Ennis Friary is a late thirteenth century Franciscan Friary, founded by the O'Briens. It's a wonderful building with numerous fifteenth and sixteenth century sculptures carved in the local hard limestone. The chancel is lit by the magnificent east window and some fine examples of gothic windows are evident in the transept.
Walking around it is clear that these were once very impressive buildings indeed, and give a glimpse of how it must have looked at its height. The carving of St Francis displaying his stigmata, and the magnificent MacMahon tomb, dating from 1470 and with elaborate scenes from the passion of Christ, are highlights of a visit.
Although a ruin now, Ennis Friary was once home to over 300 Franciscan Friars and 600 students. It was established in 1240 when the Franciscans (a Catholic Order) were invited to the area and given land by Donncha O'Brien, King of Thomond. Both the powerful O'Brien family and later the MacMahons and the MacNamaras continued to provide support to the community there for centuries afterwards.
The Friary grew in importance to become an important centre of learning and not only in Ireland, it was renowned throughout Europe. It became a large complex, the church surrounded by cloisters, dormitories, workshops, a huge kitchen and refectory - not surprising when at it's height almost 1000 people lived and worked within its confines.
So great was this ecclesiastical settlement, the town of Ennis grew up around it, providing services and supplies to the Friars and catering for the many visitors who travelled often great distances to study and pray there. The Friary was at the height of its power by 1500AD.