Conservation work begins on 17th Cenury Abbey in Fahan

Scaffolding has been erected at the abbey.
Scaffolding has been erected at the abbey.

Work has begun on conserving the gable wall of the 17th Century Abbey in Fahan old graveyard.

Scaffolding was erected this week and the ivy removed exposing the top of the gable wall which is in much better condition than was expected.

However, the worst damage is to the remaining side walls where a dead tree root on one side has split the stones apart and a thick ivy root has done the same on the other side. Here the stones will have to be numbered and carefully removed. The dead tree will be removed and the stones put back in place, but the ivy branch will have to be injected and then wait until it dies before removing it.

St. Mura’s Cross has been protected under a wooden structure as have many of the ancient grave slabs to prevent any possible damage while the work on the gable wall continues,

Local contractor, Seamus Friel and Sons, are carrying out the work under the supervision of Architect Caroline Dickson, Archaeologist Kate Robb of John Cronin and Associates and Foyle Consulting Engineering and with the co-operation of Donegal County Council’s Conservation Officer and the National Monuments Service.

Fahan Heritage Group (FHG) wish to thank everyone who so kindly donated to help carry out this work. The next step is a report from the archaeologist on the options available to conserve the 1,400 year-old cross – the only one in Ireland of its age, with a Greek inscription.

FHG Chairman Colm Toland explained that it took some time to get the various permissions and licences to begin the work in the graveyard.

“The area around the abbey and St Mura’s Cross is temporarily closed to the public while this work is carried out and it has been cordoned off.

He continued: “We are very grateful to all those people who so kindly donated to this very worthy cause.

“You can get regular updates on the project at www.fahanheritage.ie.

Alongside the conservation work at the St Mura’s Cross site in Fahan, a detailed survey of the historic graveyard is taking place.

It began last Autumn and it is hoped the survey will be completed by October of this year with the aim of erecting a permanent map panel at the site.

The survey is being headed by Fahan Heritage Group member Frankie Lavelle who holds a Diploma in Archaeology from NUI Galway.

Both Frankie and historian, John Deery, have been plotting the map in their spare evenings and weekends.

“We have had a number of surprise finds – a holy water font, a saddle quern and a holed stone were recycled in times past as grave markers!

“We are very grateful to Liz Erskine who had conducted a basic graveyard survey in 1979, as some inscriptions which she documented are currently difficult to decipher with the passing of time. Likewise the wealth of knowledge offered by the local community has helped tremendously.

“From the earliest marker stones to the elaborate chest tombs, Saint Mura’s graveyard truly is a travel through time in relation to burial trends,” Frankie added.

St. Mura’s Cross was erected to commemorate the death of St. Mura in 645AD.

He was aged 94 years old and was patron of the Cineál Eoghain including the Uí Neill who were among the High Kings of Ireland.

The abbey gable wall, built in 1608, contains stones from the original monastery of St Mura.