The Ancient Abbey of Tarmon, south of Drumkeerin in Co Leitrim. The final resting place of the McGrails from Lisfuiltaghan. Photos courtesy of Greg McGrail by way of the good John Flynn. The Abbey is situated on the western shores of Lough Allen, in the parish of Inishmagrath. On the shore of Lough Allen, less than a mile south of Tarmon Church and 20 minutes drive from the Bush Hotel, is the ruins of the “Ancient Abbey of Tarmon”. The site consists of the ruins of an old church and it’s adjoining cemetery. Very little is known about the origins of the abbey, which was dedicated to St Patrick, but it seems to have been a Franciscan settlement, closely linked to the Abbey of Kilronan, about six miles away. The 1835 church was not the first St Patrick’s Chapel in the area. A church named after St Patrick was built in medieval times on the shore of Lough Allen in the nearby townland of Curraghs. Substantial ruins of this church have survived and the adjoining cemetery is still in use.
There is also a memorial to Joe McKenna, the famous flute player who was from the area and considered to be the most important influence on Packie Duignan. The well known modern writer Vincent Woods is also from here.
The church itself – built in a night says tradition, sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries. Dedicated to Saint Patrick says one history, Saint Bridget says another. The neat stone head which is carved over the east window and stares across at the Iron Mountain and the townlands of the clergy could be Patrick or Bridget or both.
Tarmon, Place of Sanctuary and at its center Curraghs graveyard and the ruined church or abbey, Teampull na gCurrachadha. Here rest the good dead from the green and blue hills, centuries of our people, our ancestors: and here we will rest, ancestors to the future, under stone flags, the lake (Allen) to our heels and our heads to the gray road. All history, all myth, all humanity is contained within these stone walls: the priest whose body was smuggled in a hay-cart from Drumahaire for burial in sacred soil; the girl from the colliery who died from a meal of gruel given in kindness as she carried a backload of nettles from Curraghs to her famine home; the miser who swallowed her four gold sovereigns on her death-bed and whose trove is buried with her in the small house, in the church, near the gate; the less-than-saintly man whose body emerged intact from his coffin to the bemused eyes of the gravediggers. Men were held prisoner here and interrogated during the civil war, letters were left on graves, couples courted here
The first monks, those artists of stone and light and silence, chose their location well and wisely. Like the nunnery at Cartronbeg, a mile or so to the south, the building occupies one of the finest sites in the area. If they were hermits they were also aesthetes – and the beauty here, though marred these days, remains an inspiration and a joy. The east window served once as a sundial, there is as yet undeciphered Ogham writing on the flagstone entrance to the Church, the last person buried guards the gate. That our dead rest here is no less than they deserve.
One stone flag has a carving of the moon and sun behind Christ on the cross at Calvary, the flat upright stone over the colliery girl has a rising sun carved like a small fan of hope, many old flags have no names, but we remember them now, now and to La’ Luain, to the end of time.”
(by Vincent Woods)