into the bawn, he failed in his efforts to penetrate the castle. As he was about to retreat and his mission a failure, he was further humiliated when the hostages were hanged before his eyes from the battlements.

Hostility was rekindled between the Geraldines and the O'Donnells was rekindled in 1257 when Godfrey O'Donnell burned and plundered Sligo Town, slaying great numbers of the English inhabitants. Persued, as they were carrying off the booty, by a large army, led by Maurice Fitzgerald, the Donegal men halted to give battle at Credrán Cille. In the ensuing struggle, in which the English forces were defeated, both leaders were mortally wounded. Fitzgerald was first to succumb to his wounds, 'Sick in body and sore in mind', and seeing his power in Connaught badly shaken, he was carried to Youghal to a monastery which he had himself founded, and there, on the 20th May, 1257, this renowned statesman and warrior breathed his last.

The Sligo region returned to the native Gaelic chieftains, and the O'Donnell's elevated the local O'Connor family to rule the area as their sub-vassals. The O'Connor's took possession of the castle in Sligo, and over the next few years, Sligo Town grew between these two large stone buildings.

The O'Connor Sligo Monument in the south east corner of Sligo Abbey, above and to the right of the main altar.
The O'Connor Sligo Monument in the south east corner of the Dominican Friary in Sligo, above and to the right of the main altar. The finely carved memorial sculpture dates to 1624 and commemorates Sir Donagh O'Connor and his wife Eleanor Butler.

Sligo Town is located at an important point on the ancient road between Upper Connaught and Tir Conall, and the area was to see much fighting and slaughter over the centuries. In the first 100 years after the foundation of Sligo, the town was burned and the castle destroyed five times. The Friary, which was located on the eastern side of the town, seems to have prospered at this time. The friars grew their own crops and vegetables and kept cattle on their etensive lands; they planted a large orchard on the west or town end of the property which remained for many centuries. They also fished the River Garavogue, which was a famous salmon river, having been blessed by Saint Patrick.

A Timeline of Important Events at Sligo Abbey

1252: The priory was founded by Maurice FitzGerald (d. 1257), 2nd Lord Offaly.

1253: The Annals of Loch Cé recorded that a monastery was erected and a cemetery consecrated for the friars at Sligo.

1360: The town of Sligo was burned by MacWilliam Boucher, including the Dominican priory.

1414: In spring of that year, the priory burned down following a fire started by a candle (Annals of Ulster).

1415: Pope John XXIII granted an indulgence on several feast days to anyone who would give alms towards the restoration of the priory. In the same document it is mentioned that the community consisted of twenty friars.

1416: The priory is said to have been rebuilt by Father Brian, son of Dermot Mac Donough (Annals of the Four Masters).

1418: Tigernan, son of Ualgarc Ua Ruairc, king of Breifni, died and was buried in the priory (Annals of Ulster).

1454: Brian Mac Donough, Chief of Tirerrill, died on the Friday before the Calends of January, (Calends being the first day of each month) and was interred in the priory at Sligo.

1484: Brian Mac Donough, king of Tirerrill, Co. Sligo, was buried in the priory.

1568: A letter from Queen Elizabeth to O’Conor Sligo agrees to his request that the priory be preserved, as it contains the burials of his ancestors and the friars there have become secular priests.

1585: An inquisition found that the priory was comprised of a church, belfry and cemetery, two other stone buildings, a quarter of land called the Fryer quarter, a fishing weir, and was inhabited by priests who were formerly friars of the priory.

1595: George Bingham, brother of the president of Connacht, took up quarters in the priory when he was leading the siege of Sligo castle, and had much of its woodwork used to make ‘engines’ for the siege (Annals of the four Masters).

17th century: The priory was granted to William Taaffe.

1608: Father Daniel O’Crean arrived from Spain to establish a new Dominican community in Sligo.

1622: There were ten fathers in Sligo, and in 1627 a Provincial Chapter was held there.

1641: In the course of the war of 1641, Colonel Sir Frederick Hamilton (d.1647) marched on Sligo, burned the priory and killed twenty of the friars. He also burned Sligo town

1688-1698: The Dominican community was formed again, until the general exile of 1698, after which a few fathers came back. There were five of them residing in Sligo in 1703.

1731: In the Lords’ Committee Returns of that year, it is said that there was one priory and that the friars were ‘dispersed about the country’.

1865: The present Dominican convent in Sligo was completed and occupied. It is situated on Dominick Street, just a short walk from the remains of the medieval priory.

1913: The owner of the medieval priory, Mr Wilfred Ashley of Classiebawn Castle, Member of Parliament, vested the monument to the Board of Public Works.

Source: Sligo Dominican Priory.

The Cloister of Sligo Abbey illustrated by William Wakeman in 1879.
A beautiful watercolour of the well-preserved cloister at Sligo Abbey illustrated by William Wakeman in 1879. Wakeman's illustrations are somewhat dishonest, as he tended to illustrate people and animals on a much smaller scale than their actual size. This has the effect of making the monuments appear much larger than they actually are.

Burned by a Candle

Between the foundation of Sligo Town when the castle was constructed in 1245 and 1414, the area was attacked and burned five times. Sligo occupies an important and strategic routeway between Lower Connaught and Donegal, and was the scene of continual strife and warfare during the Medieval period. In 1414 an unattended candle started a fire in the Dominican Priory. The flames quickly spread gutting much of the building, as well as destroying a good portion of the town, which contained mostly wooden buildings. The Prior at the time, Bryan MacDonagh, wrote an appeal to the Pope John XXIII for funds to rebuild Sligo Abbey. Pope John, who was having troubles of his own being one of three concurrent anti-popes, granted MacDonagh permission to raise funds through the sale of indulgences.

Pope John XXIII, the Italian anti-pope was deposed and imprisoned for piracy, poisoning and several other crimes after the Council of Constance in 1415.
Baldassarre Cossa ( c. 1370 – 22 December 1419) was Pisan antipope John XXIII (1410–1415) during the Western Schism. The Catholic Church regards him as an antipope, as he opposed Pope Gregory XII whom the Catholic Church now recognizes as the rightful successor of Saint Peter.

The Three Popes

The dramatis personae in this theartre of the absurd were as follows:

Angelo Corriaro, Gregory XII, a Venetian, approaching ninety, with many 'nephews', direct in line from bad-tempered Urban VI. He had been chosen by the Roman obedience because, as the Cardinal of Florence frankly admitted, 'he is too old and frail to be corrupt'. Another fatal mistake. The old man's first pontifical act was to pawn his tiara for six thousand florins to pay his gambling debts. He went to Rimmini. From there, he sold off everything in Rome that was portable and some things that weren't, such as Rome itself, to the King of Naples.

Piedro da Luna, a hysterical Spaniard, representing the revived Avignon obedience. He counted the least. Dropped by the King of France and all but three of his cardinals, he was soon to return to his native Spain where he insisted to the end he was the true pope and practically excommunicated the entire church.

Baldassare Cossa, John XXIII. Alexander V had died after only ten months, and it was Cossa, a suave, charming, ruthless pontiff, who now represented the Pisan obedience. He was rumoured never to have confessed his sins or taken the sacrament. Nor did he believe in the soul's immortality or the ressurrection of the dead. It was doubted by some if he believed in God.

He was noted as a former pirate, pope-poisoner, mass-murderer, mass fornicator with a partiality for nuns, adulterer on a scale unknown outside fables, simoniac par excellence, blackmailer, pimp and master of dirty tricks. On his election to the papacy in Bologna, Cossa was a deacon. Ordained priest one day, he was crowned pope the next.

This charlatain was recognised by most Catholics as their soverign lord who held the church together by his rock-like faith. When another John XXIII was elected in 1958, several Catholic cathederals hastily had to remove the fifteenth century John XXIII from their lists of pontiffs.

The tide of Cossa's fortunes turned when Sigismund, emperor-elect, prevailed on him to call a Council in order 'to reduce the number of popes consistent with the Gospel'. The site was to be the walled city of Constance in southern Germany on the border with Switzerland. Within months, its population was to rise from six touusand to sixty thousand, then double again.

When the clergy met in large numbers, it was always wise to choose a town near wate—lake or river—for disposing of the bodies. Lake Constance recieved over five hundred while the council was in session; the Rhine, too, hid many secrets. Another requirement was that the meeting-place had to be large enough to accommodate the vast number of prostitutes who found the clergy needed their services more urgently that the military and paid keener prices. At the height of the Council, there were reckoned to be over twelve hundred whores in Constance working around the clock.

On All Saints' Day 1414, John XXIII, a forty-eight year old gout-ridden pirate draped in gold, celebrated at preached at the formal opening of the General Council. It was a massive gathering, including three hundred bishops, three hundred top theologians and the cardinals of all three obediences.

Huss, rector of Prague University, to whom Sigismund had granted safe conduct, was promptly arrested at Cssoa's command and imprisoned. It was a lesson to everyone, especially to Pope Benedictus (called Benefictus, or 'Fake') and Pope Gregorius (called Erronius, or 'Mistake').

John XXIII had taken a rish in crossing the Alps into imperial territory, but he had enough votes in his pocket to feel safe. There were then, as later, more Italian bishops than all other nationalities combined. What defeated him was the decision of the Council to vote not as individuals but by nations. His majority was instantly wiped out, and he found that there were three to one against him. Next Sigismund arrived early on Christmas morning and ordered him to resign.

