SURVEY
OF
BALLINAKILL ABBEY,
GLINSK, CO. GALWAY.
Richard Crumlish, B.A.
Archaeological Services Unit Ltd.

ABBREVIATIONS

Av. th. Average thickness cm centimetre

E East Illus. Illustration

m metre max. maximum

mm millimetre N North

N.G.R. National Grid Reference O.D. Ordnance Datum

O.S. Ordnance Survey S South

SMR Sites and Monuments Record td. townland

W West

INTRODUCTION

This survey was commissioned by Mr. Martin Ward of the Glinsk Community Development Society Ltd., part of Glinsk Community Council, who have been awarded a grant by the Heritage Council to restore Ballinakill Abbey (SMR No. 007:035), Glinsk, Co. Galway. A pre-disturbance survey was requested by the Heritage Council as part of Stage 1 of the restoration project. It was carried out by the writer, with the assistance of Ms. Paula King, between 27th August and 11th September 1996. I would like to thank Prof. E. Rynne for his help in dating the chapel.

LOCATIONAL INFORMATION

Locational Details

Townland: Ballynakill Parish: Ballynakill

Barony: Ballymoe OS 6-inch sheet: Galway No. 7

Plan & Trace:10:3 6-inch co-ords: 460 250

NGR: 17074 26670 OD: 300-400 feet

SMR No: 007:035 SMR Designation: Ecclesiastical Remains

Access

The site is easily accessible via a tarred road which runs NNE-SSW for a short distance off the main road through the village of Glinsk.

Siting

The site is located one quarter of a mile S of the village of Glinsk on a gentle N facing slope, in fair grazing. Good views of the surrounding countryside are to be had from WSW, through W and N, to E. From E to SE a number of large deciduous trees obscure the view, while from SE, through S, to WSW the view is obscured by the upward slope of the land. Glinsk village is visible to the N.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL BRIEF

The brief for this survey was set out by the Heritage Council in its conditions on the award of a grant for the restoration project on the site. These were to include a full architectural and photographic survey of the medieval church and attached chapel, including a plan of the surrounding enclosure. After discussions between this office and Ms. Margaret Keane of the National Monuments Service, Office of Public Works, the following archaeological brief was agreed upon:

1. A detailed archaeological survey of the site, to include plans and elevations of the church and attached chapel, a plan of the surrounding enclosure showing the location of pre 18th century graves, and a photographic record of the site.

2. An archaeological report compiled on the results of the survey.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

According to Knox (1902, 103), The lower part of two narrow windows in the E wall of the parish church mark it as not later than the earliest Irish Gothic in Connaught, about early 13th century. The later attached chapel is dated by Knox (1902, 104) by A large south window with fine tracery’ which marks this as a 14th or 15th century work. However, it is more likely to be later, as the tracery window has a very close parallel in the E window at Creevelea Abbey, Co. Leitrim, which is dated to the 16th century.

The other literary references to this site all deal with an effigy of William Burke and a monument to Sir John Burke, both located along the interior of the S wall of the chapel. Both were erected in 1722, however there are differences of opinion on the date for the effigy and on the date of the demise of William Burke. Crawford (1907, 308) believes it to date to the fifteenth century, while Killanin and Duignan (1967, 100) describe it as an Early 16th century effigy. According to O'Donovan (1927, 70-72) local tradition says that the effigy was cut in France, where William Burke was killed in battle. O'Donovan also casts doubt on the date of Burke's death, which is inscribed on the effigy as 1116.

SITE DESCRIPTION

The site consists of the remains of a medieval parish church, attached chapel and graveyard, located within an enclosure, which is located within a modern graveyard. The enclosure is oval in shape and consists of an overgrown earthen bank which measures 62.6m N-S, 25-50.6m E-W and 3.5m in average width. It measures 0.5-1.5m in exterior height while its maximum interior height is 0.6m in the N. From here it gets progressively lower through E to S, where it disappears completely. No slope is visible in the interior from S, through W to NNW, where it reappears.

Plan of enclsoure showing church, atached chapel and pre-18th century marked burials.

Within the enclosure are numerous headstones, plots, uninscribed grave markers and a smaller number of grave slabs. Very few of the visible headstones or grave slabs pre-date the last century. The ground surface within the enclosure is very uneven with humps and hollows everywhere. The newer graveyard outside the enclosure has been developed in more recent times and accounts for most of the modern burials at the site. It is enclosed along its W side by a modern stone wall.

The remains of the parish church are orientated ENE-WSW. It consisted of a plain nave which measured 23.7m in length and c. 7.8m in width. It is built of rough cut and roughly coursed limestone blocks, up to 0.75x0.35m in size. Its walls measure 0.7-0.8m in width. Most of the church is completely overgrown by ivy, grass and briars, or has collapsed. All that remains visible is a 6.3m long and 1.5-2.4m high section of S wall at its W end, a 2.3m long and c. 1.5m high section of the W gable at its S end, a 6m long and 1-2m high section of N wall at its E end, and the E gable which measures 1.4-2m in height. The sections of S wall and W gable which remain are in a very poor structural condition, having been totally undermined by the ivy which completely covers their exterior. The S half of the E gable is also completely overgrown. This and the presence of a large pile of rubble against the gable has obscured any evidence of the two window embrasures noted by Knox (1902, 103) and the Galway Archaeological Survey (Unpublished files). The remainder of the N wall stands to c. 0.8m in height and is completely overgrown. Nothing more remains of the W gable while most of the length of the S wall is also completely overgrown. It stands to c. 0.6m in height.

