The Annaghdown Doorway and King Ruaidhri Ua Conchobair: Loyalty and Patronage in Twelfth-Century Connacht.

Stacked in an alcove of the Augustinian Abbey at Annaghdown, County Galway, lie a group of beautiful sculpted heads from a lost mid-12th century doorway. These stones have been a puzzle, pre-dating the Abbey by as much as 40 years. Yet the doorway belongs to a group of exquisite Gaelic-Romanesque portals, including at Killeshin and Glendalough, often built by royal patronage. Though now out of context, it can be shown that the Annaghdown doorway came originally from the west end of a pre-Augustinian Gaelic church, whose west and south walls were later incorporated into the Annaghdown Abbey. History casts further light on how and why the Annaghdown portal was built: the records show that King Ruaidhri Ua Conchobair relied closely on one Domnall Ua Flaithbertaig as his chief Connacht general. It is possible that in the 1160s or ’70s, the Annaghdown doorway was commissioned to reward Domnall’s loyalty, just as Ruaidhri rewarded the rest of his army, according to the annals. That its masons attained the highest level of Gaelic-Romanesque sculpture (more usually seen in Leinster) shows what a rich reward this doorway was, and therefore the growing status of the monastery at Annaghdown.

Jessica Cooke was raised in Ireland and Scotland; she gained a first class honours degree in Trinity College Dublin before studying for a PhD at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in the University of Cambridge. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at The Queen’s University of Belfast, and a research position at the Institute of Historical Research in London. In addition to having published academic research, Jessica has won awards in Ireland, Britain and the States for her plays and poems, and has collaborated in the restoration of Annaghdown Castle. Most recently she has held a visiting fellowship at NUIG to study the folklore and monastic landscape of Annaghdown.