I first came across the Abbey of the Four Masters in 1968 but took little interest in the building or the graveyard. What fascinated me then was the view of Donegal Bay from there and the beautiful scenery which included Rossylongan, St.Ernans, Ballyboyle island and beyond to the Green Isle and the Hassons.
Years later, having had the experience of digitising over 10,000 graves in Glasnevin cemetery as well as other cemeteries in both Ireland and England I realised that Donegal town had one of the oldest graveyards in the country and there were no records of anyone who had been buried there even though burials had started as far back as the 15th century. I also wanted to make use of my expertise in reading the gravestones, many of which are now practically undecipherable and make these inscriptions available to the people who visit this remarkable graveyard every day.
While carrying out this work in the early days I also got curious about the history of this sacred place and began my research of the O’Donnell family and the part they played in founding and supporting the Abbey for many years.
And so the book began ………….
The story of Donegal abbey is the story of Ireland from the 15th to the 17th century. It is also the story of the O’Donnell chieftains of Tír Chonaill, who founded the abbey in 1474, and their epic struggle as one of the last strongholds against English rule in Ireland. From the Act of Suppression of 1535 by Henry VIII to long after the destruction of their abbey in 1600 the friars continued to administer to and receive support from the people of Donegal. The completion of the Annals of the Four Masters by four of their members in 1636 is further testament to this extraordinary friary.
I have tried to bring together all the strands of history that have contributed to the establishment, the ‘golden age’, and finally the destruction of this famous Franciscan abbey. The multitude of characters, like Aodh Ruadh, Niall Garbh, Ineen Dubh, Lord Mountjoy, Michael O’Cléirigh and many others are brought to life as their lives and actions intertwine and impact on the historical events that shaped this period of Irish history.
This book is also about those men and women who are buried in the abbey from the O’Donnell chieftains and their sub-chieftains right up to the present day. It puts down a marker in time in its recording of the graves and inscriptions still legible there which cries out for this remarkable monastic site to be given the due recognition it deserves and never received.