Cossa saw the indictment, a huge catalogue of his misdemeanours drawn up with wicked accuracy. The madams in charge of every whorehouse in Christendom must have testified against him. When he heard the growing demands, especially from the English, that they should burn him and be done with it, he agreed to resign , provided the other two popes followed suit. Then, disguising himself as a groom, he left Constance by night. No pope no Council, he must have reasoned. Among the handful of cardinals who joined him at his hideout thirty miles away in Schaffhausen was Oddo Colomna. Imperial guards brough the pontiff back to face the music.

The Council had meanwhile assumed full authority. In its Fourth and Fifth sessions it made a unanimous declaration of faith that has haunted the Roman church ever since:

The holy Council of Constance.... declares, first, that it is lawfully assembled in thr Holy Spirit, that it constitutes a general Council representing the Catholic church, and that, therefore, it has its authority immediately from Christ, and that all men of every rank and condition, including the pope himself, are bound to obey in all matters of faith, the ending of schism and the reformation of the church of God in its head and members.

Aeneas Sylvius, one day to become Pope Pius II, wrote: 'Hardly anyone doubts that a Council is above a pope.' Why should anyone doubt? The church's General Council is supreme in faith and discipline. On the basis of this teaching, more than one pope had been condemned by Councils for heresy.

The consequences of Constance were momentous. If the pope is bound to obey the church in matters of faith, he cannot of himself and without the church's consent, be infallible. In fact, when he speaks independently of the Council, the pope may well err in faith. This teaching was obscured by medieval popes such as Gregory VII and Inncoent III by dubious means.

Constance, having asserted its authority over the pope, now proceeded to use that authority, first to depose Benedict, who was already in flight to Pénscola.

John XXIII was next. He steadfastly refused to resign. The fathers of the Council agreed he was the legitimate pope, but the church was more important than the papacy. The charges against him were reduced from fifty-four to five. As Gibbon characteristically remarked in The Decline and Fall: 'The most scandalous charges were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest.' It was well known that since becoming Vicar of Christ the only exercise he took was in bed. It is significant that John XXIII was absolved from heresy, probably because he had never evinced sufficient interest in religion to be classed as heterodox. Till then, the only charge judged serious enough to depose a pope was heresy. Cossa was deposed simply because he did not behave as a pope should.

On 19 May, 1415, John XXIII's seals of office were solemnly smashed with a hammer. But an ex-pope, like an ex-president, is entitled to consideration. In spite of his heroic promiscuity, he was given only a three year prison sentence.

Huss, brave incorruptible, stern opponent of simony and clerical concubinage, met a harsher fate. Forbidden counsel, tried on a trumped-up charge, interrogated by Dominicans who had not read his books even in translation, he was sentenced to death. Wearing a high hat with three dancing devils on it, flanked by Lord Palatine's swordsmen, he was led out of prison on a glorious summers day in 1415. Practically the entire town followed as the proscession made its way past the cemetery where Huss's books were being burned in a bright green meadow. He prayed for his persecutors as the fire was lit. Three times he was heard to say, 'Christ, the Son of the living God, have mercy on me,' before the wind blew flames into his face. His lips were still moving in prayer as he expired without a groan. To prevent him being honoured as a martyr, his ashes were scattered in the Rhine. It was clearly more sinful to say, as did Huss and the New Testament, that after the Eucharist should still be called 'bread' than to be a greedy, murderous, incestuous pope who misled the church on almost everything. Finally, Gregory XII, now in hid ninetieth year and weary, solomnly convoked the Council which had been in session for months, and then resigned. With these formalities complete, all three popes were taken care of. Christindom could breathe again.

Sigismund, a libertine himself, was keen to reform the church before a new pontiff was elected, reasoning that no pope ever could be trusted to reform the church. For centuries, he argued, the church was not up to the task. At this time, chaste clerics were so few that those who had no women were accused of having less creditable vices. Unfortunately, Sigsmund was not supported by the King of France, nor Henry V of England, fresh from his victory at Agincourt.

Cardinal Oddo Colomna, who had pledged John XXIII his loyalty when he fled to Schaffhausen, was chosen without delay, naming himself Martin V. In his mid-fifties, he was an ecclesiastic born and bred, being the son of one of Urban VI's cardinals, Agapito Colomna. The church had a single pope again. Now there was no hope of reform, though much thought was given to the cut of clerical sleeves. Two days after his election, Colomna, a deacon, was ordained a priest. It was 13 November 1417. Next day he was consecrated bishop. A week after that, having been crowned pope, he set his feet on the altar to be kissed before being paraded through the town on horseback. Sigismund and Frederick of Brandenburg held the bridle to right and left.

Extract from Vicars of Christ, the Dark Side of the Papacy by Peter De Rosa.

The O'Crean Monument, 1506

To raise funds for the rebuilding of the Dominician Friary, the friars began to charge wealthy chieftains and buisness poeple for the priviledge of burying their dead within the building. It is believed thet there were several elaborate graves and burials within the grounds, however today only the O'Crean and the O'Connor-Sligo monument remain. The oldest surviving monument is the O'Crean tomb which dates to 1506, two years before Michaelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel in Rome. The monument was sponsored by Cormac and Joanna O'Crean, the leading members of Sligo's family of merchant princes. The O'Creans had a fortified tower house in Castle Street a short distance west of the Friary.

A view of the highly ornate O'Crean Memorial which is the oldest surviving burial in the Abbey, which dates to 1506.
A view of the highly ornate O'Crean Memorial which is the oldest surviving burial in the Abbey, which dates to 1506.

The O'Crean monument is a fine example of an early sixteenth century mural or wall-altar tomb, with an elabourate stone tracery inserted above the altar tomb. It has been suggested that this monument originally stood in the niche to the left of the high altar, and that it was moved to this location, in the nave of the church, at some unknown time. There is an inscription on the upper edge of the tomb and another on the top, both very weathered and worn. A series of nine figures are carved along the front face of the tomb, separated by ornate panels of tracery. From left to right the figures are thought to represent Saint Dominic the founder, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, an early Christian martyr, Saint Brigit, represented as a pilgrim. Next is Mary, mother of Christ, then Christ on the cross with Saint John the Evangelest in the next panel. The last three figures are the winged Archangel Michael, with his sword and shield, Saint Peter with his bunch of keys and a bishop who is believed to represent Saint Patrick. Unlike the later O'Connor-Sligo monument by the high altar, the symbolism carved on the O'Crean monument is intensely religious and pious.

A view of the highly ornate O'Crean Memorial which is the oldest surviving burial in the Abbey, which dates to 1506, painted by William Wakeman in August of 1880.
A view of the highly ornate O'Crean Memorial which is the oldest surviving burial in the Abbey, which dates to 1506, painted by William Wakeman in August of 1880.

The O'Crean tomb was resued for burial several times, with a memorial stone being inserted into the back wall 110 years after the monument was built. The carvings on the front of the chest are remarkably well preserved, largely because the huge amount of burials in the church raised the ground levels and covered the artwork. The Ordnance Survey used the flat top of the tomb when they visited Sligo in 1837, and one of the benchmark symbols can be seen carved into the top of the lid. The monument is said to have been used as an arms dump by the local I.R.A. during the War of Independence, when rifles, handguns and ammunition were allegedly stored in the chest tomb. This, however is hardly likely, since the O'Crean monument faces onto and is visible from the street, and so would not have been a very secret location. It is much more likely that the weapons were kept in one of the box tombs in the graveyard. Local IRA leader Billy Pilkington is said to have used one of the graveyard tombs as a hideout.

Some of the early fifteenth century figures carved on the bell tower of Sligo Abbey, which dates from the restoration of the building after the fire of 1414.
Some of the early fifteenth century figures carved on the bell tower of Sligo Friary, which dates from the restoration of the building after the fire of 1414.

Richard Bingham's Attack

During the Nine Years War, which lasted from 1594 to 1603, an unpleasant circumstance arose when the Governor of Connaught, Richard Bingham, used the Friary as a base for his unsuccessful attack on Sligo castle. The situation arose when George Bingham, brother of Richard, was murdered in Sligo castle in 1595. The three Bingham brothers who worked for the Crown were deeply unpopular with the native chieftains from the moment they arrived in Ireland around in 1584, and in particular after the Spanish Armada. Richard Bingham had siezed Ballymote castle from the MacDonaghs who were aligned with O'Connor-Sligo, who had submitted to the Crown. Donagh O'Connor-Sligo, inaugurated on the death of his uncle in 1588, looked to the Crown to protect both him and his lands from the O'Donnell's.

Sir Richard Bingham.
Sir Richard Bingham.

In 1595 Ulick Burke, who was warden of Sligo castle, had a fight with George Bingham, younger Brother of the Governor of Connaught. The pair were arguing about the division of spoils from raids among the Irih. Ulick Burke stabbed George Bingham and then beheaded him. Burke handed the keys of the castle to Red Hugh O'Donnell, which was a disater for the Crown. Richaed Bingham came in force to take back the castle and avenge his brother. Bingham is said to have stationed 1000 troops and their horses in the buildings in the Dominican friary.

Bingham stripped the church of timber, destroying the rood screen, an elaborate timber barrier which divided the nave or public part of the church from the choir or inner part of the building, where the high altar is located. Bingham used the materials he pillaged from the roof and rood to build a siege engine or sow to attack the castle. The castle, which was built seven years before the Friary, was located on the site now occupied by Sligo Town Hall, a musket shot from the Friary. The O'Donnell's had siezed Sligo castle from O'Connor-Sligo, the local chieftain who had bent his knee and submitted to the Crown.

Bingham's troops pushed their siege engine along what is now Castle street and turned to run north along what is now O'Connell street to walls of the castle, and proceeded to attack the structure. O'Donnell's men, running short of ammunition, began to dismantle the crenelations along the tops of the walls, casting the stones down on their attackers. Bingham's troops were repulsed with the loss of twenty-seven men, and they were forced to retreat from Sligo. O'Donnell's men chased them as far as Roscommon castle, seventy-five kilometers to the south.

