Foundation of Ballintubber Abbey
Ballintubber Abbey was founded by King Cathal Crovdearg O’Conor – Cathal Mór of the wine-red hand. He was of the royal race of the O’Connors, King of Connacht and notable patrons of the arts. The Cross of Cong, one of our national treasures, was designed for his father, Turlach O’Connor.
Though there are many references in the ancient annals to 1216 as the year
of its foundation, the circumstances are shrouded in legend. Cathal was the natural son of King Turloch. Before he ascended the throne of his father he was in flight from the vengeance of Turloch’s queen.
Local folklore tells us that during this period he had been working in Ballintubber for a man named Sheridan, who treated him with the greatest kindness. Leaving Ballintubber, Cathal vowed that he would never forget the kindness shown him there. Years afterwards, when Cathal ascended the throne of his father, he paid a visit to his old friend. The king asked him if there were any favours he could do in return for the kindness shown him in the days of exile. Sheridan told him that he was now old and that he wanted for little in this world, but if the king would restore their old church which was collapsing, he would be eternally grateful. Cathal promised that instead of repairing the old church he would build a new one.
The years went by, and on his next visit the king asked the old man how he liked his new church. Sheridan reproached Cathal for not keeping his royal word, but the king asserted that he had given orders for such a church to be built. On investigation it was found that a church had been built, but in Baile tobair Bhrighde, Roscommon, instead of Baile tobair Phádraig, Mayo. And the story goes that the king vowed to build another church seven times more magnificent in Ballintubber, Mayo, and that is how Ballintubber got its abbey.