By Samuel J. MacGuire

Main Street, Athenry

A photograph of Main Street, Athenry taken in the early twentieth century; the photograph is part of the Lawrence collection at Galway library.

Athenry Gate

A photograph of Athenry Gate.

Athenry in Penal Times

"All through the most savage part of the penal era the Catholics of Galway predominated not in numbers only but in wealth and territorial importance. Lords Clanricade, Athenry and Riverstown were Catholics. So too were the Burkes of Portumna, Milford, Clinske, and Gortmadden, the Daly's of Dunsandle, the Ffrenchs of Durras and Rahassane, the Donnellans of Caltrons, the Martins of Corbeagh and Tyllira, and numerous others". The earliest notice of the Athenry clergy occurs in the opening year of the century. Robert Blakeney, Mayor of Galway, reported in 1741: "I do find that John Brady a Popish Priest lately lived within the liberties of the said Corporation. Sometimes in the house of Patrick Brown in the town of Athenry and sometimes in the house of Charles French of Geethill near the said Town, and that he the said Brady lately quitted that neighbourhood but I could not find or learn that any other Popish clergymen live or can be found at any place within the said town or liberties thereof".
Athenry town walls

A photograph of Athenry town walls.

The Rev. Joseph Corr, C.Ss.R., in The Redemptorist Record, writes that the pupils of the Dominican school near Bresk led a very different life from that in the colleges of today. The students lived in groups and were housed in wattle-huts, and their relations and friends supplied clothing and food. The staff consisted of friars who had graduated at European universities, and the standard of education and culture was high. The intensification of persecution during the seventeenth century saw the suppression of the school, the friars were dispersed or exiled, many of them became chaplains in the Irish Brigade on the continent.


The letter of Stratford Eyre, of Eyrecourt, dated 3rd March 1731-2, to Primate Boulter tells how many Catholic landed proprietors in Galway, even though some of them had become Protestants, had set land to Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Carmelites. Many members of these orders by registering themselves as secular priests succeeded in living in the country. After 1720 persecution abating somewhat they began to collect together again and to form small communities. "They set up as agriculturists, rented a farm, took a few novices under the pretence of 'servant boys' and with the aid of alms collected in the country round about, they managed to live". Stratford Eyre writes to Boulter: "The friars of Athenry live at Esker near two miles from the Abbey on the estate of Thomas Power Daly, a Papist... The Protestants of this County are in by means of the power, influence and strength, the number and intolerable insolence of Papists who possess entire parishes and not one Protestant family in some of them". Father Corr remarks that after the suppression of the school at Bresk, Father Anthony McHugo and a lay brother remained in hiding and some years later were joined by three friars from Spain and by others from Louvain, and settled at Esker in the house, situated between two lakes, which is the site of the present monastery. In 1837 there were seven friars in the monastery. There was a fine cruciform church at the rear of the school which was replaced in 1844 by the present church. The old church was converted into a school. In 1857 Esker became the Novice House of the Irish Dominicans but was closed about 1889. Shortly after the Friary was destroyed by fire, nothing remaining but the walls of the building.

In 1901 it was taken over by the Redemptorist Fathers as a House of Studies, a new wing being added to the old seminary. An adjoining sandhill called "Dominic's Hill" keeps green the memory of the friars of Esker. Father Corr in his article reproduces the wording of the admission card on the occasion of the consecration of the present church in 1844:-

The Consecration of the Dominican Church of the
Convent of Esker, Athenry, Co Galway,
Will take place
On Thursday the 15th of August 1844
The Solemn High Mass
On the occasion
Will commence at 12 o'clock
The Very Rev. Theobald Mathew
Will preach an appropriate sermon
After which he will
Administer the Temperance Pledge
Tickets of Admission 5s.

The proceeds of the day will be assigned as follows, viz.:- towards the building of the college and agricultural school of the Convent of Esker - the providing with trades 26 boys - the clothing of 50 poor children, and to assist in the supporting of One Hundred Paupers, who are daily fed at the Convent". The Editor acknowledges the Horary of the Esker College found by Dr. Long, C.Ss.R., at the present Esker Monastery:

Esker College Timetable, 1844

The Order of the College to be Observed by "The Prefect" of Studies

Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays

Rising and DressingFrom 6 to 61/2
Morning Prayer61/2 to 7
Mass7 to 71/2
Five Masters are in Attendance from this Hour to Breakfast
Catechism - Greek and Latin Grammars - Syntax71/2 to 9
Prosody - Exercises on the Metre of Horace - Latin CompositionSame time
English Grammar - English Prosody - English PronunciationSame time
Breakfast and Recreation9 to 10
Seven Masters are in Attendance from this Hour to Dinner
English Spelling and Public Reading10 to 101/2
Greek and Latin Classics, carefully arranged for the Entrance Courses of Maynooth and Trinity College101/2 to 121/2
Algebra-Bookkeeping, as adopted in the first Mercantile HouseSame time
Euclid, with the ordinary "Deducibles" required in Trinity CollegeSame time
Algebraic Geometry, with the entire course of the higher Mathematics and AstronomySame time
Recreation121/2 to 1
Mensuration, with the Practical Admeasurement and rates of Sawyers Carpenters, Masons, Slaters and Painters work1 to 2
Chemical Analysis of the Strength and Durability with the present price of the various materials used in the above tradSame time
Theory of Surveying, Levelling, and General Engineering Same time
Field Practice of Surveying with Drawing and MappingSame time
Arithmetic on the most improved plan with all the Concise and Modern Methods of Mental Calculation2 to 21/2
Writing in a full round, free, commercial hand: The Master being pledged to produce (with an ordinary hand) a Perfect style in six months 23/4 to 31/2
Ornamental Writing - Printing - Text handSame time
Dinner and Recreation31/2 to 51/2
Night Study and Silence51/2 to 8
Supper and Recreation8 to 9
Night Prayer and Going to bed9
Order of Wednesdays and Saturdays
Six Masters are in Attendance from this Hour to Breakfast
French, Italian (and if necessary) German, Spanish and Hebrew Grammers71/2 to 9
Translation and Composition of Ditto Same time
French and Italian Conversation, conducted by Gentlemen who have resided and studied on the ContinentSame time
Ancient and Modern History, with an appropriate lectureSame time
Breakfast and Recreation 9 to 10
Five Masters are in attendance from this Hour to Dinner
Chemistry and Natural Philosophy, alternately with a splendid Philosophical and Chemical Apparatus10 to 11
Chemical Analysis of Soils, Manures, as applicable to AgricultureSame time
Field Lecture on Practical Husbandry and on the Rearing, Feeding, Diseases of Sheep and Black Cattle - to this Class the President devotes the most absorbing attentionSame time
Blair's "Lectures on Rhetoric" - Locke on "the Human Understanding11 to 113/4
Letter Writing - English Compsoition, Lecture on the British PeerageSame time
Geography and Globes, with a Lecture on the Science of Navigation113/4 to 121/2
Lecture on Political Economy, on the imports produce, manufactures and revenues of the States of the WorldSame time
Blackstone's Commentaries on British LawSame time
Recreation121/2 to 1
Characteristics Readings from Milton, Shakespeare, and French Tragedy 1 to 2
Declamation, as an Art-Recitation in Prose and Poetry-Historical Debate, in which ten or twelve Young Gentlemen may take parts - Public Speaking2 to 21/2
Dinner and Recreation31/2 to 51/2
Order of Sundays
Reeve's History of the Bible8 to 9
Ecclesiastical History - Lives of the PopesSame time
Breakfast and Recreation9 to 101/2
High Mass and Sermon101/2 to 12
One Chapter of the New Testament12 to 121/2
Recreation - Pious Reading in Library and ad Libitum121/2 to 31/2

N.B. - In the order written above, too many classes may appear to be taught within the same hour, or it might seem, as if the Classical Students could not attend the English and Scientific classes - but this mistake will be immediately corrected, when it is recollected that at any one hour, six or seven masters can be in attendance, who so manage the time, and the classes that every Student of the College, can read (if he please, and is able), in all the classes of the entire courses.


Excommunication of Dominican Friars

Athenry Dominican Abbey

A photograph of Athenry Dominican Abbey taken in the early twentieth century; the photograph is part of the Lawrence collection at Galway library.

The Dominican Friars of Athenry claimed exemption from the visitorial powers of the Archbishop of Tuam. The Dominicans had been summoned to attend a Visitation, which the Archdeacon acting for the Archbishop held at Athenry. The Friars attended under protest, and abused the Archdeacon so much that he excommunicated them. In those days an excommunication carried serious consequences. Those excommunicated were not admitted into the body of the church but were limited to a small room of the church called the Galilee; and forty days after the writ of excommunication was filed in the Court of Chancery, the Lord Chancellor was empowered to issue a write de excommunicator capiendo for the caption of the excommunicated. Under this writ they might have been arrested and committed for an indefinite time in prison. Not satisfied with the excommunication which had been made by the Archdeacon, the Archbishop issued a proclamation, whereby he forbade all Christians from entering their church, and from supplying them with food or alms.

The Friars, on the 11th February 1298 applied to the Lord Chancellor for a mandamus, which was granted, directing the Archbishop "that, instanter and without any manner of delay whatsoever, he recall his proclamation and inhibition, and further that he abstain from doing such grievances in times hereafter to come." The Archbishop replied:

"The he never at any time gave offence to the Friars, but on the contrary it was always his interest and purpose to defend and favour them in charity and love, if their own demerits did not stand in their way; and if he had done any injury to the said reverend community by his said proclamation and inhibition, he would, with all speed, cause the same to be revoked, and as to the Archdeacon, he would cause him to undo whatever he had unduly done, and would inhibit him for the future from repeating the grievances complained of."

To this return the plaintiffs, by their lecturer, Adam de Large and the King's attorney-general John de Ponte, replied that the said Archbishop had made and published said proclamation and inhibition, that the plaintiffs had applied to him for a remedy, and he refused them, and upon this replication they offered to join issue. Upon this the Archbishop gave security that he would compel the Archdeacon to recall all that had been done; and if he did not do so , he granted that the Sheriff of Connaught might distrain him (the Archbishop) until the same were done, and so ended this phase of this once memorable case. But the Friars next proceeded in the King's Bench against the Archdeacon and damages were laid at 1000. His plea was one of justification upon which issue was joined and the case set down for trial. When it was called, however, the defendant did not appear.

A precept then issued to the Sheriff of Connaught commanding him to distrain the Archdeacon, by his lands and goods, and to have his body before the Chief Justice on the Quindecem of Easter next following. Nothing is known of the sequel if any. The Editor.