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Portumna Heritage Trail

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7. The Abbey

Abbey exterior

Portumna Priory is located quite close to Portumna Castle, Portumna, on the west bank of the Shannon River in County Galway. Originally possessed by the Clan Madden, the area was ruled by the Burkes of Clanricard after a Burke-Madden marriage in the 16th century.

Portumna Priory was a chapel attached to the monastery of Dunbrody dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, County Wexford, built in 1254 by the Cistercians and later taken over by the Dominicans in 1426. When it was abandoned by the Cistercians it was given to the Dominicans by O'Madden, the local chieftain. The Dominicans who, with the consent of the Cistercians, erected a friary and a church which they dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Pope Martin V granted a Bull to confirm their possessions in 1426.

Abbey interior

Suppressed during the Reformation it enjoyed a revival in the 17th century under the patronage of the Earls of Clanricarde before being finally abandoned in 1712. The Priory was used as a Protestant Church in 1762 until the completion of the existing church in 1832. The ruins are now a national monument and are in very good condition. It was the site of the marriage in December 1689 between Lady Honor Burke of Portumna and Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan.

The Priory was used as a Protestant church around 1760. The Priory contains the tomb of the Earl of Clanicarde and his wife. The remains consist of a church with nave, chancel and transepts, a cloister and domestic buildings.

Portumna Abbey

Hidden Treasure – The Abbey, Portumna, Co. Galway, Ireland

“Outside the old ruined castle of Clan Rickard which lies south west of the village of Portumna is built a tunnel. People say that when Ireland was convulsed by a struggle with the Danes, the monks – who then had a monastery about 300 hundred yards away – used to hide their gold in this tunnel. The tunnel leads to a field beside the Shannon owned by a man called Elliot

When the Danes were found to be coming, the monks used to hide the gold in it and leave the tunnel by Elliot’s field beside the Shannon and take to the boats moored nearby to escape. The Danes were very fond of gold and on this account the monks built the tunnel to store their gold.

A land agent for Viscount Harewood named Moran and a couple of workmen on the Harewood estate opened the mouth of the tunnel; they went in some little distance with a lighted candle. After a while the candle quenched which proved there was no air therein. All the party saw a large dog which is supposed to guard the treasure, night and day, and it is believed will not allow anyone to touch it, so they fled in terror.

The Lord Abbots name was O’Madden and to him belonged the priceless treasure hidden in the tunnel. He was replaced by a man named McEgan, one of the McEgan’s from Ballymcegan in Munster. A big black wolf is said to have guarded the tunnel. The value of the treasure is unknown.

Hearing the story a man by the name of O’Toole decided to unearth it – being half way in the tunnel he was eaten by the big black wolf.

Some years after, another man by the name of Ryan made up his mind to explore the tunnel. This time with success, he emerged from the tunnel with a handful of precious jewels which weighed 3lbs.

The treasure is believed to be buried in the old castle now hidden from sight under the earth, in Silk’s Wood (called after the man who planted it) believed to be in a tunnel in chests consisting of precious stones and silver chalices, hidden in a smaller tunnel running into a larger one going to Stoneyisland.

While others believe The Danes to have taken the sacred vessels and thrown into the River Shannon.

Hidden Treasure Portumna Abbey, Galway, Ireland


Most inscriptions at the Abbey tend to begin c.1760 or the following decade. These markers were erected by peo­ple of means. For the vast majority of the population their graves were marked perhaps by rough stones, or not at all. A good reason for people to care for what does exist.

Note: in this article, text in italics indicates exact renderings of the inscriptions. Normal text gives the relevant data in a more economical form. All but two, possibly three tombstones, in this priory were transcribed.

Outside Priory Walls

“Erected by John & Martin Ryan in memory of their father Thos. Ryan who departed this life Dec 25th 1806 aged 66 yrs.” “Eternal life o lord give unto the sould of Mary Gannon alias Dain who dep. this life Dec. 10th 1804 aged 50.”

Patrick Whelan died 23 June 1833, aged 72.

His son, Denis, died 4 March 1834, aged 40.

“Erected by his son Thomas Whelan.”

Luke Burke died April 1805 age 56.

His wife, Mary Burke, died April 1805, age 60.