An old photograph of the cloisters in Sligo Abbey before they were restored by the Office of Public Works.
An old photograph of the cloisters in Sligo Abbey before they were restored by the Office of Public Works.

The Friary was badly damaged by Bingham's visit, but survived. The friars seem to have repaired the damage. A few years later O'Connor-Sligo was punished by O'Donnell. In 1599 O'Connor was besieged by O'Donnell's troops in Collooney castle. A detachment of Crown forces led by Sir Conyers Clifford was despached from Roscommon to break the siege. The English forces were routed by the native chieftains at the Battle of the Curlews, a few miles north of Boyle. Clifford was beheaded, and O'Donnell delivered his severed head in a basket to O'Connor-Sligo in Collooney, which broke the siege. O'Connor-Sligo was arrested and imprisoned for two years on a crannog in Lough Eske near Donegal. After the Irish were defeated at Kinsale, and Red Hugh O'Donnell had died in Spain, O'Connor-Sligo was released, and upon his return to Sligo in 1602 he set fire to the Friary.

After his death (1609), she received as her widow's jointure some thirteen castles and 11,000 acres of land in Co. Sligo; a testament to the affection in which he held her. This generous jointure undermined the financial viability of the O'Connor Sligo estate, and in 1613 the guardian of the successor to this estate (who was a minor) initiated legal action against Eleanor in order to deprive her of these life holdings. She pleaded old age and infirmity, at which the lord deputy and council of Ireland ruled that she could retain her jointure. This decision was made in the belief that she did not have long to live; in fact, she did not die for at least another twenty-five years. In 1635, she enjoyed an annual rental income of £289 and was living in her castle at Ballincor. She probably died soon after she made her will on 26 November 1638, and was buried in Sligo abbey with her second husband within an impressive tomb that she had erected in 1624, and which still stands.

Eleanor Fitzgerald (Butler). Source.

The heavily overgrown cloisters in Sligo Dominican Friary, which date to about 1,450 AD.
The heavily overgrown cloisters in Sligo Dominican Friary, which date to about 1,450 AD. The photograph was taken by William A. Green, probably around 1910.

Sligo Abbey and its Burial Ground

The only legacy of enduring importance which the Anglo-Normans left in Sligo was the Convent of the Holy Cross, otherwise known as'The Abbey', built by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1252-1253. This ancient ediface is the oldest link with a storied past, and may be taken as the first substantial building of any pretensions erected in Sligo, if we except the Castle of Sligo, of which it was an adjunct.

The long rectangular church, and the friar's choir, with its tall row of lancet windows, is part of the original foundation. The structure was accidently burnt in 1414 but rebuilt two years later through the exertions of the then Prior, Bryan McDonagh. Most of the important features of the building—the tall bell tower and the east window—date from this restoration. In 1568 Queen Elizabeth acceded to O'Connor-Sligo's plea that the Friary be preserved from dissolution on the understanding that the friars became secular priests.

This ancient tune is an old Irish clan march associated with the O’Donovan family, sometimes called O’Donovan's March, but commonly known as the Eagle’s Whistle. The piece was recorded in the Model room in the Gatehouse at Parke’s Castle. Bodhran by Barry Mulligan and Uilleann pipes by Martin Byrne, both OPW guides working at the castle. The video features the beautiful Creevlea Abbey outside the village of Dromahair, which has strong associations with the O’Rourke family and Parke’s Castle. Thanks to Alokeshwar Tiwary for drone footage.

An Inquisition in 1584 found that the site contained a church, a steeple, a cemetery, two stone buildings, some parcels of land and a fishing weir. Ten years later George Bingham, Governor of Connaught, took up his quarters there and removed much of the woodwork for the construction of a 'sow'—a type of siege engine, for use in a planned assault on the Castle. In 1642 the Abbey, together with the Town, was sacked by Sir Fredrick Hamilton and a number of friars slaughtered. Their replacements, who had returned in the reign of King James II, were expelled in 1698 and the buildings and possessions granted to Sir William Taaffe. Undaunted, they returned once again, repaired the roof of the choir and built a temporary habitation near the rood-screen. Early in the eighteenth century, while the friars were still in residence, Thomas 'Gallda' Corkran, 'the reputed despoiler of the Abbey', commenced demolishing portions of the structure which he used to build a row of houses facing onto the River and another at right angles to them—thoroughfarea which still bear his name. In 1760 what remained of the community of Friars finally vacated what had been their Sligo home through five turbulent centuries.

A period of neglect and wilful despoilation had reduced the Abbey and its surroundings to a rather dilapidated and sad state. In an effort to halt the decay a number of Catholic gentlemen, headed by the opulent merchant Martin Madden, subscribed funds for the repair of the crumbling boundary wall and the erection of an entrance gate. In the late 1840's, following the termination of an old lease, the Abbey and adjacent properties passed into the possession of Lord Palmerston. He displayed great interest in the ruin and demonstrated his concern in a practical manner by building a new wall, fronting Abbey Street, which he had surmounted by a railing. Dilapidated buildings in the immediate vicinity were demolished and the enclosure planted with trees. These works, costing in the region of £200, were carried out under the supervision of his Agent, Edward Smith. On the occasion of Palmerston's visit to Sligo in August, 1852, he toured the Abbey to inspect the improvements for himself. 'Its gratifying to see the Abbey being walled-in and otherwise improved in order to preserve it from further damage' commented the 'Chronicle'. In March, 1856, elabourate stone mouldings from one of the windows in the aisle collapsed in a severe storm and littered the ground. At the behest of Peter O'Connor, local merchant and noted benefactor, Charles Kilgallin of Abbeyville had the damages quickly repaired.

A sixteenth century Inquisition referred to the existence of a cemetery within the grounds of the Abbey. At this stage it is not clear whether it was a public burial ground, as such, or soley intended for community use. From the fourteenth century onwards this hallowed spot had become the final resting place of the principal families of Lower Connaught. The 'Annals' for 1336 record the burial of Áine, daughter of Teige MacDonagh and wife of Tiernan O'Rourke of Breffni, within the church. Other O'Rourke chieftains followed in addition to the MacDonaghs, chiefs of Tirerrill; the O'Connors, Lords of Carbury and Sligo, and the O'Creans, a prominent Sligo merchant family. These burials were represented by imposing memorials, only two of which have survived the ravages of time, namely, the elabourate O'Crean altar tomb and the elegent O'Connor-Sligo mural monument, the latter dating from 1624.

Apart from the afore-mentioned, the earliest surviving memorial slab, that of Bridget Higgins, wife of Ignatius Everard, is dated 1704. It can be safely assumed that the grounds of the Abbey, which then extended to the River, had become a burial place for Catholics. St. John's churchyard being the Protestant equivalent. As the population increased so did the number of internments and this quickly led to gross overcrowding and a danger to health, especially of those families residing in the immediate neighbourhood. The cholera outbreak of 1832 heightened the problem and gave rise to great public anxiety. The urgent need to find an alternative burial place prompted the local Board of Health to place an advertisment in the 'Journal' in August of that year seeking 'A Plot of ground in the vicinity of Sligo for a Public Burial Ground'. For whatever reason, nothing came of the initiative just then.

At a meeting of the Vestry of St. John's in April, 1846, a discussion took place on the propriety of opening a new cemetery in the neighbourhood of the Town. The crowded state of the two existing burial grounds, namely the Abbey and St. John's, was alluded to and cognisance expressed to the fact that neither of them could be extended to cater for the needs of a growing population. It was agreed that every effort should be made to open a new cemetery for the accommodation of all, without any distinction of sect or party. It was decided to request the Mayor to call a public meeting to ascertain the sentiments of the citizens. The 'Sligo Champion' welcomed the move as existing burial grounds were 'totally incapible of affording the necessary accommodation and the cause of much pestilence in the Town'.

Arising from the Resolution passed by St. John's Vestry, the Mayor, henry O'Connor called a meeting of all interested parties to consider the dangerous and crowded condition of the burial grounds, but especially that of the Abbey, where, it was stated, coffins were protruding above the ground for want of sufficient earth to cover them. The meeting was unanimous in deciding the only long-term solution was the acquisition of land for a new cemetery. A week later a deputation, consisting of the Mayor, clergy of all denominations, members of the Corporation and a number of leading citizens, had a meeting with the Grand Jury on the occasion of the Summer Assizes in the Courthouse. Spokesmen for the deputation were the Reverend Edward Day, Rector of St. John's and the Reverend Owen Feeney, P.P., Riverstown, but formerly of Sligo. The Grand Jury passed a Resolution supporting, in whatever way possibel, efforts to acquire a new burial ground in Sligo.

In December, 1846, the Corporation expressed their willingness to let a portion of 'The Commons', about four Irish acres, for a cemetery 'for the public of all denominations'. A month later, the 'Widow Touhy's Field', situated on the outskirts of the Town, was appropriated for that purpose. Although the grounds were not finally walled in and completed with entrance gate and keeper's Lodge until October 1849, burials were nontheless allowed in the summer of 1847, the Famine year. In the space of a few weeks hundreds of shallow graves were opened to cater for the multiple victims of hunger and disease.

Meanwhile, internments continued in the Abbey grounds. An already overcrowded situation was made worse by the increased death rate, and the Town Council was urged to close it as its condition was no longer tolerable and was prejudical to public health. An eye-witness described the conditions thus:-

There are tiers of coffins on top of each other reaching from the ground to the top of the sidewalls of adjacent houses..... Those fortunate enough to have a grave, find that was scarcely sufficient earth to cover the coffin.... Thousands of human bones and skulls are exposed all over the burial ground. Conditions are so bad on occasions that additional clay had to be brought in to help to protect the corpses....

