Part 7 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous post links below.
Driving south from Bandon on R602, you will arrive at the town of Timoleague in about 20 minutes, and see immediately the great landmark of Timoleague Friary. For the Prince of Glencurragh, traveling on horseback, at night and over rugged terrain, it would have taken at least three hours to reach this first stop on Faolán Burke’s path to destiny.
In the 17th century, local parishes were required to maintain their roads, especially in market towns. In 1634, a new act of Parliament allowed for a tax levy to cover the costs. But it would be decades before Ireland’s road systems were noted for improvements. A Scotsman traveling through Ireland in winter around 1619-1620 described his horse as “sinking to his girth” on boggy roads, his saddles and saddlebags destroyed.
Timoleague Franciscan friary would have provided a most welcome shelter to travelers, even it its ruined state. It remains a massive and impressive structure, the walls of the various rooms still intact so that you can recognize the floor plan and how each room was used. The roof is long gone, and some sources say that parts of the structure were carted away for use in other buildings.
From the mullioned window in the chorus, one would be hard-pressed to find a view more peaceful and contemplative. This is the spot where my heroine, Vivienne, considers her circumstances, having been abducted by three strange men, however benevolent they might have seemed. It’s the place where narrator Aengus recalls a treasured time with his father. And it is where he and Vivienne first realize a common bond.
Scenes in the book came alive for me as I entered each room and walked the same paths of monks and soldiers, and imagined conversations echoed in my mind.
Timoleague is an Anglicization of the Irish Tigh Molaige, meaning House of Malaga for St. Malaga who is believed to have first brought beekeeping to Ireland. Foundation of the friary is attributed to the McCarthys in the 13th century, and also to William de Barry and his wife Margery de Courcy in the 14th century. Unfortunately, its position along the beautiful River Argideen and overlooking Courtmacsherry Bay made it vulnerable to Algerian pirates who sometimes cruised Ireland’s coastline in search of hostages and plunder.
However, pirates may have seemed a minor threat compared the friary’s fate in the hands of the English. In King Henry VIII’s time, the structure was seized and as part of the Reformation the monks were dispersed. The monks returned in 1604, and then the English soldiers returned in 1612 to sack the buildings and smash all the stained glass windows. Then in 1642, English soldiers fighting the great Irish rebellion burned both the friary and town.
Many headstones dot the friary’s hillside, and large stone tombs in the nave are so ancient the chiseled inscriptions are no longer legible. Yet, the ruin is still an active cemetery for the local community.
Thanks to Timoleague Friary, Roaringwater Journal, Monastic Ireland. Photos belong to the author.
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