100th Post: Solving the Athenry Tunnel Mystery! by Ronan Killeen
I can't really say that there is the 100 article as some were adverts but according to this blog it is the 100th post so why not do something special with that. Nearly a year ago I was asked about tunnels in Athenry going from the Castle to the Athenry Dominican Priory during the persecution.
Evictions of the Dominicans in Athenry Abbey from The Story of Esker
In 1698 an Act of Parliament made all Friars banished from the country (These would include those of the Athenry Dominican Priory). Many of the Friars would have gone to Louvain were they were welcomed at the Abbey of the Holy Cross. A Fr. John O'Heyne who was professed near Esker in 1666, and died in 1713 wrote records of his life in The Irish Dominicans of the Seventeenth Century. It was from this account that a Fr. Ambrose Coleman added a useful appendix about the Ancient Dominican Foundation In Ireland where a lot can be learned about Esker Priory.
During peaceful intervals of the persecution during the 17th century surving Dominicans re-occupied the Athenry Abbey, while Novices would have been received. On the 27 July 1627 when four young men were received (I think the text means received as 'ordained'?) but one year later there were exiled by King James II, who was actually also in exile, professed at the convent of St. Germine in Paris.
During persecution era the Athenry friars sought refuge at Killenscaul where they obtained a site for a dwelling and a school from Ulick Burke, the Earl of Clanricarde.
The place has been identified as Brosk/Bresk - a separate townland. During the Cromwellian rule (See http://www.libraryireland.com/HullHistory/Cromwell1.php), was abandoned by the Dominicans but during the restoration period of Charles II (See http://www.libraryireland.com/HistoryIreland/Charles-II.php) in 1660 the Dominicans returned, who were given a re-grant by Ulick Burke, on the condition that that the Dominicans would say three masses a day for his family.
During 1665, a school was opened at Brosk, which was attend by 300 scholars from all over the country. In 1691 the school closed due to the Jacobite war (see for more info http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/jacobite_era.htm). The friars were once again evicted off their place of refuge. The Dublin Ascendancy Parliament by one of its infamous Penal Laws expelled all friars from Ireland and forbade their return under pain of death.
Hope was not lost for the Dominicans when they found Esker. Denis Daly - a judge during the reign of King James II granted the land to the friars in 1707. Daly, had saved his property from the Williamite confiscations, including gaining for himself and descendents a considerable portion of the confiscated land of the Earl of Clanricarde, including Brosk and Esker. Daly died in 1720.
So, the first conclusion is that the monks did not dig a tunnel but only hid in woodland outside of Athenry, of where they were evicted.
H. T. Knox & Colleuge from the Journal of Galway Archaeological and Historical Society
Recently, I have read an article from the Journal of Galway Archaeological Society, entitled 'Notes on the Burgus of Athenry, its first defences and Town Walls' mentions on page 8 of the article that:
'Under the North Gate in recent drainage work, a very rough rubble foundation was found, and outside the gateway a quantity of loose soil, as if a ditch had been filled in. It is said that an underground passage led from the castleyard under the ditch, to the Francisiscan Abbey some 80 yards off.
This is just possible, but this is more likely the grounds found in the Protestant Church (Old Franciscan Abbey), was an independent cave. There is no trace of such one in the castle yard.' [Sic]
According to this O. S. map from www.osi.ie the Franciscan Abbey is the location of the present Athenry Arts & Heritage Centre. In between the era of the Francisican Abbey and Heritage Centre, it was the Church of Ireland's St. Mary's Colleigate Church.
I think it is interesting to know that there was a cave underneath the heritage centre. However, it may have caved in? Who knows!
Prof. Rynne's article 'Discovery of a Souterrain at Athenry, Co. Galway from the Athenry Journal
In one of the old Athenry Journal's the late Prof. Etienne Rynne wrote an article entitled
'Discovery of a Souterrain at Athenry, Co. Galway. Where a Mr. Thomas Cleary of
Abbey Row had discovered a stone built tunnel behind his house, after burying his dog.
Mr. Cleary contacted Prof. Rynne about this.
'The discovery was made when two large stones were encountered at about 40cm, at the present ground surface, at a point 1.15m. east of the back of the she wall and 15.70m south of the wall of a shed against the southern Priory (this shed adjoins and is in line with the 16th century sacristy).
The finding spot can be marked on the O.S. 6-inch scale shee 84 for Co. Galway, at a point 43.8cm from the western margin and 17.1cm from the southerin margin.'
The O. S. map that Prof. Rynne is referring to can be found in Island House, Nun's Island, Galway City (It is to the right hand side of the Fás office) Sheet 84 for Athenry Town.
Prof. Rynne continues 'The two stones encountered covered a small gap between two much larger slabs, and when removed the resultant opening measured only 40cm. N- S and 22cm E, which was unfortunately too small to allow entrance. The souterrain as revealed measured almost 3.00m. in length averaged 1.00 in width, and was at least 90cm in height the earthen fill prevented a more accurate measurement'.
'Souterrains' or 'caves' as they are often referred to by local farmers and others are underground tunnels consisting of galleries/ passages, or chambers, or a combination both,'
Prof. Rynne mentions that a Dr. Mark Clinton has written an in-depth study on Soutterains which is an unpublished doctoral thesis for National University of Ireland Galway.
So what we know is that the monks did not build a tunnel during the Penal era but hid in the woods and were soon granted land. The Francisican Abbey is now the Athenry Arts & Heritage Centre were I never seen a tunnel there. The closest thing one has learned about
a tunnel in Athenry is the soutterain at Abbey Row. I stand open to correction on this article.