Connaught Journal Galway
15th May 1823
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The ancient Abbey of this name, so justly celebrated in Irish history, six miles from Tuam, the right to which had been the subject of much contention in the House of Lords recently, was founded by Cathal O’Connor, called
Crobhderg, or Red-handed,in 1189. Among the survivors of the bloody house of Roderick, the most conspicuous for his piety, and romantic courage, and above all, for his unconquerable dislike of the English, stood this illustrious Prince. He formed an extensive alliance with the Munster Chiefs, for the purpose of repelling the invaders. The Lords of Thomond and Desmond, burying their dissentions in the common good, united their forces behind him.
Decourcy, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, dreading that the gathering storm would burst on his head, recalled a strong detachment of his army under Armorie of St. Laurence. Decourcy, in the mean time, having been removed from the Government of Ireland, by the appointment of Hugh de Lacy, whose conduct seemed to be both haughty and insolent, felt the deepest resentment. Cathal took advantage of this division, and the consequent weakness of the English interest. He instantly determined on attacking the invaders.
A furious and sanguinary battle ensued, on the hill of Knockmoy, in which the whole almost of Armorie’s army, after committing dreadful slaughter on the Irish, perished on the field of battle. During the contest, while the issue seemed yet balanced in the scale, Cathal, influenced by that religious feeling, promised to build an Abbey on the field of battle, if he should be the conqueror. Cathal, shortly after, erected Knockmoy, in Irish, Cnoc na mBuaidh mugha, the hill of slaughter; and to Monkish writers, Monasterium de Colle Victoriae.
The founder gave the Abbey to Cistercian Monks, the habit of which Order he afterwards assumed. He died in 1224, and was buried in his own Abbey.
The most curious remains, after decay of so many ages, at Knockmoy are Fresco paintings, which adorn the founder’s beautiful mausoleum. One compartment exhibits Christ on the Cross; another exhibits six Kings – three dead and three living. Of the latter, in the middle is Roderic O’Connor, Monarch of all Ireland. He holds in his hand the seam air, or shamrock, a plant in great estimation. From a legendary tradition it goes that by this three-leaved grass, St. Patrick set forth the mystery of the Trinity.
The Princes on each side are his vassals. He, with the hawk on his arm, is the grand falconer, and the other with the sword, his Marshal; these hold their lands by Grand Sergeantry. Below them, sits a Brehon, with his Roll of Laws having pronounced sentence of death on Mac Murrough’s Son, for the crime of the father’s having joined the English.
Geraldus Cambrensis gives a beautiful account of this cruel sentence. The boy is tied to a tree – his body being transfixed with arrows – a useful hint to those who, abetting the cause of oppression and usurpation, trample under foot the sacred ties of kindred and of country. These are the principal remains of this celebrated Abbey. It is true, that the Abbey has fallen into much decay within these twenty years; and much may yet be preserved which will afford the antiquarian ample scope for inquiry and delight.