St Corbmac, Inishmaine

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Feature Sets (3)


A mainly early 13thc. church, on the shores of Lough Mask, T-plan, now in ruins, with nave, chancel and N and S chambers accessible from the chancel. (nave w. 6.4 m x l. 12.49 m; chancel w. 4.65 m x l. 6.02 m) The chambers were added after the first building campaign. (S chamber w. 3.86 m x l. 5.03 m, N chamber w. 3.81 m x l. 5.03 m) . A further small chamber (w. 1.35 m) is attached to the W wall of the S chamber and the S wall of the nave. There is a doorway in the N wall of the nave, plain with inclined jambs and a massive lintel. There are also a number of large ashlar blocks in the N wall of the nave, and two arcuated lintels (reset in the exterior S wall of the nave and interior S wall of the N transept). These and the doorway may provide evidence for an earlier structure. 13thc. sculpture survives on the chancel arch, on the double window on the gabled E wall of the chancel, and on the L label stop of a window in the S wall of the nave (only part of the masonry of the window survives). There is a plain window, with arcuated lintel, on the E wall of the N transept, which also has a gabled N wall.


In the 7thc. an abbey is said to have been founded at Inishmaine by St Corbmac (Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae 751-6, as recorded in Gwynne and Hadcock, 38), and the Annals of the Four Masters and the Monasticum Hybernicum document 'Inismean' as a Benedictine cell. Maelisa Ua Conchobhair (O'Connor), the son of Toirdhelbhach Ua Conchobhair, King of Connaught, was prior at Inishmaine (d.1223/4).

After 1223 the abbey became a convent of Augustinian (Arroasian) nuns and sometime after this was subject to Kilcreevanty, which became the head Arroasian house in Connaught.

Aid, the son of Ruaidri Ua Conchobhair, and Richard de Burgo, burned Inishmaine in 1227 according to the Annals of the Four Masters and Annals of Connaught.

An inquisition of 1587 records a ruined church, among other features, at this site.


Exterior Features


Chancel, E wall,

Two tall, narrow windows, round-headed, of two coursed orders, with continuous mouldings.

First order

A thin roll on the soffit, followed by a roll on the face, then a hollow.

First order

A deep groove marks the division between face and soffit, this is followed by a keeled roll moulding on the angle, between two hollows.


Deeply splayed, the ashlar masonry of the splay is damaged and much of the masonry on the lower edge of the opening is missing. The two coursed orders of mouldings appear to be continuous as on the E face.

Second order

A roll on the angle, slightly thicker than that of the first order and overlapping the first order hollow slightly. A deep incised line on the face emphasises the roll.

The label has a deep double groove on face and soffit, with a small roll between. This continues between the two windows at the level of the springing of the arch. On the L of the window openings, the label extends about 0.15 m with an apparently plain stop (an illustration reproduced in Healy shows a double-headed flower here). On the R of the window openings the stop extends about 0.20 m, terminating in a small shallow-carved triskele (approx 0.10 m in length). Directly above each terminal is a small, recessed carved panel.

L panel: a small figure on horseback. The horse has a long sinuous body and arched neck, and is bridled.

R panel: a bird with a long tail, pursued by a beast with bared teeth. The bird's neck extends back over its body as it turns to look at its pursuer. (The illustration in Healy shows both creatures with floriated tails).

Second order

A small roll-moulding, emphasised by a groove on the face, follows the first order hollow. The inner jambs of the windows are of coursed blocks, with a narrow fillet between the second order mouldings.

The chamfered label is carved with a hollow between two small rolls, joining in a point between the two windows, with carved label stops on the outer sides, into which the label mouldings extend slightly.

L label stop: a round-eyed feline, facing S.

R label stop: a bird with short wings outstretched, leaping to attack a beast which has toppled backwards - the inverse of the carving on the panel on the exterior R of the window.

Nave, S window.


A splayed window of one order

Only part of the L side of this window remains, no mouldings remain on the exterior.

A keeled nook shaft which was probably continuous as E window. The face is plain. The label is chamfered and the label stop has a downward curling leaf straddling the angle, with spatulate fluted lobes and scalloped edges.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Only a few voussoirs of the arch survive on either side. Of four coursed orders. The N side of the arch has been rebuilt and is partially restored; the bases, capitals and imposts of the second and third orders on the N side of the arch are modern replacements.

First order

Square plinth, bulbous base with a torus, three-quarter respond with plain necking.

N capital: severely damaged, shallow-carved, multi-scallop capital.

S capital: the S face has a central stem with symmetrical, branching, reeded leaves with fleshy scalloped edges, with a similar inward facing leaf growing from the plain collar on either side and a reeded lily on the angles. E and W faces are similar, but with the central stem surmounted by a lily and a small leaf in the outer angle. The plain collar extends small triangular projections between the plants.

The continuous imposts are plain above a cavetto with a wide groove along the rather narrow upright, what is left of the arch is of plain, square section for each of the four orders.

Fourth order

As second order

N capital: a beast on the S face, standing on its hind legs, and with a leonine tail, confronts a dragon carved on the W face, which has a curling tail terminating in a triskele. The dragon bites the nose of the beast. Both have bared teeth, staring drilled eyes, and sharply delineated rib-cages. The beast has its ears placed one behind the other on its head.

S capital: interlaced reeded stems (one appears to be beaded) on the angle, branch out into leaves of the same type as the first order R capital.

Second order

As first order but with a nook-shaft, the L shaft is partially renewed, no base, direct to a square plinth.

