The fifteenth century Franciscan Friary is undoubtedly the centrepiece of Quin. It stands beside the River Rine and can be viewed from most parts of the village. Held in affection by locals, it became the genesis of the village when Thomas de Clare built his castle in 1278. Later, its rebuild by the Mac Namara’s established it as a friary in 1433. It now enjoys visitors from many parts of the world, checking in on Irish culture, history and heritage.
The members of the local Quin Heritage Group have been acutely aware that the story of Quin Friary is not readily available to either locals or visitors. Its many wonderful features and artefacts are not as familiar as they should be. To this end, our members have devised a video that attempts to share the story of Quin Friary in a short virtual tour (12 minutes), while pointing out some of the main architectural features of the building. Click on the play button to access the tour.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, Creative Ireland and Clare County Council, without whom none of this would be a reality.
Transcript – Quin Abbey Tour
Quin Friary, locally known as Quin Abbey, consists of an impressive cluster of buildings that form the focal point of Quin village. The friary stands on the ruins of the Anglo-Norman castle that was built by Thomas de Clare in 1278. Its success as a fortification was short-lived because the Gaelic Mac Namara’s, in whose lands the castle stood, razed it to the ground in 1318.
The friary that was founded in 1402 by Síoda Cam Mac Namara, lord of Clancullen. Through a decree of Pope Eugene IV, it was passed to the Franciscans of the Regular Observance in 1433 by Maccon McNamara. From 1433 until 1820, the Franciscans were associated with the building – a total of 387 years. The friary, containing one of the best examples of an intact cloister in Ireland, was suppressed by King Henry VIII around 1541.
In 1640, the building became a college and is said to have had 800 students at its peak. Oliver Cromwell’s troops arrived 10 years later, killing the friars and ending the large friary community. In 1671 the building was again restored, but never regained its former status. Eventually in 1760, the remaining friars were expelled. The last friar, John Hogan OFM, remained in the local community until his death in 1820, by which time the buildings had fallen into ruin.
The layout of the friary is along classical lines, with a central cloister. The entrance to the Friary is at the west end of the church through around-headed doorway with graduated hood-moulding, seen at the bottom of the ground plan. This leads into the nave and chancel, with a transept to the south. There is a tall slender crossing tower and belfryseparating the nave and chancel.To the left of the high altar is the sacristy. The cloister, kitchen and refectory are to the north of the crossing arch, with dormitories on the first floor.
Holy Water Stoup
On entering the nave from outside, the visitor finds the holy water stoup immediately on the south wall. The importance of the blessed water font was emphasised by the small ornate ceiling carved on the underside of this feature, in the same style as the belfry arch tierceron and the sacrarium ceiling in the sacristy.
Transept & Fireball Mac Namara’s grave
In monastic churches a transept was a rectangular extension adjoining the nave or chancel that gave the church its characteristic cruciform appearance. The transept in Quin extended from the nave and provided space for additional altars to the right and left of the east wall. Typically the altars were dedicated to various saints and served as chapels for the community’s benefactors. In many medieval friaries the transept was the location of a shrine to the Virgin Mary. In Quin this area is known as the Lady Chapel. In the south-east corner of this area is a piscina, used for the symbolic cleaning of sacred vessels.
Within the transept is the grave of John ‘Fireball’ Mac Namara, the last of the once powerful Mac Namara clan. He was the owner of extensive lands around Quin but preferred to spend his time in sport, gambling, ladies and leisure.
A republican, he reputedly fought on Vinegar Hill in 1798 in the United Irishmen rebellion, receiving a flesh wound. His general hell-raising caused him to be known as “The Fireball”. It seems that he ended his days modestly in a house in Quin village. He was the last of the Mac Namara chieftains, a direct descendant of the man who founded Quin Abbey nearly 500 years previously.
Transition & Campanile
The buttresses supporting the tower at Quin signify the transition from the nave to the chancel. Secondary altars are located on either side of the arched opening on the nave side. They would have been used for the celebration of private masses. In the south corridor can be seen the walls of the original castle incorporated into the church. Looking up, the underside of the tower has a set of intact tierceron ribs and apertures through which the bell ropes were passed.
To the south of the high altar is a wall tomb behind the sedilia. Above it are the remains of 17th century stone-work, originally surmounted by a stucco crucifixion scene.
Parts of this crucifixion are still visible on the wall surface, most specifically the right arm of Christ. Thomas Dennelly’s sketch of the Quin Friary stucco in 1680, shows it to have been much more intact then.
Chancel/Choir + MacNamara tomb
Situated at the east end of the church, the chancel was reserved to the members of the religious community. Beneath the principal east window, possibly with blue glass insertions, stood the High Altar. The sedilia or ornamental seats for the clergy officiating at Mass are on the south wall. The original high altar still survives. To its north is the tomb of Hugh MacNamara, from 1450 with its inscription still intact on the tomb wall. This may have been used as a curtained ‘Easter sepulchre’ during the Triduum liturgy.
The sacristy or vestry room is to the north of the chancel. Here the vestments, church furnishings and altar-ware were stored and where the clergy robed for services. Corbels on both sides supported shelving for storage. A little to the left is a large niche –the sacrarium (or piscina) where the altar vessels were ritually washed after Mass. The washings were directed back into the sanctified grounds of the church. The miniature ceiling overhead (a replacement piece) indicated the importance of this ritual.
The small, castellated cloister is one of the best surviving examples of a mendicant cloister in the country. It is integrated, giving the cloister a tight, intimate appearance. Its arcades have slightly pointed arches, in pairs, with sloping buttresses separating them. The columns are of three types, with a complex spiral design on one type. The ambulatory circling the garth has a pointed vault with wicker centring. Fr. John Hogan OFM, Quin’s last friar, lies at the north-west corner of the ambulatory.
The kitchen is to the east of the cloister, overlooking the remains of the old castle. Kitchens were used for preparing food, baking and sometimes brewing. They were occasionally situated in separate buildings, to reduce the risk of fire from the ovens. Monastery kitchens were normally located adjacent to the refectory to facilitate the reception of deliveries and the distribution of alms.
The refectory was the main dining room of the community, normally located in the cloister range parallel to the church. The friars’ dining hall, still retains its original flagged floor and the stone bases of the tables or benches at which they sat. Close to the top of the room is a large fireplace. There is one intact table now doubling as a grave memorial standing before the fireplace. A reader’s desk likely stood at the window, where a young friar would read from the Bible while the others ate.
Butler family tomb
Many elite families choose to be buried at Quin Friary, from poets, martyrs and gentry. The Butlers, Lords of Dunboyne, whose old residence of Knappogue Castle stands near the village, have their family vault at the west side of the Friary. A sculpture of Saint Peter adorns the crypt at the internal door. The family epitaph reads ‘Timor Domini fons vitae’, ‘Fear of the Lord is a fountain of life’.
A spiral staircase in the cloister leads to the upper floor. The monks’ dormitory was here, which was a large communal sleeping room. In time it was proportioned into individual cells. A second room that served as a guest’s dormitory and possibly an Infirmary are also on the first floor.
The Garderobe and wash rooms were in a separate building to the rear of the friary, reached by crossing the suspended walkway.
Quin friary stands as witness both to the superior craftsmanship of a previous age and the devotion of the Franciscan community for over 400 years. Held in great affection, the building continues to be the centre of Quin and will be treasured for generations to come. We hope you found the tour commentary of use. It was created by the Quin Heritage group, with the assistance of Clare County Council.