Ross Errilly Abbey, County Galway

Even though it lies in ruins, this Franciscan friary is unusually complete and gives an interesting insight into monastic life. Ross Errilly Abbey (or Ross Abbey) was founded in the middle of the 14th century by the de Burgo family, although most of what remains belongs to the 15th century. The castellated tower, built over the chancel arch, dates from 1498 and has an unusual gallery on the first floor with three squints that look down on the chancel.

A doorway beneath the tower leads to the cloister, which was once surrounded by a covered ambulatory, or walkway. The collection of buildings beyond this include a kitchen, refectory and bakehouse. The kitchen has a well-like stone tank in one corner which was used for holding live fish, and in one exterior wall there is a channelled stone down which slops were poured. In the corner of the refectory is a stone seat next to the window, where a monk sat to read from the scriptures during mealtimes.

The overall impression is of a tightly knit, self-sufficient community, where domestic concerns were intimately connected with religious observances. However, the life of the Abbey drew to a close when the English took it over in 1596, and the buildings were wrecked by Cromwellian forces in 1656.

Ross Errilly Abbey is a real hidden gem that is worth a visit on your tours of Ireland.