Saint Thomas Aquinas, Urlar
SITUATED about eight miles to the north of Ballyhaunis, in the county Mayo, by the shore of a lake of the same name. The abbey was founded a short time before 1434, with the help of a member of the Nangle family. This foundation, however, being irregular, owing to the fact that no permission had been obtained from the Holy See, a brief of foundation was sought for afterwards and obtained from Eugene IV., dated March 18, 1434, which is given at length.
Owing to its retired situation, Urlar escaped suppression till the seventeenth century, serving in the meantime as a place of refuge for the fathers, during the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI. and Elizabeth.
By an Inquisition, taken on May 12, 1608, the prior was found to be in possession of the site etc. and of twelve acres of arable land, with the tithes etc. And in another Inquisition, taken on May 24, 1610, the prior was found to be in possession of twenty-four acres of land in the barony of Ballyhaunis.
1612, March 12. Grant from the King to Sir Edward Fisher, knight, of the site of the late religious house of Orlare and twelve acres thereunto belonging, etc. Fiants, Jas. I. The site was shortly afterwards granted to Lord Dillon, and, owing probably to the fact that this family remained Catholic, the fathers seem to have been able to remain in possession of the abbey ; for Father Mageoghegan,
the Provincial, in his report, written in 1622, states that Father Stephen Lynch and another father were living there and were devoting themselves to the instruction of novices who were being received every day, and he adds that the locality was most suitable for this purpose, being out of reach of the persecuting heretics. In 1629, there were five fathers there and four or five clerics.
Under the Cromwellian regime, the abbey was one of the last to be deserted, if it ever was so, for we find that in 1654, eleven fathers were able to meet here and hold the provincial chapter. After the Restoration, a large community was formed here again and a noviciate was established. The general exile in 1698 drove the fathers away for only a short time, for, when Father Ambrose O'Connor, the Provincial, made his visitation in 1703, he found five fathers here. In 1756, there were six fathers here and seven in 1767, of whom one was parish priest.
The last father mentioned in the obits, in connection with Urlar, is Father Luke Leyden, who died shortly after 1835. Four years after his death, Father Patrick Sharkey came and remained here till his death in 1846. Father Sharkey rented the site of the ruins and some of the adjoining land, on which he built a small cottage. After his death, this all passed into the hands of his brother Nicholas, whose widow is now the occupier and possessor under the Congested Districts' Board, which purchased the Dillon estate three years ago.
Until a rather recent period, St. Dominic's Day was annually the occasion of the gathering of a great concourse of people around the ruins.