The Franciscan friary on Sherkin Island was founded by a local chieftain – Fineen O’Driscoll – in 1460.
Its foundation is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters – one of the principal Irish-language sources for Irish history up to 1616. The friary stands on a sheltered spot above a small rocky strand, Traigh na mBráthar (Strand of the Brothers).
The nave and chancel church are separated by an inserted tower. A cloister is situated to the north of the church with several domestic buildings around it. The axis of the nave is not directly east which is the norm but is about 30° to the north. Unusually, the main doorway is located in the southern wall rather than the usual west wall.
The southern transept has two side chapels. The building was attacked and burnt in 1537, when the Friary and its residents suffered an act of reprisal directed at the O’Driscoll Chieftain. The friary fell into ruin, and by 1601 the building only consisted of a croft, a cemetery and a few ruined buildings.
Nonetheless, it continued to act as a religious building until 1650, when it was confiscated by Cromwellian soldiers.
It was later given to the Beecher family, who became the island’s most prominent landlords. According to family records, Thomas Beecher was one of the richest men in West Cork. He was an officer in Lord Orrery‘s militia in 1666 and acted as aide-de-camp to William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when the King presented him with his own watch in recognition of his support.
In 1692, he entered the Irish House of Commons, having stood for Baltimore, and he received a salary of ten shillings a day as Governor of Sherkin Island.
In 1895, Thomas’ descendant, Sir Henry Beecher handed the friary over to the Board of Works (now the OPW), which had been given responsibility for preserving Ireland’s National Monuments (under legislation enacted in 1882 and 1892).
The Friary – known locally as ‘the Abbey’ – is easy to find on your visit to Sherkin. It is located close to the shore on the east side of Sherkin Island close to the arrival point of ferries from Baltimore. It is now under the protection of the National Monuments Service, but unfortunately public access is not currently permitted.
Image: Andreas Borchert. Shared under Creative Commons 3.0