The O’Fogarty Tomb at Holycross Abbey

Behind the altar on the north wall of the chancel of Holycross Abbey is the niche containing the O’Fogarty tomb. This was the position within abbeys usually reserved for the founder’s tomb but King Dónal Mór O’Briain, the founder, is buried in Limerick Cathedral. The O’Fogartys were given this prominent place in the Abbey probably because it was built on their territory and the O’Briens were related through marriage to the clan. King Dónal Mór’s mother was Raghnailt O’Fogarty.

Behind the altar on the north wall of the chancel of Holycross Abbey is the niche containing the O’Fogarty tomb. This was the position within abbeys usually reserved for the founder’s tomb but King Dónal Mór O’Briain, the founder, is buried in Limerick Cathedral. The O’Fogartys were given this prominent place in the Abbey probably because it was built on their territory and the O’Briens were related through marriage to the clan. King Dónal Mór’s mother was Raghnailt O’Fogarty.

The top slab of the tomb has a lovely gothic inscription in Latin that is quite eroded. It records that Donagh O’Fogarty and his wife Helen Purcell are buried here. Donagh was the O’Fogarty Chief who was killed at the Battle of Latteragh on the south side of the Devil’s BIt in 1583 AD during the doomed Desmond Rebellion. His internment here would support the idea that this was the traditional burial place of the O’Fogarty chiefs since

earlier times. It was at this time that the frontal slab was also carved. It shows a crucifixion scene with Mary on the left of the cross and St. John, now missing, on the right. This kind of scene is found in traditional christian art more than on medieval carvings and it connects the O’Fogartys to their ancient Celtic roots.

It was onto this tomb that the ‘corrosive drop’ fell following the curse of ‘The Good Woman”. It is believed that the Good Woman was Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry II. She had cursed the Clan because they had murdered her son who was collecting Peter’s Pence in Ireland. He was murdered in the Ballycahill area and his body was buried where he fell. She said a corrosive drop would fall on the tomb of the O’Fogartys and that they ‘would grow like swine and wither away like bracken for the want of mail heirs’. A slab with a hollow on its surface supposedly caused by the ‘braon ailse’ was on the Abbey’s high altar until the restoration in the 1970‘s. It is now locked away in the ruined part of the Abbey. Hopefully it will be put on display for public view before long.

The queen’s curse had little effect because the O’Fogarty title lasted for another 600 years or more.The last O’Fogarty chief in the Irish tradition, Tadhg, was buried here in 1698. Tadhg had moved the seat of the clan from Drom to Garranroe, Ballycahill in 1666.

His son Cornelius was probably the best known historically. He was a noted harpist and his harp can still be seen in the Source Library, Thurles. He fought in the Battle of the Boyne, the Siege of Limerick and the Battle of Aughrim during The War of The Two Kings, William of Orange and James II. Cornelius was a captain in King James’ army and returned to Garranroe, later named Castlefogarty, after that war. He died in 1730. He was

friendly with the last monk attached to the Abbey, Fr. Edmund Cormack. He left him £5 in his will. The last male heir was James Fogarty MD. He was responsible for the changingthe placename Garranroe to Castlefogarty. He died at sea in 1788. His sister Elizabeth married Wl. Lenigan, of Zoar, Co Kilkenny. During excavations in the early 1970’s three intact coffins of the Lenigan (Lanigan) family were discovered. They were James, died 1873, Elizabeth, died 1883 and Herietta, died 1891. James’ daughter, Penelope, willed Castlefogarty to her cousin John Vivian Ryan of Inch and he added the name Lanigan to his surname. Dr. Michael Ryan of Hull now owns the ruined castle and the remnant of the estate.

If you would like to hear more stories or view the treasures of the Abbey itself you are welcome to join one of the free tours every Wednesday at 2 pm, every Saturday at 11 amand every Sunday at 2.30 pm. Times will change to suit any religious events taking place in the Abbey. The tours are conducted by trained volunteers supported by Holycross Community Network. Of course, we can arrange tours outside these times. To confirm times or for more information phone 086 1665869 or email

holycrossabbeytours@gmail.com. Free tours are available until Easter.