Sligo Abbey

The Cloisters of Sligo Abbey

The cloister walk of Sligo Abbey • Sligo

Online Course –
An Introduction to Irish Archaeology

Want to dig deeper into Ireland’s Neolithic Period? Check out our online course: An Introduction to Irish Archaeology. Join archaeologist Neil Jackman as he leads us through time, from Ireland’s hunter-gatherers to the Flight of the Earls.

Featuring a workbook, resources and a series of engaging classes that ground you in the story of Ireland.

Tuatha members have instant access!

Learn more with Tuatha

The Resurrection and Final Destruction of Sligo Abbey

An internal view of the abbey, looking towards the magnificent east window

Looking down the nave of Sligo Abbey • Sligo

An internal view of the abbey, looking towards the magnificent east window

Looking down the nave of Sligo Abbey • Sligo

“All the monks were kneeling except the abbot who stood upon the altar steps with a great brass crucifix in his hand. ‘Shoot them’. cried Sir Frederick Hamilton, but nobody stirred for all were new converts and feared the candles and the crucifix. For a little while all were silent and then five troopers who were the bodyguards of Sir Frederick Hamilton, lifted their muskets, and shot down five of the friars. The noise and the smoke drove away the mystery of the pale altar lights, and the other troopers took courage and began to strike. In a moment the friars lay about the altar steps, their white habits stained with blood. ‘Set fire to the house’, cried Sir Frederick Hamilton and a trooper carried in a heap of dry straw, and piled it against the western wall, but did not light it, because he was still afraid of the crucifix and of the candles. Seeing this, the five troopers who were Sir Frederick Hamilton’s bodyguards went up to the altar, and taking each a holy candle set the straw ablaze”

This was the death knell for Sligo Abbey, and in 1763 the Dominican Fathers officially abandoned it in favour of a smaller site on Pound Street (now Connolly Street). Where they still have a presence today. It was around this time that a local merchant quarried the friary, and removed much of its stonework to construct fine townhouses nearby. 

Despite this disruption and demolition, Sligo Abbey continued to be used as a burial ground up until the middle of the 19th century. The devastating cholera epidemic which swept through the town in the 1830s put immense pressure on the site, with reports that there was barely enough soil to cover the coffins. Fresh earth had to be transported to the burial ground, raising the level of the graveyard. A 14-year-old resident of Sligo town, Charlotte Thornley, wrote in her diary that “the living struggled to bury the dead”, and how Sligo became “a city of the dead”. There has been some speculation that her accounts from this period may have in part inspired her son, Bram Stoker, in the creation of his gothic work of fiction, Dracula.

By the time the Great Famine had reached Sligo, the graveyard was literally overflowing, with reports of coffins visibly jutting from the ground. Under such pressure, a resolution was passed in 1847 that opened a new cemetery for the town, and Sligo Abbey ceased to be used as an active burial ground. 

Upper left: the southern and eastern arcades of the cloister • Lower left: ‘Weepers’ on a late-medieval canopied tomb in the abbey  • Right: a view of the cloister garth

Top: the southern and eastern arcades of the cloister • Middle: a view of the cloister garth • Bottom: ‘Weepers’ on a late-medieval canopied tomb in the abbey

Explore Ireland with the Experts

Enjoy a more meaningful relationship with Ireland. Don’t miss out, become a member today. Monthly and annual subscriptions available.

Join Today

Explore more sites on the Wild Atlantic Way

  • Galway — Places to Visit in Ireland — Wild Atlantic Way
    June 2, 2022
  • Dingle Peninsula — Kerry — Places to Visit in Ireland — Wild Atlantic Way
    June 1, 2022
  • Mayo — Places to Visit in Ireland — Wild Atlantic Way
    June 3, 2022
Main Search Page