The re-appearance of the cholera in the late summer of 1849 led to a Closure Order being issued by the Commissioners of Public Health, under the terms of the Public Health Act of 1848. The Abbey grounds remained closed for six months, but following the dissappearance of epidemic diseases, occasional internments were allowed in the case of persons whose family had an established burial plot there. So great was the desire to be buried within its hallowed walls that in one instance a corpse was lifted over the railings by means of planks and ladders after permission for a burial had been refused. However, as time progressed, the number of internments gradually increased and it soon became clear that the nuisance would shortly be as great as ever.

The cloister and bell tower of the Dominican Friary in Sligo.
The cloister and bell tower of the Dominican Friary in Sligo. Both features were added after the disasterous fire of 1414, when an unattended candle burned the Abbey and much of Sligo Town. Photograph © Sam Moore.

In May, 1851, the new Cemetery Committee passed a Resolution requesting that the Closure Order concerning the Abbey be rigidly enforced and no further internments allowed. A notice to that effect, signed by the Mayor and a number of other Magistrates, was published in the local press. Within days it became apparent that this latest effort to close the Abbey to further burials would be stoutly resisted. A public meeting was called to consider the legality of the Closure Order just issued. Many of those who thronged to the Long Room of Davis' 'Hibernian Hotel' were loud in their protestations of the Mayor's action and demanded that the Order be anulled forthwith. Suggestions from the floor that Palmerston or his Agent might have influenced the decision drew the following reply from Rev. Thomas Phillips, Adm.:-

Lord Palmerston did not confer on us the right of burying our dead in the Abbey, and he cannot deprive us of it... The title which we have to the old Abbey is not based upon title-deeds but has come down to us - revered by antiquity and consecrated by the ashes of the Catholics of Sligo.

A number of Resolutions were passed and a committee formed, called the Sligo Abbey Committee, for the purpose of the management and regulation of the Abbey burial ground. A Memorial, signed by those who had burial plots there, called upon the Lord Lieutenant to annul the closure. Within a few days of the meeting, as if to show their attachment to the Abbey and their determination to be allowed to continue a long established right, am unathorised burial took place after an entrance was forced through the boundary wall and the surmounting railings dismantled.

Over the following decades the number of internments in the Abbey gradually decreased—only those families possessing a vault or clearly defined burial plot being allowed access. By 1890 the number of burial, said to have been ten a year, were becoming fewer and likely soon to cease altogether. Three years later, Sir Thomas Deane, Inspector of the Board of Works, surveyed the Abbey grounds and reported them to be in 'a most unsanitary condition and grossly overcrowded'. The Commissioners of Public Works then drew the attention of the Local Government Board to the matter, who, in turn, brought it to the attention of Sligo Corporation, directing that their Medical Officer examine the conditions and report to them. Dr. Laird's evidence corroborated that of the Board of Works Inspector, namely that the conditions were dangerous to public health.

When the matter was subsequently discussed at a Corporation meeting, fears were expressed by a number of councellors that closure of the burial ground appeared to be imminenet. Within a matter of days a public meeting, described as 'a rather stormy affair', took place in the Town Hall. According to an 'Independent' report, a handfull amongst the large attendance 'were anxious to display their power of oratory rather than contribute anything towards solving the contraversy in question'. 'To make matters worse', it continued, 'a number of them in their helpless ignorance tried to blame the Corporation for hastening the impending closure'. Among the Resolutions passed was one calling on the Local Government Board to allow those with family graves in the Abbey to continue to be buried there.

The contraversy continued to rage, and, as a result, the Local Government Board decided to hold a Sworn Inquiry. This took place in the Town Hall in 1894. The preponderance of evidence given at the Inquiry revealed that the Abbey burial ground was in 'a horrible condition'. Dr. Laird, Medical Officer to the Corporation, described it as 'most dangerous to public health', a view corroborated by Dr. Martyn. 'It is time that sentiment was put aside and something done to abate the danger.' The conditions pertaining to the Abbey at that time were thus described in an editorial in the 'Independent'

The place is in such a dreadful state, it would shame a barbarian, much less a civilised man. The graves are overgrown with tall weeds, and those that are visible are heaped up like ridges, they are so full. On the side nearest the river stands an old ruined round tower in which, exposed to public gaze, are heaps of decaying skulls and human bones, while there are pieces of coffins lying about also... as the place at present eists it is a disgrace to civilization and will more than likely remain so unless the authorities take the matter in hand.

In February, 1895, the Local Government Board eventually issued an Order closing the Abbey to all future internments. The Corporation, despite its reluctance to get involved in a long running and sensitive issue, were charged with the responsibility of implementing the regulation. Two exceptions were made to the closure, and both internments were made only after special permission had been sought and granted by the Local Government Board. In July, 1905, Anne Kilgallin (nee Leonard), widow of Charles Kilgallin, architect and builder of nearby Abbeyville House, was interred there. Fourteen years later, their daughter, Agnes Kilgallin, and sister of Rev. Francis Kilgallin, Chaplain to the Australian Forces in World War I, became the last person to be buried in Sligo Abbey. On her death, July 1918, she was buried in the Cemetery, but, in January, 1919, was re-interred in her parents grave within the hallowed surroundings of Maurice Fitzgerald's thirteenth century foundation.

In February 1883, Evelyn Ashley, Palmerston's successor, vested a portion of the Abbey property in the Office of Public Works, and, in 1890, built a Caretaker's House on the site. In July 1913 the entire property was vested. Subsequently, the Commissioners of Public Works removed the ivy from the walls and tower, and carried out essential repairs. Surrounding trees and large bushes were cut down or cleared completely, while the numerous hollows in the adjoining graveyard were both levelled and seeded.

Extracted from Olde Sligoe - Aspects of Town and County over 750 Years
by John C. McTernan

A pair of hands and a chalie carved on a tombstone within the cloisters of Sligo Dominican Friary.
A pair of hands and a chalie carved on a tombstone within the cloisters of Sligo Dominican Friary.

The O'Connor-Sligo Estates

The O'Connor-Sligo family was a branch of the Siól Muireadaigh from which also descended the families of O'Conor Don, O'Connor Roe, MacDermot and MacDonagh. They settled in the Barony of Carbury in North Sligo and in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries managed to attain the overlordship of the whole of that Barony. This was a period of great revival amongst the Gaelic lords—not necessarily the old pre-Norman stocks but rather the collaterals of expanding families such as those of the Siól Muireadaigh. The irruption of the O'Connors into Carbury represented a further triumph of the Uí Briain over the Uí Fiachrach. The latter had already been temporarily ousted in Carbury by the Cinel Connaill so that the O'Connors were regarded as interlopers, not only by the old owners of the soil but also by the O'Donnells who had imperialistic territorial designs on North Connaught.

The tribal memories were long and three hundred years later, in 1595, Red Hugh O'Donnell remembered his ancestor's claims just as well as the then O'Connor-Sligo resented them. In the turmoil of the Nine Years War, from 1593 to 1602, it was natural that O'Connor-Sligo should side with the Queen while she was winning—as that Red Hugh should swear 'by the dark years of his bondage' to keep his knee unbowed.

O'Donnell won over Donagh O'Connor-Sligo after the Battle of the Curlews in August,1599, by sending him on a dish the head of the English forces, Sir Conyers Clifford. Afterwards, when he intercepted some of Donagh's correspondence with the English, he had him imprisoned on an island in Lough Esk near the Town of Donegal and kept him in such strict durance that by the time he was released by Rory O'Donnell, after Red Hugh's death in Spain, his legs were nearly rotted away.

Donagh's uncle, from whom he had the estate, Sir Dónal Mór O'Connor-Sligo, recieved a re-grant of the estate from Queen Elizabeth after the manner of English law. Previously, it was held in the way of private property amongst various members of the O'Connor-Sligo family and constituted a large portion of the barony of Carbury. Whatever O'Connor was elected to be chieftain then became not only the head of all the O'Connors of Carbury, but also became over-lord of the local chieftains in the rest of County Sligo,, namely, O'Dowd of Tireragh, McDonagh of Tirerrill, McDonagh of Corran and O'Gara of Coolavin. On the Composition of Connaught in 1588 the services and duties which these chieftains were due to render to O'Connor-Sligo were commuted into money payments which were payable to him by the free-hold in those baronies. Sir Dónal Mór died in Sligo in January, 1587, or 1588, and Donagh then succeeded to the estate. He survived the hazards of the Nine Years War and was knighted early in the reign of James I. He was married to the widow of the Earl of Desmond who had been slain in the rebellion. The Countess of Desmond had a grown family when she married O'Connor before the turn of the century, and she survived until November 8th 1638.

The King of the Fairies is a traditional Irish set dance, made popular in the 1970’s by the Irish folk rock group, Horslips. Ukulele played by Barry Mulligan, with banjo played by Martin Byrne.

From the time of Sir Donagh O'Connor-Sligo's death in 1609, the estate was encumbered by the jointures due to his widow. Sir Donagh was succeeded by his brother Dónal, who married Lady Ellen Fitzgerald, daughter of his brother's wife. He died shortly after his succession and his widow married a knight called Cressy. Lady Cressy's jointures were then added as a further encumbrance to the estate. His son and heir, Charles, died in 1625, and was succeeded by hisbrother Donagh, who married Lady Sarah McDonnell, daughter of the Earl of Antrim. When he died in 1634 the estate, burdened still more with the jointures of a third widow, was so utterly impoverished as to be 'damnosa hereditas' for his successor, his uncle Teig O'Connor.

