On mission to share sacred treasures

Galway features large in a new series of short YouTube videos that tell the stories of some of Ireland’s finest ecclesiastical sites, interweaving these with the broader history of the country. It’s the brainchild of Galway priest Fr Conor McDonough, a member of the Dominican order which is celebrating its 800th anniversary in Ireland. JUDY MURPHY hears about this unique project.

The ancient friaries, monasteries and abbeys that dot the Irish landscape are the subject of a new series of short videos, now available on YouTube.

The brainchild of Dominican friar, Fr Conor McDonough OP, the Treasure Island series is an ongoing project that also marks the 800th anniversary of the arrival of the Dominican order in Ireland.

Galway-born Fr Conor explains that this project embraces the country’s ecclesiastical treasures “as a way of telling the story of Irish history and Christianity, from ancient to modern”.

Fr Conor, who was ordained in 2016, is making the videos with cameraman Patrick Grant after being  tasked with increasing the Dominicans’ online presence – a natural progression, he says.

“For 800 years, we have been preaching and spreading the word in Ireland. Now, there is social media and we’ve been working hard on our social media.”

The Knocknacarra man, who’s currently based in Dublin where he also lectures, began filming in 2023 in conjunction with Patrick, who was recently appointed media manager for the order. Their aim is to film 10 holy sites in each Irish county.

“But we did 12 in Galway because it’s my home county,” Conor says with a laugh.

This project is a labour of love for this friar who previously worked as a teacher and who still visits schools regularly as part of his evangelising remit.

From Inishbofin on the north-western tip the county to Clontuskert on the south-east, these 12 videos capture the evolution of Christianity in Galway and how people valued religious orders and diocesan clerics, through good and bad times.

The Dominicans landed in Ireland in 1224, establishing themselves in Dublin and Drogheda and then moving elsewhere.

Athenry Friary  was founded in 1241 and St Mary’s on the Hill, Claddagh, in 1488 – both feature in the series. The Order also had houses in Portumna and Toombeola in North Connemara and, later a convent in the city.

However, Conor’s focus for this series isn’t only on the Dominicans.

Other sites featured include MacDara’s Island off Connemara, St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church and the Poor Clare convent in the city, Inishark island, Loughrea Cathedral and Clonfert Cathedral.

These diverse places, all with their own unique backgrounds, act as launching pads for a series of interlinking stories, delivered by Conor, who’s a natural presenter.

“I wanted to use the best of recent scholarship and to tell the story of Christianity in a responsible way, not to exaggerate or to romanticise,” says Conor, whose own academic credentials are impressive – he’s a graduate of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, as well as of Maynooth and Cambridge.

Pictured: Fr Conor McDonough in St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, where he speaks about it extensive collection of arts and crafts and Celtic Revival artifacts.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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