N capital: carved with incised scallops (no cones) below a groove. three scallops to each face, perhaps in imitation of the first order capital.

S capital: a lily is carved on the angle with triskeles forming its outer leaves. Just below this are two symmetrical stems, one forming a circle on the W face the other on the N face, touching on the angle and terminating in a four circles each containing a four-lobed equivalent of a triskele, forming a square within the circle of the spiralling stem.

Third order

As second order. The L shaft is as second order L shaft.

N capital: as second order L capital.

S capital: four round stems interlace along the angle before branching out to terminate in bulbous projecting leaf forms which join again on the angle, the lower one broken.


Healy states that the N wall of the nave incorporates 'a portion of the wall of the primitive abbey with its own peculiar doorway formed of large stones with flat lintel and inclining jambs' which he regards as a feature of 5thc. - 7thc churches. Cochrane (as quoted by Healy) suggests that the doorway would originally have been found in the W wall of the early church. Although acknowledging the early character of the doorway, Champneys dismisses the doorway as an example of Irish conservatism and dates the building 'not earlier than the last years of the 12thc.' The doorway may however have been reused from an earlier church on this site and the arcuated stones and large blocks of masonry in the N nave walls also argue for an earlier structure.

Cochrane (in Healy) notes that the small chamber adjoining the nave and S chamber was accessible from an upper storey of the S chamber. He suggests that the S chamber was used for residential purposes and the N chamber for ritual purposes or as a sacristy.

Some repairs were made to the church toward the end of the 19thc. An illustration of c.1850 from Wilde's Lough Corrib (reproduced in Healy) shows the building overgrown with ivy, and with a large gap in the wall where the N side of the chancel arch should be. The N doorway is in its present position. In Dunraven, published in 1877, a photograph of the chancel arch shows that the N side is still down (the date of the photograph is not given)

Numerous comparisons may be made between Inishmaine and other 'School of the West' churches, in both mouldings and decoration. For example the fighting beasts on the fourth order N capital of the chancel arch, with one biting the nose of the other may be compared with fighting dragons on the chancel arch at O'Heynes Church, Kilmacduagh in Galway and on the E window, of Clonfert Cathedral (Galway). The carving on the fourth order S capital of the chancel arch is very close in motif and execution to the exterior second order capital of the slype doorway at nearby Cong Abbey. Comparisons may also be made with the capitals of the Chapter House doorway at Ballintober Abbey, which lies about 10 miles N of Inishmaine. Carving in shallow relief, circular motifs containing triskeles and globular foliage forms with slender stems (perhaps an interpretation of stiff-leaf) occur at both sites. The bases and coursed orders of the chancel arch are also like those of the Ballintober doorway. The Ballintober doorway is very badly damaged so more than a general comparison is not possible. The work at Ballintober has been dated to between 1216 and 1225 (see Ballintober).

Kalkreuter compares the small panel on the exterior L of the double window, which depicts a horseman, with the N capital between bays 1 and 2 at Ballintober carved with confronting horsemen and suggests that the Ballintober capital may have been the inspiration for this.

Leask suggests a date of 1210-20 for Inishmaine. If the Chapter House doorway at Ballintober is by the same hand as the Inishmaine carvings it seems unlikely on stylistic grounds that the sculpture at Inishmaine would be much earlier, or much later, than that at Ballintober. If Ballintober was completed first, a date in the early 1220s could be appropriate for Inishmaine. Maelisa was Prior until his death in 1223 which implies that a church was in existence before this date.

Kalkreuter proposes that the church was rebuilt after being burned in 1227, but the architecture and sculptural evidence argue against this and it seems feasible that the burning need not have involved more than the destruction of the roof as Leask suggests.

Dimensions are taken from Healy.


  • M. Archdall, Monasticon Hibernicum, or, A history of the abbeys, priories, and other religious houses in Ireland: interspersed with memoirs of their several founders and benefactors, and of their abbots and other superiors, to the time of their final suppression, Dublin, 1786, 502.
  • A. Champneys, Irish Ecclesiastical Architecture, Dublin, 1910, 33, 106, 122, 124.
  • M. Killanin and M. Duignan, The Shell Guide to Ireland, London, 1962, 2nd ed. 1967, 86.
  • E. Dunraven, ed. M. Stokes, Notes on Irish Architecture, London, 1877.
  • A. Gwynne and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses in Ireland, London, 1971, 38, 318.
  • P. Harbison, Guide to the National and Historical Monuments of Ireland, Dublin, 1992, 248-9.
  • Rev. Dr. Healy 'Two Royal Abbeys by the Western Lakes: Cong and Inishmaine', The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Dublin, 1905, 2-9.
  • B. Kalkreuter, Boyle Abbey and the School of the West, Bray, 2001, 73.
  • H. Knox, Notes on the Early History of the Dioceses of Tuam, Killala, and Achonry, Dublin, 1904, 306.
  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings: Gothic Architecture to A.D. 1400, II, Dundalk, 1960 (1990), 66-8.
  • G. Petrie, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, anterior to the Anglo-Norman invasion, comprising an Essay on the origin and uses of the Round Towers of Ireland, Dublin, 1845, 180.
  • R. Stalley, Cistercian Monasteries of Ireland, London and Newhaven, 1987,184-189.
General view.
Interior, general view.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
M 14 62 
now: Mayo
now: St Corbmac
Type of building/monument
Ruined abbey church  
Report authors
Hazel Gardiner