In these circumstances, further excessive mortgages had to be made to meet the family's current expenditure and to meet, at least in part, the demands of the widows. The most of these mortgages were held by Patrick French, a merchant from Galway, who, on entering into sundry agreements with the O'Connor-Sligo family, came into the use and enjoyment of many of the mortgaged lands, and coming to Sligo, he settled at Suesse Common in a 'castle' or a large stone building in that townland. He is also said to have intermarried with the family of O'Connor-Sligo.

Abouth the same time King Charles I entered on his disreputable undertaking to force the local Grand Juries to declare his title to Connaught, notwithstanding the public documents which showed the freehold to be conveyed to members of the local families ever since the Composition of 1588. Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, proved a very efficient medium for giving effect to the Royal policy. As Lord Deputy of Ireland, he had the means to put pressure on the Grand Juries, and with one exception, they were so overawed that they found in his favour, otherwise, they would have been heavily fined and their members sent to prison. Meanwhile the Strafford Survey was in progress, bringing to English notice for the first time the full details of the lands held by the native freeholders in Connaught, their quality and value and extent. Strafford must have become aware that the net value pf the O'Connor-Sligo estate to the then holder, Teig O'Connor-Sligo, was very small and so, without any regard for the intermediate interests, he is said to have used the services of Sir Phillip Perceval for the purchase for the purchase for himself and and his relative, Sir George Radcliffe, of the freehold from Teig O'Connor-Sligo for a sum which was not much more then the value of the annual income from the estate.

An original document, puporting to be a copy of a Petition from Teig O'Connor-Sligo, shows that in expectation of a plantation of Connaught, Teig was disposed to get out while the going was good. The document, dated July 1636, is as follows:

The the Lord Deputy and Commissioners for the Plantation of Connaught. The Humble Petition of Teige O'Connor esq, alias O'Connor-Sligo..... is lawfully entitled as he concieves by Letters Patient from several of his Majesty's Royal Progenitors to divers Lordships, Manors, Castles, Lands, etc., in County Sligo which his ancestors, who always continued loyal and faithful to the Crown, have long enjoyed and which are now so encumbered by reason of several jointures and mortgages and other conveyances made and pretended to be made by your suppliant's predecessors that he recievith little or no benefit by the Estate.

In consideration whereof he most humbly and freely and willingly submitted and yieldeth up unto your honour his letters patents and lordships etc.... to the end that the same or so much thereof as by his Majesty's gracious intentions and instructions of plantation ought to be granted to Sir Phillip Perceval, Knight and his heirs.... provided the condition hereafter expressed may be performed to the petitioner.... that the said Sir Phillip Perceval do pay unto the Petitioner the sum of £500..... that the Petitioner may have granted to him and his eldest son and their heirs by this Patient, under the Great Seal of this Kingdom, the Town and lands of Bradcullen in the Barony of Carbury, four miles distant from the Town of Sligo and so much lands contigious about the same as may amount to 3,000 acres of profitable land at such a rent as may be reserved upon other Natives... said 3,000 acres to be created into a Manor..... Court Baron etc., two Fairs yearly, one Market weekly, goods and chattals of felons, etc.,.... freed of all jointures, etc.

The foregoing agreement with Teig O'Connor-Sligo was considered to have been set aside after the execution of Strafford, and French considered himself in quiet possession of his parts of the O'Connor-Sligo estate when the Insurrection started on the23rd October, 1641. This, however was not quite the case. Teig O'Connor-Sligo, who had treated with Strafford for the sale of the estate, was drowned crossing to England in 1638, and was succeeded by his son, another Teig. It appears that teig, the younger, after the execution of Strafford, felt that he, too, could resume his interest in the estate and, some six months before the Insurrection, entered on the lands and proceeded to possess them by force. There is on record a warrent to Teig O'Connor-Sligo, dated September, 1641, regarding his entry on the lands purchased from Teig O'Connor-Sligo, the elder, 'which lands you, with near 200 men in your company, did the last day of April enter, whereby Sir George Radcliffe did lose the possession and the rents of last half-year.' The warrent requires O'Connor-Sligo to restore Radcliffe the possession thereof together with the rents and profits.

Teig O'Connor-Sligo remained in effective possession of the lands in the succeeding years while the tides of war rose and fell around the town of Sligo. By virtue of his possession under current English law, and the former Brehon law as chief man in the County, he was made Captain of the Irish who were in arms. When the Irish cause fell eventually and Cromwellian rule was clamped down effectively on the County, O'Connor-Sligo was hanged in Boyle in 1652. The alleged interest of Sir George Radcliffe and the heirs of the Earl of Strafford were ignored and the land was parcelled out amongst the holders of debentures on behalf of adventurers and soldiers in the Cromwellian army. The chief of these were Sir Francis Gore, Captain Robert Parke, Erasmus Smith, Captain King, Cornet Edward Cooper, divers other adventurers, officers, soldiers and English tenants and families concerned in the lands and estate sometimes belonging to Donagh O'Connor, deceased.

The Cromwellian regime did not last more than ten years, and Charles II returned in triumph as King. However ungreatful he proved to be for many of those who had remained faithful to him in his adversity and exile, it was obvious that at least the heirs of the Earl of Strafford could not be forgotten. The petitions and cross petitions that ensued were, therefore, as between the Cromwellian claimants on the one part, and on the other William, Earl of Strafford, son of the executed Earl, and Sir John Perceval and Thomas Radcliffe, who were the sons of the two persons who were concerned in the purchase of the estate from O'Connor-Sligo, on behalf of the first Earl of Strafford There were Irish clansmen too—Martin O'Connor, grandson and heir to Teig O'Connor-Sligo who sold the estate; Dame Sarah O'Connor, relict of Donagh O'Connor,; Thomas McJordan, son and heir of Edmond McJordan; Dorethy McJordan, alias O'Connor, relict and widow of the said Edmond. These people found themselves, strangely enough, associated with the Cromwellians, and were all displaced in favour of the returned royalists.

There was this difference, however, that the Cromwellians were compensated or 'reprised', as it was said, by the grant of other lands confiscated from other Irish Catholics, whereas the Irish claimants got nothing. Even Patrick French was 'reprised' by the land grants at Dungar in County Roasommon, which his family renamed 'Frenchpark', thus laying the foundations of the French family from which Lord de Freyne descends.

And so the O'Connor-Sligo history passes out of history. It was subsequently divided and sub-divided and the original grantees faded quickly into oblivion as far as County Sligo was concerned. A considerable portion of it was brought by a merchant named Burton and went by the name of the Burton Estate down to our own times.

Reprint of an article by the late John Garvin entitled The O'Connor Sligo Estate, first published in the Sligo Champion, April 16th, 1955.

Hints Towards A Natural and Topographical History of Sligo

Among the public buildings, the first place is due to the old Abbey, which stands pleasently on the south side of the River, at the east end of the Town. It was built by the Fitzgeralds of the Desmond branch in the Thirteenth century. The remains show it to have been one of the most beautiful pieces of gothic architecture in Connaught. The nave and choir are large and lofty. between them rises the steeple, a high square building, supported by a lofty gothic arch. At the east end of the choir is a great variegated window of hewn stone, under this is a beautiful stone altar adorned with figures of the apostles, saints and angels in 'balso relievo'. Around it are heaped up great piles of human bones and skulls which are generally dug out of the graves as soon as the flesh is consumed, in order to deposit them in this reputed sanctuary.

The beautifully carved O'Connor Memorial which is inserted into a 13th century window in the south-east corner of the Nave.
The beautifully carved O'Connor Memorial which is inserted into a 13th century window in the south-east corner of the Choir. The carving, which shows Sir Donagh O'Connor Sligo and his wife Eleanor Butler, was erected in 1624. The illustration is by William Wakeman, an artist who specialised in illustrating monuments and antiquities.

Besides O'Connor's Monument on the south side of the altar, there is another on the north side, if I remember, of the O'Harts. Through the nave and choir there are several tombstones, some of which have handsome inscriptions. On the north side of the choir are the remains of several vaults and cells which were the lodgings of the monks. What was most curious is the cloister. A building of near four hundered feet square, of which three side remain entire. They are supported by a great number of fluted pillars of hewn stone. On the north side of this square, on the top of the terrets supported by these pillars, are the remains of a pulpit of hewn stone from which sermons were wont to be delivered to the multitude who assembled in the square of the cloister. This curious cloister is no the north side of the Nave—on the south side is a large chappel.

The Abbey is still held in great veneration—it being usual at every hour of the day to find some devoted persons at their prayers in different corners of it. On Good Friday it is customary for the popish inhabitants to assemble in multitudes, by the break of day, and among these even some persons, men and women of the better sort, to make by way of penance a tour round it on their bare knees, by which long circuit over sharp stones they are sorely and often so weak that I have seen them taking up the thigh bones off the altar and using them as staves to support them in crawling through the remainder of their penance.

Extract from Hints Towards A Natural and Topographical History of Sligo
by Reverend Henry, 1739.

An early photograph of the heavily overgrown cloisters within the Dominican Friary at Sligo from the Lawrence Collection in the National Library of Ireland.
An early photograph of the heavily overgrown cloisters within the Dominican Friary at Sligo from the Lawrence Collection in the National Library of Ireland.