“Erected by their son, Patt Burke.”
“Eternal life o lord give unto the soul of Owen Kelly who departed this life 1780 age 81 yrs. Erected by Timothy Kelly.”
“Erected by John Clarke in memory of his beloved wife Catherine Clarke alias McGennis ..…”

died 1st March 1816 aged 43.

“Willm. Fo..a...y died August 17 1767 aged 50 yrs. Erected by his son John Fogarty.”
“Erected by Elenor Boughan alias Burke in memory of her father & mother John & Hannah Burke & brother John pray for them & poster­ity Dec ye 7th 1784.”
“O Lord have mercy on the sould of Martin Quinn who departed Jan. 10th 1780 aged 95 yrs. Also his wife Mary Delapp dep. Jany. 6th 1799 aged 65 yrs. Erected by their son Thady Quinn March 1816.”
“Pray fo ye soul of Mary Braderick who dyed ye year 1759 aged 21.”
“This stone was erected by Francis maddin & Mary Maddin alias Burke ...”

[undated, apparently late 18th century]

“This stone was erected by Thomas Howard in memory of his wife Mary Howard alias Ken who dept. this life Nov. 27th 1787 aged 51 yrs.”
“Annabel Palmer, wife of John Palmer, Esq., died Fairy Hill, Co. Galway, 12th September 1816 aged 45 years. Her daughter Annabel Palmer died Santa Cruse House Co. Tipperary 8th November 1845, aged 35. Samuel Palmer Esq., of Palmerstown House, Co. Galway, died 1st September 1854, aged 72 years.”
“This monument was raised by Jane Porter in memory of Mr. Phillip Por­ter Joseph Porter Isacc Porter & Thomas Porter who departed this life the 4th April aged 50 years Father son & grandson to said Phillip. They lived and died in the love and fear of the Great Creator.”

Within Walls

“Here lies the body of Edmund Hearne of Tir Ehanandel Lisdavill his wife and the rest of that family God be mer­ciful to them Amen 1688.”
“This monument was raised by Thomas Higgison for his parents Valentine Higgision and Mary Higgison & their posterity forever 1688 Pray for them.”
“Here lies the body of Dermot Meagher of Cloncrogin who dyed the 27 day of April 1681.”
“To the memory of Allen McDonagh Esq., of Willmont House who departed this life July 1825 two of his children Thomas & Anne also lie beneath this tomb.”

Catherine Golden alias Boughan died May 1789 aged 58. Also Mar­garet Goulden died 1780 aged 20. Erected by Owen Goulden.

Anthony Hough died 6 May 1818, 79 years.

“Erected by his sons John, Pat­rick & Edmond Hough.”

Thomas Connor died 4 March 1769.

John Connor died Feb. 4 1788. Bridget Connor alias Nilly died July 6th 1786. Erected by son

"Mr John Connor"
“Pray for ye soul of Mr. Wm. Madden died at Caherglas Xi e 7 8th 1757”

Elizabeth Heron died 17 January 1844

“aged eleven months.”
“Patrick Canavan & Clara Canavan his wife who raised this monument for themselves & there posterity 1688.”
“Brassell Maddin of Creggin & Kath­erine Keog who raised this momvment .......... 1688.”
“Orat epno Patribv SchrisI o Pher­rowealsh. Ambrosio Madden. Petrol Vrcanet Thadae Olvrcanord. Praed Qvihnc Lapide Ehigfe Cervnt in Me­moriamsvae Sepvltvrae et Aliorvm. Fratrvm. Anno 1670.”
“Erected by Timothy Kirvore for his brother Jam Kirvore who died Jan 16th 1787 aged 20 yrs Also his father Edmd. Kirvore who died April 5th 1790 aged 78 yrs.”
“...... Peter Pelly sometime Captain in the service of his most serene High­ness the Elector of Bavaria his Breast was the seal of intergrity ...” [five al­most illegible lines following this on Captain Pelly’s qualities] “...... of his ancestors .......... common ...... Roman Catholic church the 18th of July 1790 His sister Anne Geoghegan alias Pelly erected this monument as a memorial of her ..... ..... .......”

Transcribed 20 June 2005.

Transcribed by Adrian Martyn, who was born in Galway in 1975. His main area of interest in Irish genealogy is that of Galway families, particularly on the Tribes of Galway, of whom he is a descendant. He is the author of The Tribes of Galway (2001) and many published articles. Under the pseudonym Fergananim, he has written several dozen articles on Wikipedia.