Clare's Quin Abbey, Among Ireland's Hidden Sacred Ground

Throughout Ireland's lovely and storied countryside, visitors can find magnificent religious sites that are a testament to Ireland's glorious and tragic history. Some of the best known include the Rock of Cashel, St. Kevin's Monastery at Glendalough, and the ancient university of Clonmacnoise.

But in addition to these notable locations, there are numerous ruins of abbeys, monasteries and churches that are not on the tourist maps and little visited. The most chesished in my memory is Quin Abbey, which I came upon quite accidentally on one of my first trips to Ireland.

Qunn Abbey in County Clare is almost in the shadow of Shannon Airport but is little known and less visited. I came upon the abbey while seeking a direct road to the nearby Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland's most popular scenic wonders. With no one around, I climbed over a stone wall and spent several hours exploring the ruins of the abbey and its somber graveyard.

The Franciscan friary dates from the 15th century when the MacNamara family built the cloisters on the remains of a Norman castle. The abbey was confiscated from the Franciscans in 1541 after England's Henry VIII suppressed the Catholic Church. For decades, the site was in disrepair until the MacNamaras regained control and restored the grounds in 1604. But in 1651 Cromwell's troops destroyed the abbey again, and massacred the friars.

In 1691, the friars returned and there was a Franciscan presence until 1820, when the last friar living on the ruined grounds died. The abbey was declared a National Monument in 1880.

I have visited Quin Abbey several times and have always marveled at its quiet dignity. Although officially there is caretaker on the site, perhaps because I usually visit Ireland "off season," I have never encounterd one. I have read reviews on in which visitors, who also came upon the landmark accidentally, have found the caretaker's recitation of the abbey's history helpful. But although I would no doubt benefit from this knowledge, something in me prefers visiting Quin Abbey when no one else is around, when I can walk among the ruins and try to imagine what is was like in its era of spiritual activity. It is something that I, for one, find inspiring in today's secular world.

Something in me prefers visiting Quin Abbey when no one else is around, when I can walk among the ruins

Quin Abbey is nine miles from the town of Ennis in County Clare and there are directional signs on local roads. In the Franciscan spirit, there is no charge for entering the grounds. There is a bar / restaurant across the street that has received favorable reviews for lunch and a Catholic church nearby that serves the village.

In addition to Quin Abbey, some other religious sites that are off the beaten track are Timoleague Friary near Kinsale, County Cork, and Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary, The latter is one of the few ancient religious sites in Ireland restored completely as a parish church.

For more information on visiting Ireland, contact the Irish Tourist Board at

Views: 1757

Tags: Abbeys, Archaeology, Clare, Faith, Franciscan, Religion, Tourism, Travel, ruins

Comment by Joe Gannon on August 2, 2015 at 3:31pm

I first saw Quinn Abbey back in the 1990s when we passed it on a bus tour. It was things like that, which happen constantly when you go around Ireland on a bus that made me vow to come back some day and rent a car so I could stop and see whatever I wanted to see. In 2007, when I went back with my wife it was one of the places I made sure I got back to. We've visited various religious sites and castles around the country in remote spots with no one else around and enjoy doing that, as you do.

Comment by Michael Quane on August 2, 2015 at 4:37pm
Thanks for your history with Qin Abbey, Joe. I didn't know buses went past the site. Shame on them for not stopping!

Comment by Joe Gannon on August 2, 2015 at 7:25pm

Probably buses don't go through there too often. This was a private tour with a group of Civil War reenactors.

Comment by Claire Fullerton on August 6, 2015 at 5:05pm

I'm kicking myself! As many times as I've been to Clare, I've never seen Quin Abbey! It sounds like you saw it the right way. Compelling read; I enjoyed it, though I am maddened ( yet again) over its historic destruction!

Comment by Michael Quane on August 6, 2015 at 6:37pm
Yes, it's despicable what the Irish had to suffer for their faith. Ther are so many of these ruined holy places all over the country.
Comment by Claire Fullerton on August 6, 2015 at 7:28pm

What's more is the thought that there should be some things on earth- no matter where- that should be sanctified as inviolable. Quinn Abbey is clearly one of these places.  The outrage of it all...

Comment by Daniel Williams on August 9, 2015 at 12:55pm
I have visited this storied place several times. It is a beautiful complex of buildings and will excite the imagination of any interested person. I have met the caretaker, he holds the key to the gate and can usually be found warming a stool in that friendly pub across the street. An open gate is not necessary as access is very easy, or was on my many visits, I understood that mass is celebrated at the Abbey once a month. It is a great place to explore for the curious about life in those places hundreds of years ago.
Comment by Michael Quane on August 9, 2015 at 1:16pm
Thank you, Daniel. I didn't know about the monthly Mass, or about where to find the caretaker :), we did go to Mass once in the village church when we arrived in Shannon on Sunday morning. We were traveling with a Jewish friend who rolled his eyes because he thought this would be the way every day would start during his two weeks in Ireland. It wasn't, but he did see the inside of a lot of churches.
Comment by James McNamara on August 9, 2015 at 10:07pm

Michael, I also found Quin Abbey quite by accident.  It was on my first trip over (June 2000) and I was in Clare to meet my Cleary cousins for the first time.  I was hungry and stopped for lunch at the same pub across the street.  During lunch a bike tour group stopped by and I met one of the group who was also from California and lived about ten miles from my home.  After lunch I wandered into the castle grounds and took some nice photos.  I returned to Ireland in 2003, 2007 and 2011.  I stopped in at Quin Abbey each time.  I missed the great Mac gathering in 2002 but took a photo of the stone left behind at Quin by this group.  Quin Abbey is a most photogenic site and worth stopping.

Comment by Michael Quane on August 10, 2015 at 3:32am
Thank you for that, James. Being at Quin Abbey must be especially poignant for a member of Clan Mac Nomara.


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