William Gergory Wood-Martin's Description

It has been said that architecture is "history written in stone," and this definition may be considered peculiarly true in relation to Sligo Abbey, for the gradual expansion of what still remains of the building, from its thirteenth century nucleus, is distinctly traceable. As has well been remarked by a writer on this subject, "in every case where a great ecclesiastical work has been suspended, and renewed after intervals, those who have carried on the enterprise have invariably done so, regardless of the work already executed. The practice of the day exclusively decided the character of the work, as if the practical education of the handicraftsman and his accidental skill were the paramount sources of the whole scheme and system of ornamental varieties, each mason working out only such forms as had occupied his time in the year of his apprenticeship."

The cloister and bell tower of the Dominican Friary in Sligo.
A plan of the Dominican Friary in Sligo, taken from History of Sligo Volume II by William Gregory Wood-Martin.

With regard to the material employed in the construction of Sligo Abbey, Wilkinson, in his Ancient Architecture of Ireland, observes that the local dark- coloured and flat-bedded limestone of the country has been used "with little exception, for all purposes, and the ruins contain several examples of excellent work in this material, which is generally in good preservation, and has retained its colour." The exceptions to the use of limestone are in the dressed stone-work in the east window, in the lancet-headed opes of the choir, as also some remains of the same material in the lower portion of the windows in the north wall of the nave. This seems to point to such portions of the edifice having been the nucleus from which sprang the surrounding pile, great portion of which, particularly to the west, has now disappeared; but even a very superficial examination would enable a restoration to be made. The Norman builders, and those trained in their school, were accustomed to work in sandstone and disliked the hard limestone; hence in early edifices of this class in Ireland we find opes of chiselled sandstone, whilst the walls are composed of the materials drawn from the immediate vicinity. The sandstone employed is light in colour, of good quality, judging by the time it has been exposed to atmospheric influences, and such as might be procured from some distant parts of the county.

Choir: - In the east gable of the choir of Sligo Abbey is a large window (A) (see fig. 24) having four lights, with traceried head, and mullions, and jambs of sandstone a good deal weathered this is, doubtless, an after insertion and on either side of the window on the interior of the wall are two brackets. Under the jamb of the window two rough arch-heads have been built in the wall; this is very apparent when viewed from the outside face of the building. The south wall is pierced by eight long narrow lancet-headed windows, without mullions, in early English style, and widely splayed on the inside with jambs and dressings, also of sandstone. Of these opes, one (B) is blocked by the arch of the east side of the tower, and an other (C) by the O’Conor monument.

In the interior of the choir the high altar (D) stands under the east window. Under the second and third windows from the east end, two arches are turned in the wall after insertions and probably intended for reception of canopied or other monuments. Under the fifth window from the east end is the recently uncovered monumental slab erected to Mac Cathrue. The north wall of the choir is unbroken, with the exception of a small doorway and a high-pointed and apparently more modern recess (F), which may have been intended for, or may have actually held, a monument similar to that of O'Crean.

The Sligo Dominican Friary Chapter House.
The Sligo Dominican Friary Chapter House.

Tower: - The tower rises from four buttresses of finely dressed limestone ashlar, of more modern erection than the choir, and having two pointed arches between them; higher up are two smaller arches, which support the north and south faces of the tower. The roofing under the tower is covered by rib and panel vaulting, with liernes. The large arch on the west side has well-carved designs at its springings, consisting of two angel-brackets, or corbels, in English ornamental style (see figs. 25 and 26). The tower would seem to have been entered from the north side by a doorway, which apparently communicated with the vaulted floor of the second story, situated over the site of the supposed chapter and other rooms on the north side of the abbey. Between the choir and nave there is a dividing wall, having in it a doorway; between this wall and the buttresses of the tower there are (GG), on the north and south sides, remains of vaulting and groins, with ribs, springers, and pillars of finely cut limestone. Above the vaulting there is, in this space, a lancet window, the two lights of which have been partly blocked up by the roof of the cloisters.

Nave: - In the north wall of the nave is the O'Crean tomb (H), a canopied monument, with rich tracery; over it is a window with two lancet-headed lights (I, I, I), and to the west of this in the same wall is another; both these opes being partially blocked by the roof of the cloister. The existing south-enclosure of the nave is formed by three large pointed arches springing from piers and abutments of finely-dressed ashlar masonry. The south wall is continued for a few feet beyond the western arch, but the west wall has entirely disappeared.

Transept: - From the arch next to the tower ran a transept with two large arched doorways, and a window in its east wall : evidently these had originally dressings and jambs, of which there remains one fine specimen (K), carved with trefoils and knots characteristic of the period of its execution, and of which the accompanying design (see fig. 27), copied from a corbel in the Abbey of Ballysadare, is an almost exact facsimile. In the western wall of this transept there is an elliptical- headed arch (L) which appears to have formed part of an aisle (M) that ran along the south side of the nave. The dressed stones of a pointed arch are to be seen in the graveyard.

The Sligo Love-knot.
The Sligo Love-knot, illustration from William Gregory Wood-Martin's History of Sligo Volume II, published in 1888.

Cloisters: - The cloisters form three sides of what appears to have been a quadrangular enclosure, and present some good examples of elaborately carved pillars. On the north side, over the remains of a buttress (N) there is a stone pulpit, of which is now left only the springing of the corbel courses. This pulpit was entered by a passage which ran over the cloisters; behind it in the wall are three semicircular-headed opes, with dressed arches and octagon-shaped pillars, which form one side of the entrance.

It has been remarked that few pulpits in the interior of churches "are to be met with of an earlier date than the fifteenth century : the oldest which remain are of stone, built up with the fabric, from which circumstance we may infer that they are coeval with the entire structure."

On the north side the cloisters seem to have been enclosed by a building, of which only the east wall is left (0); in this is a high ope, reaching from top to bottom of the wall, and with a flat stone lintel under the arch; beside it, over the cloisters, is a pointed recess of similar character. On one of the pillars, near the western termination of the northern ambulatory, is a finely chiselled interlaced ornament, in a wonderful state of preservation (see fig. 28). The popular belief is that it (being, as it is thought, a true lover's knot) never will be affected by the weather, but shall, to the end of time, resist all atmospheric assaults. In the east cloister there is a sculptured head over the remains of a buttress a pointed arch of finely-dressed limestone, and in the same chamber a small window with two cinquefoil-headed lights (R) built into an older and much larger three-light one, with sandstone dressings, some of which still appear on the outside of the wall. On the north side of this vault there is a small loop hole, apparently for shot. The stone ridge-course of the south cloisters, as already stated, partly blocks up three two-light windows (I, I, I) in the north wall of the nave; some of the lower dressings of these opes are of sandstone, the remainder being of limestone.

The western side of the cloisters has altogether disappeared. It was probably, as at Moyne Abbey, enclosed by an exterior range of buildings. In Sligo, as at Moyne, the cloisters are situated on the north side of the nave, the more usual position being on the south.

Other Buildings: - The entire range of buildings running north and south (S, S, S, S) from the tower and choir of the abbey to the small square tower (T), situated at the northern extremity, would seem to have been a series of barrel-arched rooms supporting a story, of which the windows in the west those over the eastern cloisters look into the cloister- A door led from these rooms over the south cloisters. At the northern end of this range the small square tower already mentioned is circular inside, and in it are the remains of a spiral stone staircase. It would seem to have flanked the exterior of the entire range of buildings to the east.

Fragments of decorated stone work, gutters, gargoyles, and portions of pillars, which appear to have formed part of the vanished side of the cloisters, may be seen in the graveyard. They generally now do duty temporarily let it be hoped as tomb stones.

Graves in the cloisters at Sligo Dominican Friary.
Graves in the cloisters at Sligo Dominican Friary.

Hamilton's Attack in 1642

The 1630's were a time of comparative peace and consolidation for the new settlers who had acquired lands and possessions in Sligo and Leitrim. Sir Fredrick Hamilton, the Scottish soldier and intimate of both King James and his son Charles, was granted large tracts of land in Leitrim in 1621. Hamilton spent the year of 1632 away in Germany, fighting for the Swedish King against the Holy Roman Empire, returning to his Leitrim estates as an accomplished and experienced soldier to build his castle at Cluninin O'Rourke, now called Manorhamilton, in 1635. Hamilton's castle, three times the size required by his grant terms, was constructed at the strategic point where four valleys meet in the Dartry Mountains, halfway between Sligo and Enniskillen.

A carving of Saint Domonic, the founder of the Dominican Order of Preaching Friars, which stood on the High Altar of Sligo Abbey for many years, but now stands in the south-west corner of the cloister.
A carving of Saint Domonic, the founder of the Dominican Order of Preaching Friars, which stood on the High Altar of Sligo Abbey for many years, but now stands in the south-west corner of the cloister. The illustration is by William Wakeman.

Irish Rebellion and Civil War in England

The origins of the English civil war, which lasted from 1642 to 1652, are complex, and they are closely connected to events in Scotland and Ireland in 1641. The rebellion in Ireland, which broke out in October of 1641, saw the religious and colonial tensions break out in a spasm of violence as the old Irish gentry in Ulster led a revolt against the settlers. The revolt quickly spread to north Leitrim and Sligo, with Sligo town being seized shortly before Christmas by prominent members of the old Irish landowning class.

A photograph of the Nave and High Altar by the Sligo photographer Tadgh Kilgannon.
A photograph of the Nave and High Altar by the Sligo photographer Tadgh Kilgannon.

The Protestant settlers and planters were ejected from the town and given safe passage to Boyle thirty miles to the south. On about January 13th of 1642, most of the English settlers remaining in Sligo were moved to lodgings in Sligo Gaol, for their own protection as they were told. That night, followers of Tadgh O'Connor Sligo, including two of his brothers, entered the jail and murdered the forty or so English settlers.

