Escape to the serene beauty of Turlough Abbey, a former monastery and National Monument nestled in the picturesque county Mayo, Ireland. With its rich history dating back to the 5th century, Turlough Abbey offers a fascinating glimpse into Ireland’s religious heritage.
Explore the ruins of the abbey and marvel at the unique architectural features, such as the low and squat round tower which was built in the ninth century.
The origins of Turlough trace back to AD 441, when it is believed St Patrick founded an early monastic site here. Its proximity to Croagh Patrick, a significant pilgrimage destination, underlines its spiritual significance. Theories suggest that the original abbey, potentially founded under the Bishop of Armagh’s jurisdiction, sadly leaves no trace today.
The 9th century saw the construction of a unique round tower at Turlough. Unlike the typical high and slender round towers scattered across Ireland, Turlough’s stands distinctively squat and low, reaching a height of 23 meters (75 ft). Its architecture boasts a round-headed doorway elevated 4 meters (13 ft) above ground and is punctuated with four square-headed windows.
In 1302, the Abbey was valued for the ecclesiastical taxation of Ireland, highlighting its economic and religious importance. Despite the turbulent times and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Turlough Abbey managed to survive, and in 1625 a crucifixion plaque was mounted.
Dissolution and Grant
During the reign of King Charles I in the 17th century, Turlough Abbey faced its most significant challenge. In 1635, King Charles I finally dissolved the abbey, granting it either to Walter Burke or John Fitzgerald.
By 1653, the site transitioned to the Fitzgeralds, presumably accounting for the 18th-century cruciform church gracing the site. This church is adorned with three round-headed windows in the chancel and houses the tomb of George Robert Fitzgerald, dated 1786.
This marked a turning point in the abbey’s history, as it transitioned from a monastic institution to the possession of a noble family. The grant led to subsequent changes and additions to the original structures, shaping the architectural landscape of Turlough Abbey.
The Fitzgeralds and the 18th Century Church
The Fitzgerald family, who obtained ownership of Turlough Abbey in 1653, played a pivotal role in the abbey’s history. During the 18th century, they constructed a cruciform church on the site, adding to the architectural diversity of the abbey.
The church featured three round-headed windows in the chancel and housed three crucifixion plaques, showcasing the Counter-Reformation iconography of the time. The tomb of George Robert Fitzgerald, dated 1786, can also be found within the church.
Turlough Round Tower
The round tower of Turlough Abbey is a remarkable piece of construction. Standing at 23 meters tall, it commands attention and invites visitors to explore its mysteries. With a rounded-headed doorway at ground level and four square-headed windows, the tower showcases the craftsmanship and ingenuity of its builders.
The tower’s purpose as a bell tower, a place of refuge, and a marker of the abbey’s prominence is evident in its design and location within the abbey grounds. The tower’s conical top, once in disrepair, underwent restoration in the late 19th century, preserving its historical charm for future generations.
How to Get to Turlough Abbey
- By Car: If driving, set your GPS destination to Turlough Village in County Mayo. The Round Tower is located just outside the village, on the north side of the N5, making it easy to spot. Ample parking is available nearby.
- By Public Transport: From Castlebar, which is just 7 km southwest of the tower, you can catch local buses heading towards Turlough Village. Once in the village, the Round Tower is a short walk away.
- On Foot or Bike: If you’re based in Castlebar and fancy a short trek or bike ride, you can head northeast towards Turlough Village. The pathways are clear, and the Round Tower will emerge on your left as you approach the village along the N5.
- Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided tour, especially if you’re interested in the historical context. Some tours, especially those encompassing the National Museum of Folk Life, may include a stop at the Turlough Round Tower.