 

Exterior of S gable of chapel showing tracery window.

Elevation of south tracery window

The only surviving feature is an inwardly splayed flat headed embrasure in a poor condition, located near the W end of the S wall. It measures 0.56m in width, 1m in height and has a 0.6m deep splay. Its exterior is not visible as it is completely overgrown with ivy. No cut or dressed stone was used in its construction.

The interior of the church is overgrown and is filled with graves of various types. Those visible are seven large 20th century plots with headstones, one uninscribed grave slab and a few uninscribed grave markers.

The attached chapel is orientated NNW-SSE and extends out from the SE corner of the earlier church. It measures 11.5m in length and 7.7m in width. It is built of regularly coursed, roughly cut mortared limestone blocks with a rough sand and lime plaster in evidence in the interior. Cut and dressed stone was used in the construction of a doorway and four of the five window opes which are located within the chapel. The exterior corners of the chapel are built of ashlar blocks and the exterior of the S gable and W wall show evidence of a slight batter near their base (The base of the E wall is overgrown).

The N gable is also part of the S wall of the earlier parish church. It stands to just over 3m in height and measures 0.75m in thickness. It contains two features, a fine round headed doorway and an inwardly splayed loop. The loop measures 0.92m in height and 0.15-0.2m in width, internally. It is built of roughly cut undressed limestone blocks and its head is missing. Its exterior is not visible, being completely overgrown. The doorway is built of ashlar blocks dressed with sparrow pecking and has an inner order with a decorated terminal on its W side, in the form of a floral design. The doorway measures 2.46m in height and 1.92m in width, internally. It is chamfered on both sides and contains bar-holes on either side of its interior face. Rynne-holes are present on either edge of the doorway, 1.58m above present ground level and 80mm from its external face. The example on the E side measures 90mm in length, 70mm in height and 80mm in depth. The example on the W side measures 90mm in length, 70mm in height and 170mm in depth.

The W wall stands to 3.1m in average height, 1m in thickness and contains one feature, a large round headed embrasure which splays inward giving access to a robbed out window ope. It measures 1.8m in height and 1.65m in width, internally. Part of its base is missing.

The S gable stands close to its full height at c. 5m externally and measures 1.2m in thickness. The majority of the blocks used in its external face are cut and dressed, while much of its base is overgrown. The gable contains a large tracery window which measures c. 3.8m in height and 3m in width, internally. It has been blocked up by the insertion of a monument to Sir John Burke in its interior. The exterior of the window is arched by voussoirs and has a hood mould, the terminals of which are decorated. On the E terminal the decoration is in the form of a head and a floral design, while on the W terminal only a floral design is in evidence. Just above the decorated terminals are putlog holes. The putlog hole to the E of the window measures c. 0.15m square, while the W example has been partly blocked up. Located on the interior of the gable, near its W end is an effigy of William Burke, which measures 2.35m in height, 0.83m in width and 1.16m in width at its base.

Decorated terminal at E end of hood mould, tracery window, S gable of chapel.

The E wall stands to 3.4m in max. height internally and measures 1m in thickness. It contains two large embrasures which splay inward to give access to robbed out window opes. The northernmost embrasure is pointed and measures 2.8m in height and 1.8m in width, internally. The southern embrasure is round headed and measures 2.4m in height and 2.15m in width, internally. Some of the render that covered their splays is still in evidence, while parts of their bases are missing. The S embrasure is not dissimilar to the embrasure in the W wall of the chapel. Each embrasure is flanked on its S side by a box niche. The example to the S of the S embrasure is square to the wall and measures 0.6m in length, 0.6m in height and 0.46m in depth. The example to the S of the N embrasure is angled and measures 0.57m in length, 0.57m in height and between 0.46-0.66m in depth, being deeper at its S end. Along the exterior of the E wall at its two extremities are located piles of rubble.

The interior E wall of the chapel.

The interior of the chapel is overgrown. Two large piles of rubble are located in the NE and NW corners. It contains five uninscribed grave slabs, orientated ENE-WSW. A number of architectural fragments are strewn around the area.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cochrane, R., 1934. The Ecclesiastical Remains at Creevelea Abbey, Co. Leitrim, Eighty-Second Annual report of the Commissioners of the Public Works in Ireland, Dublin.

Crawford, S.H. 1907. "Miscellanea", JRSAI, 37 (pt. III), 307-8.

Gwynn, A. and Hadcock, R.N., 1970. Medieval Religious Houses in Ireland, London.

Killanin, Lord and Duignan, M.V. 1967. Shell Guide to Ireland, 2nd ed., London.

Knox, H.T. 1902. The Effigy of William Burke, JGAHS, 2 (1902-3), 103-8.

O' Flanagan, M. (ed.) 1927. O.S. Letters, Co. Galway (1839), 1, Bray.

Leask, H.G., 1960. Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, III, Dundalk.