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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
heritage ireland

See the house built by Clonmel schoolmasters to show off their love of history

The Careys had a round tower, a medieval Norman-style hall and Gothic and Romanesque arches in their palatial 19th century pad.

IN THIS LATEST edition of the Hidden Heritage series, we travel to an atmospheric medieval friary in Co Mayo, and visit the eccentric ruins of Carey’s Castle, built by wealthy history-loving schoolmasters.

As ever, I’m hoping to feature sites from all over the island of Ireland, and I’d love to hear your suggestions – if you have a favourite heritage site please do leave a comment below.

Rosserk Friary, Co Mayo

The exceptionally well-preserved mid-15th century friary of Rosserk is beautifully positioned on an estuary of the River Moy. It was founded in around 1441 for the Third Order of Franciscans. These were married men and women who wanted to lead a life according to the ideals of St Francis, but because of their married status, they were unable to join the First Order of Franciscans (friars) or the Second Order (nuns).

There are suggestions that the site takes its name from ‘Ros Searc’, or ‘Searc’s Wood’. Searc appears to have been a little known female saint, who is said to have founded an early monastery on the site, though no early remains have yet been identified.

Most of the buildings you can explore today date to the 15th century, and include the church with a slender bell tower; and a small cloister along with a number of other buildings, some domestic, to the north. Upstairs in the buildings you can find dormitories, a kitchen and a refectory.

Rosserk contains some fascinating examples of medieval craftsmanship, including the eastern window with its delicate and elaborate stone tracery, and the piscina where the holy vessels were washed during the mass. The piscina is a wonderful example, and has a sculpture of a pair of angels in the top right hand corner, and a unique carving of a round tower on one of the jambs.

This may represent the round tower at nearby Killala – a site that would have been in ruins for centuries before the construction of the friary at Rosserk – potentially showing an intriguing suggestion of regard of ancient monuments by the medieval sculptor.

Rosserk was burned in 1590 by Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connacht. Bingham appears to have been a formidable and ruthless military leader, infamously stating that ‘…the Irish were never tamed with words but with swords’. He attempted to destroy the power of the MacWilliam Burkes of Co Mayo in a relentless and bloody campaign.

It was also Bingham who ordered that any Spanish survivors of the Armada who landed in Connacht should be brought to Galway and put to death there, leading to an estimated 1,000 executions. His brutal and punitive rule led to a number of insurrections and uprisings, and he came into constant conflict with the famous ‘Pirate Queen’ Gráinne Mhaol. Rosserk was possibly burned as part of reprisal measures to forcefully subdue the Burkes.

However today Rosserk is a peaceful and tranquil spot, and along with a visit to nearby Moyne Abbey (just 4km to the north), it really does make for a great day out. Rosserk is free to enter all year round. You’ll find it approximately 7km north of Ballina signposted off the R314, at co-ordinates: 54.171255, -9.143696.

Carey’s Castle (Glenabbey), Co Waterford

Carey’s Castle outside Clonmel (just over the border in Co Waterford), is one of my favourite spots to bring my dog for a walk. The ruins of a fine house stand close to the Glenary River, a tributary of the River Suir. They are surrounded by a mixed woodland with waymarked trails.

Traditionally, the site was known as Glenabbey, with the name thought to derive from a small ecclesiastical site positioned here as an offshoot of the Cistercian monastery of Inishlounaght at Clonmel. In the years following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the lands of Glenabbey were granted to Edward Gough. By the turn of the 19th century, the site was the property of the Carey family, who are thought to have built the house that stands here today.

The Careys were wealthy schoolmasters in the Clonmel area, and their love of history is shown in the design of the house. You can see a number of historical architectural styles represented; from the early Irish round tower, to a medieval Norman-style hall, and with both Romanesque and Gothic-style arches present in the ruins – it would be pretty much my dream home if it still had a roof (and more plug sockets).

Just outside the main group of buildings you can also find a stone ice-house, that once ensured that the Careys could serve fashionable iced desserts and drinks during their dinner parties. This would have been the very height of sophistication in this period long before the convenience of home appliances like refrigerators. The Careys sold their properties including Glenabbey when they emigrated to Australia in around the 1840s. It was purchased by a Colonel Greene, however he became bankrupt soon after and the site became derelict.

Today Glenabbey is more commonly known as Carey’s Castle. It is on Coillte-managed lands, and it is a really lovely place to take a stroll. It is free to enter all year round. You’ll find it approximately 4km from Clonmel, at co-ordinates: 52.321072, -7.718428.


Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please visit my blog, Time Travel Ireland, where I have more suggestions for great places to visit.

You can also download audioguides from my website, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download.

Our latest free to download guide is to the lovely heritage town of Abbeyleix in Co Laois. You can download it as a free audio-visual app (iOS or Android), please see here for a preview.

If you’d like to keep up with daily images and information about Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites please consider following Abarta Audioguides on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

All photographs © Neil Jackman /

Read more from Neil here>

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