The nine figures carved on the base of the O'Crean Memorial in Sligo Abbey, which dates to 1506.
The nine figures carved on the base of the O'Crean Memorial in Sligo Abbey, the oldest burial remaining within the building, which dates to 1506.

An Unusual Funeral

About two o'clock a fellow, very much intoxicated, drove up to the Abbey gate with a corpse in a deal coffin, very much disfigured, on the carriage of a hackney chair or noddy. The driver, not giving proper answers to the large crowd who had assembled, was taken before a Magistrate and committed to the gaol as his replies were:- his name is Macquirk, drives a noddy No. 110 in Dublin, got the body of the deceased out of a house in Patrick Street in Dublin and got four pounds for the carriage of it to the Abbey gate in Sligo and that he knows no more about the matter. He was committed to the gaol to sober up. From the putrid state of the body it is not easy to form an opinion of the death causes. However, those of the faculty who have seen it, thinks it is a hanging. The corpse was interred and its conductor remains in gaol.

Sligo, 26th August 1785

An illustration of the entrance to the sacristy within Sligo Abbey by William Wakeman, dated August 1880. At the time the ground level was much higher than it is today, due to the enormous abount of burials.
An illustration of the entrance to the sacristy within Sligo Abbey by William Wakeman, dated August 1880. At the time the ground level was much higher than it is today, due to the enormous abount of burials.

The corpse which was left at the Abbey gate appears from the testimony of a woman who arrived from Dublin, to be one Kennedy, a native of this place who kept a school in Dublin and died of fever. During his illness he often expressed the desire to be buried in Sligo but regretted not having the means to defray the expenses. His scholrs, hearing of this, made up a subscription and sent the Chairman, who is still confined in prison.

Dublin Gazette, September, 1785.

A Visit and Description from 1914

Sligo, with its well-built houses and bustling streets, has every appearance of being prosperous, and I have been told that it is one of the few towns in Ireland which is growing in population. It has had its share of battles and sieges, for Red Hugh O'Donnell captured it from the English, and then the English captured it from Red Hugh, and camped in the monastery and did what they could to destroy it; but enough of it remains to make a most interesting ruin, and we set out at once to see it.

The townhouse, which was constructed around 1700 using stones taken from the west gable of the Friary, is clearly visible in this illustration by Grosse, dated to about 1730.
The townhouse, which was constructed around 1700 using stones taken from the west gable of the Friary, is clearly visible in this illustration by Grosse, dated to about 1730.

It is a Norman foundation, dating from 1252, but a good deal of the existing structure is later than that. The most interesting feature, to my mind, is the row of eight narrow lancet windows lighting the choir of the church. I like these early lancets, and I am inclined to question whether the wide windows and elaborate tracery of later Gothic are as dignified and severely beautiful. There is a grace and simplicity about these tall, narrow openings, with their pointed arches, which cannot be surpassed.

There are some interesting monuments, too, in the choir, notably a most elaborate one to O'Conor Sligo against the south wall. O'Conor and his wife, life- size, kneel facing each other in two niches, over and below and on either side of which are sculptured cherubs and saints and skulls and swords and drums and spades and hooks and hour-glasses, together with the arms of the family and an appropriate motto or two.

A human skull in the cloisters of Sligo Abbey, seen in a photograph taken around 1880.
A human skull in the cloisters of Sligo Abbey, in a photograph taken around 1880.

From the choir, a low door gives access to the charnel-house, and beyond that is the graveyard; while from the nave there is an entrance to the cloisters, three sides of which are very well preserved, though the level of the ground almost touches the base of the pillars. It is, I should say, at least four feet higher than it was when the cloisters were built, and this accretion is mostly human dust, for the graveyard has been in active use for a good many centuries. Burials grew so excessive, at last, that before one body could be placed in the ground, another had to be dug out of it; and gruesome stories are told of the ruthless way in which old skeletons were torn from the graves and thrown out upon the ground and allowed to lie there, a scandal to the whole county. All that has changed now, and there wasn't a bone in sight the day we visited the place. Indeed, the old caretaker waxed very indignant about the way he had been wronged.

"Tis in that book you have in your hand the slander is," he said, and nodded toward my red-bound Murray, and I read the sentence aloud:

"The exposure of human remains, and the general neglect here and in other church ruins, are a scandal to the local authorities."

"Now, I ask ye to look around, sir," continued the caretaker, excitedly, "and tell me if ye see anywhere aught to warrant such words as them ones. Human remains, indeed! Ye see, sir, it was like this. The day the felly was here who wrote that book, I had just picked up a bone which had got uncovered on me, and slipped it under a tomb temporary like, till I could find time to bury it decent; and then he come by, and saw it, and that was what he writ. The bones do be to the surface all the time and how can that be helped, I should like to know? But I put them under again as soon as I see them. As for neglect look about ye and tell me if ye see neglect.”

I assured him that everything seemed to be in good shape, for the grass had just been cut and everything was very tidy. And then he told me that he and his helper had been working on the place for a week past, because, in a few days, the Irish Antiquarian Society was to meet at Sligo, and its members would be poking their noses about everywhere. From which I inferred that, perhaps, at ordinary times, the place may be rather ragged, and that an occasional bone may escape the guardian's watchful eye.

The charm of Ireland, Burton Egbert Stevenson, 1914.

The bell tower of Sligo Dominican Friary.
The bell tower of Sligo Dominican Friary.

Medieval Sligo

Maurice Fitzgerald, the most powerful Geraldine of his day, played a major role in the Norman conquest of Connaught. In return, he recieved the Barony of Carbury and other territories in what is now the County of Sligo. In 1236 he pursued Phelim O'Connor, the titular King of Connaught, from his stronghold in Roscommon across the Curlews, and did not give up the hunt until he reached the ford over the Sligeach or Sligo river. To assist him in gaining a stronghold here, he engaged the services of Archdeacon Clarius Mac Malin by offering him, in the King's name, the site of a 'spital house', or hospital at Sligo. The Archdeacon, one of the great humanitarians of the Middle Ages, fell for the bait and proceeded to assemble on the proposed site requisite stone, sand and lime. Just as building was about to begin, Fitzgerald withdrew his offer and ordered the Irish King of Connaught to use the materials in the building of a castle. When O'Connor refused to comply, Fitzgerald himself descended on Sligo and erected what was possibly a typical Norman castle of the thirteenth century, complete with wall and bawn, so that Wood-Martin is perfectly right in his assertion that Sligo was fortified in the thirteenth century, for your bawn of that period was perfectly capible of housing both retainers and livestock.

An illustration of the east window and high altar within the Choir of Sligo Dominican Friary.
An illustration by William Wakeman of the east window and high altar within the Choir of Sligo Dominican Friary.

Unfortunately for the peaceful development of Sligo as an Anglo-Norman burgh, the Fitzgeralds became embroiled in a vendetta with their counterparts in South Connaught which resulted in the withdrawl of the Fitzgeralds, followed by the untoward decline of the Angol-Norman De Burgo influence. This influence ceased with the extinction of the De Burgo earldom and the swift Gaelicisation of their kinsmen and relatives, the Burkes of Mayo and Galway. Had the Fitzgeralds or the De Burgos succeeded in implementing to the full their aims in regard to Sligo, instead of being a lamentable series of burnings, razings and rebuilding, would have been something akin to that of Galway. We can also take it as certain that the inhabitants of Anglo-Norman Sligo were, for a large part of the thirteenth century, subjected to feudal laws and customs—first under the Fitzgeralds, and afterwards, under the 'Red Earl' de Burgh, in the opening decades of the fourteenth century, when Sligo castle was rebuilt by him in a style somewhat similar to Ballymote castle.

You can take it from the parallel case of Galway that its magistrates, provosts, balifs or seneschal were appointed first by Fitzgerald and afterwards by de Burgh. Galway only adpoted its present coat of arms when its walls were built in 1396 and it recieved its first Royal Charter of Incorporation. Prior to that year its provost and seneschal used the personal seal of De Burgo as the common seal of Galway. As in the case of Galway so also with the infant burgh of Sligo. The office of seneschal was one of the very few feudal customs borrowed by the native Irish chieftains from the Anglo-Normans. For them his functions varied from public hangman and rent collector to constable of his castle and man of business in seaport towns. The only legacy of enduring importance which these Anglo-Normans left in 'Old Sligo' was the Convent of the Holy Cross which Fitzgerald built for the Dominicans in 1252. It was unmolested by the Irish War Lords, whereas the Castle of Sligo rarely failed to be the object of their fury in the form of demolition or burnings. Like the Anglo-Normans, a succession and repetition of O'Donnells, O'Connors and Burkes realised that Sligo was the key to North Connaught and the doorway into West Ulster. Their policy in regard to Sligo was if we cannot hold it we will make it untenable for our rivals, hereditary foes or kinsmen with ambitions alike.

Yet here and there the annalists, as if tired of recording with monotonous regularity the War Lords' slayings, burnings and razings, vary their fare with victories over the World, the Flesh and the Devil and even condescend to give us, here and there, a fleeting glimpse of the patient, thrifty resilient middle classes rebuilding Sligo town and repairing it, and even restoring the bridges leading into it, in the comparitavely peaceful years of the late fourteenth century, when the resusciated branch of the O'Connors, domiciled in Carbury, were powerful enough and united enough to protect the Town from outposts as far away as Tuam in the south, and the Bundrowes river in the north. The annalists tell us that in these years Sligo's buildings of stone and wood were splendid. They give us a glimpse even of their contemporary amusements, as for example in this sarcastic passage penned by a scribe in the rival O'Connor Don household: —

Donnchad son of Muirchertach Baceach son of Domnall O'Connor died from a fall on the flagstone in front of Sligo Castle at the Cavalry sports on St. Mary's Day in the beginning of autumn in the year 1419. That was the day on which the Sligo Indulgence was proclaimed and Donnchad stood in need of his share of that Indulgence for he only lived a week after breaking his leg that day.

