The remains of Ballylahan Castle are located close to the River Moy in the parish of Straide.The castle was built by Jordan de Exeter in 1239 when he was the Anglo Norman Sheriff of Connacht, and ancestor of the Clan Siurtain Gaileng/Mac Siurtain. He built the castle of Ballylahan on the present junction of the N58 and R321 for his reputedly demanding and domineering wife.
It overlooked Athlethan, or Straide, where he built an abbey for the Franciscans but, at the behest of his wife, transferred it to the Dominicans in 1253.
Little evidence of what the castle looked like in its time is now left.
Straide Abbey (dating from c. 1252)
Straide Abbey is situated about four miles south-west of Foxford, in the county of Mayo. It was founded in 1252, and was known in the old catalogues as the Abbey of Athletan. According to the Book of the Friars Preachers of Athenry, the Mac Jordans had recently founded a house here for Franciscans, but Basilia Bermingham, daughter of Meyler de Bermingham, who founded Athenry abbey, and wife of Stephen of Exeter, son of Jordan, was insistent on having Dominicans there in their place, and having prepared a great banquet, to which she invited her father, refused to eat or drink till her request was granted by her husband. The story goes on to relate that she then sent a messenger to the Pope, with a large sum of money, and that the Holy See confirmed the transfer of the convent from the Franciscans to the Dominicans.
According to the Annals of Lech Ce, it was founded in 1253, and the same annals record that it was burned the following year.
These Mac Jordans were the Norman family of the Dexters, or de Exeter. The oldest annals of Ireland written in the Latin language, usually known by the name of Annales de Monte Fernando (Multifarnham), are supposed by Ware, owing to the frequent references in them to the Exeter family, to have been the compilation of a Dominican of Straide Abbey, probably the Stephen de Exeter, who is said in these annals to have been born in 1246 and to have received the Dominican habit in 1263, and who was probably also the son of the founder. Two copies of the annals are preserved in the British Museum (Ckandos MSS., fol. hist., no. 19 and no. 42.) The present representative of the family is Dr. de Exeter Jordan, of Castlebar.
1266. Thomas, bishop of Lismore, apostolic administrator in Ireland of affairs relating to the Crusade, acknowledges to have ‘received at Athlone, on July 2, 1266, from Friar Henry de Siscle and Friar John Matugan [Madden], of the Dominican convent of Athletan [Straide], the sum of twenty-eight marks and a half, Crusade money, collected by them and their brethren in their own district. Tkeiner, p. 109.
- 1434. March 18. Eugenius IV., granted an indulgence to all the faithful who would give help towards the restoration of this abbey.
- 1578. Lease of Straide Abbey to James Garvey for 21 years.
- 1588. Aug. 9, A lease of the Abbey was granted to Patrick Barnewall for forty years. ;
In 1756, there were seven fathers here and four in 1767. Some of the fathers remained in Straide till within a rather recent period, in a house built by them close to the old Abbey. Father Clarke died in 1837, aged seventy-nine. Father Patrick D. Kelly, the last of the friars of Straide, died between 1856 and 1860.
Count Manus O’Donnell, major-general in the Austrian army, died in Ireland at the age of eighty and was buried in Straide abbey, in 1793.
Archdall (p. 509) writes (about 1786) : “A very small part of this friary remains, but the walls of the church, which was singularly beautiful, are still entire, and the high altar is adorned with gothic ornaments; in the centre of the altar is an image of Our Lord and Saviour when an infant (but dead) in the Virgin’s lap, and a person in relievo within a compartment on each side. Here is also a tomb, adorned with curious relievos of four kings, in different compartments, one of whom is kneeling before a mitred person; near to which is another relievo of SS. Peter and Paul.” The altar has entirely disappeared, and the tomb was removed from the abbey by the parish priest of Straide, Father James O’Donnell, in 1871, and placed in the parish church to serve as an altar.
The tomb is divided into two parts by a pilaster. On the right are four panels, divided by light pilasters and surmounted by Gothic arches, containing relievos of four kings standing, three of whom, as they are holding something in their hands, are thought to represent the three kings from the East, carrying their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. On the left the panels are not divided, the arches above being terminated half way down by angels. Two of the figures on them represent SS. Peter and Paul. On the extreme left, a mitred figure, holding an archiepiscopal cross in his left hand, is blessing with his right a kneeling figure, who is drawing back his hood with his right hand as a sign of respect.