Ballintubber Abbey and The Celtic Furrow
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Ballintubber Abbey, Ballintubber, Mayo,
Ms Sarah Fadden
Ballintubber Abbey, famously described as the abbey that “refused to die,” has been continuously used for nearly eight centuries. The important historical site is located in County Mayo, only 11km from Castlebar.
The story of Ballintubber Abbey began when, in 441, St Patrick baptised the people at the Druidic Well and established a church here. There are still remains of that early church in the graveyard and the Irish name, Baile Tobair Phádraig, means the townland of St Patrick’s Well. The Well is still flowing.
Situated less than a mile east of the main Galway-Castlebar Road (N84), north of Ballinrobe, the Abbey which celebrates its Octo-Centenary year, still in daily use, unfolds a story of endeavour, architectural excellence, perseverance against odds and worship. Now tastefully restored, it has a dual role as a national monument and a rural parish church which has become again a Christian centre for prayer and retreats.
Partially burned in 1265 and rebuilt in 1270, the Abbey flourished and became rich and powerful, accumulating a lot of land locally. It was connected with local kings and chieftains. Peace reigned for three hundred years. In 1603 their lands were confiscated and in 1635 the Augustinian Friars took over the Abbey. In 1653 Cromwellian soldiers attacked the Abbey and burned it.
The Abbey became associated with an influential Norman family, the de Burgos of Mayo, and several members were interred in the Abbey including the elaborately carved tomb of Sir Theobald de Burgo (Tiobóid na Long) who was murdered nearby.
But even Cromwellian pillage didn’t put an end to worship in the Abbey and Mass continue to be said there for 800 years. What a proud record it all is: burned twice, suppressed, wracked by the Penal Laws and the terrible ravages of the Famine, still never fully destroyed or out of use. Restoration began in 1846 but had to be suspended due to the Famine and commenced in 1878. Further restoration was undertaken in 1966 and 1994. The further restoration to accommodate modern developments and growing number of retreatants, pilgrims and visitors etc is at the planning stage.
The Abbey itself and the beautifully landscaped grounds and its faith filled - stories provide rich symbols and resources of our Christian Heritage. This enables the visitors to engage in quiet time, prayer and contemplation. Retreats are offered to adults, second level students and confirmation students in this setting.
During Holy Week the Passion Play is re-enacted on the grounds of Ballintubber Abbey. Included in the environs of Ballintubber Abbey is Tóchar Phádraig, Church Island and the Celtic Furrow.
From Ballintubber Abbey, stretching out to Croagh Patrick, is Tóchar Phádraig the ancient pilgrim path. Every year hundreds of pilgrims walk this path – a distance of 35km, and it is now recognised as one of Pilgrim Paths Ireland’s National Walks.
Church Island on the shores of Lough Carra is a place of prayer and contemplation and dates back to the 6th Century. The early church there was been restored for retreats and quiet days of contemplation.