The 'Indulgence' mentioned in the foregoing quotation refers to the rebuilding of the Holy Cross Convent, otherwise The Abbey, by Prior Brian MacDonagh, and is taken from the recently edited Annals of Connaught.

The comparative peace which Sligo enjoyed during much of the fifteenth century was interrupted by that tragic weakness, inherent in the Brehon Code system of tanistry, under which various branches of the Carbury O'Connors strove to become masters of the castle and the Town. Added to this fratricidal strife was an intensive drive by the O'Donnells to re-establish and sustain their claims to Sligo and North Connaught, and coupled with it were the efforts made by the Connaught chieftains, particularly the MacWilliam Burkes and the MacDermots, to keep the O'Donnells out of Sligo and out of Connaught. These struggles were gyrostatic in regard to Sligo and even at this distance we can see them progressing from being glorified faction fights in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries into that form of total warfare.

This left Ireland as a total wilderness by the end of the sixteenth century. The introduction of gunpowder in large quantities, and a steady influx of Scottish mercenaries also contributed to this state of affairs. Earlier references to the Gaelic plunderings and burnings of Sligo may be, more often than not, written off or discounted as forcible reflexion, that is a desire on the part of the aggressor to humiliate an opponenet rather than the acquisition or destruction of his property. If this were not so in the case of Sligo Town, we could hardly expect to find in it merchants such as the O'Creans, opulent, cultured and enjoying a social status comparable with the merchant princes of Galway. The beautiful early sixteenth century Altar Tomb of Cormack O'Crean which ante dates the lordly O'Connor-Sligo monument in the Dominican Convent of Sligo by more than a century, was not erected by the family of an upstart Sligo merchant, for Cormack O'Crean was but one of numerous Sligo merchants of that name, the doyen of whom was Donald O'Crean who also died in the year 1506. Many of the Tirconail surnames, now common in and around Sligo, such as Devanny, have their origin in the merchants and artizans who came with the O'Creans to Sligo about this time. These men of peace must have felt relieved when, in 1538, O'Donnell pulled one Teig O'Connor from off his pedistal and nominated a rival Teig O'Connor in his place. In return for this the O'Donnel nominee signed a solem covenant in the Monastery of Donegal in which he undertook to hold the castle and town of Sligo as O'Donnell's Warden.

Apart from its military articles, one of the civil conditions stipulated that, while O'Connor retained the castle of Sligo in his care, O'Donnell 'shall have the small tower of Sligo to give it to whosoever he pleases of his own people for the purpose of transacting all his own private affairs in north Connaught'. Wood-Martin was of the opinion that this tower was O'Crean's castle. But O'Donnell was not thetype to requisition the home of one of his natural followers—and the O'Creans had still many ties with Tirconail—while outsiders, such as the O'Connors, had alternative accommodation which they were bound to have in the Castle of Sligo or one of its outbuildings. These points have forced the conclusion upon me that O'Donnell, like every other Irish War Lord of his race, having a very delecate palate for precident, custom and privilege, chos the 'small tower of Sligo' for his seneschal because it was already the seat of civil administration in Sligo.

While at this stage it would be unsafe to give a particular description of the legal code used by O'Donnell's seneschal in Sligo we would be safe in assuming that Donald O'Crean's merchant sons, grandsons and relatives had already canalised the direction of the Guild Merchant which they saw working so smoothly for the trade and commerce of their merchant friends in Galway. Even when one of the family, Andrew, left the family business to become a priest and later Bishop of Elphin he still retained an interest in the peaceful development of Sligo's trade by erecting Leacanaspick (the bishop's stone), a feudal structure surmounted by a cross and complete with stocks and lock-up for the punishment of defaulting debtors and petty criminals.

If, therefore, sixteenth century Sligo had a special place of punishment, it follows that the Town also had a recognised venue in which convictions were made and that venue was the seneschal's 'small tower of Sligo', which brings us to the tower emblazoned on the Sligo Coat of Arms, where the tower is a ruined tower. Heraldic symbols are not arbitary nor abstract inventions. They are the totems and symbols intimately and exclusively associated with the bearer, and I suggest that the small tower of Sligo was of as great importance, with its accumulation of records, etc., as the Castle of Sligo. It too was destroyed by the O'Connors and the O'Donnells when for the last time in 1602 the Gael violated 'Old Sligo'. On that occasion they even dismantled the Convent of the Holy Cross rather than leave it inhabitable for the advancing English forces under Lambert.

When some ten years later the King's Law Officers were preparing the first Royal Charter for Sligo, the Fitzgeralds sought to revive their ancestors' title and likewise the Earl of Clanrickard. These claims were not unknown to the Ulster Herald of the day, and as Heralds were by law complleld to make visitations throughout the country, he, as an antiquary on the spot in Sligo, was bound to incorporate in his coat of arms of the New Sligo the nroken seneschal's tower as a grim reminder of the arrested development of the 'Old Sligo'.

The Irish chieftains burned and destroyed Sligo on the 12th of June, 1602, and the following day Sir Oliver Lambert rode at the head of a motely collection into it. Included in it were war worn Englishmen, land-hungry Welshmen and a collection of the Queen's Irishmen of the Pale like Sir William Taffe with their claims already pegged in the County, as well as native renegades, all of them tearing asunder the shrivelled carcass of Celtic Ireland. Their commander was not the only man amongst them who had an eye for beauty, for a large number of his men settled in and around Sligo. He was, however, the only one of them who has left us his impressions of Sligo transmitted as a dispatch tp the Lord Deputy on the day of his arrival. 'I found nothing but the ruins of the old castle and the abbey broken afresh..... the town had been burned the day before by Donnell O'Connor-Sligo....'.'

'Sligo', he continued, 'is a dainty dwelling for a gentleman..... and of great importance for all the state of this provence if it were walled, but I think it cannot be made strong. The hills on one side overlook ever quarter'. In this apt description of Sligo, found among the State Papers, we have the reason for Sligo's arrested development during medieval times. Lambert was not the first man to notice this defect, for the O'Creans and other Sligo merchants nearly forty years previously had welcomed the return of English rule in Connaught and had secretly and openly petioned for the walling of their town. Even Elizabeth, Queen of England, having heard of their plight, ordered the implementation of this need. But every move made in this direction was baulked by the astute O'Connor-Sligo, who saw in its fulfilment the eclipse of his family as Lords of Sligo.

It speaks well for the recuparative powers of Sligo town when we find that one year after its destructiom, in the year 1603, there were twelve O'Creans, with warehouses and shops re-opened. One of the twelve, Andrew Fitz John O'Crean, married Ellen French, daughter of a Galway merchant prince, and through this alliance was enabled to open a branch warehouse in that city.

All these O'Crean merchants were mostly descended from Donald O'Crean who died in Donegal Abbey in 1506. They had a direct interest in the business life of Sligo for upwards of three hundred years. Here and there they threw out a branch which grew up and down the social scale. Unlike their kinsmen, the Frenches, some of whom settled in Sligo about this time or opened branch warehouses there, they only entered the money lending business on somewhat similar lines to the modern merchant banks. Andrew O'Crean and the Frenches had as their best customers the O'Connor-Sligo family who owed Patrick French £28,000 about the year 1640. Andrew O'Crean held mortgages from most of the native and newly imported landed gentry. In some cases he had already forclosed on these mortgages and one of these plums which came into his hands was the Hazlewood estate which was later confirmed in his possession by royal grant. We can readily understand the ease with which marriage alliences were made even into the peerage, for Andrew O'Crean of Sligo was the grandfather of Nicholas Taffe, Baron of Ballymote, Viscount Corran and Earl of Austria, who was born in the O'Crean Castle in Sligo in the yeat 1677.

By comparison with the O'Creans, most of the twelve burgesses who formed the first Borough of Sligo were mere carpetbagmen. One of these was William Harrison, the villian of P. G. Smyth's 'Wild Rose of Lough Gill'. He was a secret service man of that day, his speciality being the discovery of properties liable to escheatment to the Crown, defective titles and churchlands long concealed or returned to laymen. The first Provost, or Mayor, Roger Jones, and the remaining burgesses such as Edward Crofton and Richard Robinson, were genuine Elizabethan adventurers, who, having won their spurs in battle, settled down to make a success of their peaceful ventures, and in the process of doing so contributed much to the development of early seventeenth century Sligo. In addition to being Provost of the Borough, Jones was nominal Governor of Sligo. He was also appointed keeper of the newly erected Gaol, became a merchant of note and, as such, was selected as the first Mayor of Sligo.

When the dreadful Cromwellian Wars were over in Ireland, Sligo had shrunk to a mere village of 488 inhabitants of which approximately three out of four were native Irish. This figure is given in 1659 and on comparing it with the Hearth Money Rolls of a few years later the figure is reasonably accurate. A survey of the houses of Sligo made about the same time is full of interesting topographical detail and gives sufficient material to show the rapid progress made towards rebuilding Sligo during the years prior to the Williamite Revolution. The modern streets in the business section of the Town date from this period.

Extract from a Lecture by James C. McDonagh, delivered to the Sligo Field Club, and published in the Sligo Champion, May 2nd, 1953.
The cloisters within Sligo's Dominican Friary, photographed in the 1890's.
The cloisters within Sligo's Dominican Friary, photographed in the 1890's.