Roscommon, capital of County Roscommon, Ireland, owes origin and name to a monastery founded by St. Coman in the first half of the eighth century on a “ros” or wooded point amidst marshes. Ware and his copiers make Coman author of a monastic rule observed throughout three-fourths of Connaught; but this statement is wrongly deduced from annalistic records of the collection of dues by St. Coman’s successors, under the title of “Lex Comani”, from the Teora Connachta, tribes occupying a portion of the province. The records indicate, indeed, that with support from the King of Connaught St. Coman’s foundation had some pre-eminence, if not jurisdiction. He himself may have been, as Colgan believed, a bishop; some of his earliest successors certainly were. Whilst the tribal system prevailed the bishops at Roscommon, as pastors over the patrimonial territory of the provincial king, would hold in the Church a position analogous to his in the state, and through this analogy would be the “high” or “noble bishops of the Connaughtmen”. Roscommon became a seat of learning as well as of authority, and had scholars and scribes celebrated in the national annals. From the middle of the tenth century, if not earlier, it was closely united with Clonmacnoise and shared with that great school the fame of Cormac O’Cillene and Tighernach O’Braoin, the annalist. It shared also in the prosperity of the Connaught kings, after they had risen to the monarchy of Ireland. Toirdhealbhach O’Conchubhair’s son, Maol-Iosa, was Abbot of Roscommon, and he—himself was a liberal benefactor; he bestowed on the monastery a piece of the true cross brought him from Rome in 1123, and had it enshrined in the famous Bachal Buidhe, lately named the Cross of Cong, a masterpiece of design and workmanship, now one of the greatest treasures in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. When the Irish monasteries exchanged their primitive rules for those of the great orders of the Church, the monks at Roscommon became Augustinian canons, but remained till the latter part of the fifteenth century an Irish community under native superiors despite the Norman castle built within their fields in 1268 and the policy of ousting the Irish from their monasteries. During the great Western Schism, Thomas Macheugan (Mac Aodhagain) whom the antipope Clement VII made prior of this house, came from Avignon as Clement’s agent, and convening the prelates, clergy, and laity of Connaught at Roscommon, secured the adhesion of all except the Bishop of Elphin, who did not attend, and the Bishop of Killala, who sent his archdeacon to uphold the right of Urban VI. When the O’Conors made terms with Queen Elizabeth, the abbey and its possessions were attached to the constableship of Roscommon Castle, and subsequently granted to Sir Nicholas Malbie; even the site is scarcely traceable.
The Dominican friary that was situated at Roscommon was founded in the year 1253 by Fedhlimidh O’Conchubhair, King of Connaught, and consecrated to the Blessed Virgin in 1257; in 1265 the founder ended his stormy life within its walls, and was buried there. His monument, still extant, represents him recumbent in long robes of peace and wearing a royal crown. In subsequent centuries this church was the chosen burial-place of several of his and other princely families. After the confiscation this friary, like the house of Augustinian Canons, was first attached to the constableship of Roscommon, and then granted to Malbie; but the friars lingered around the spot. Under Cromwell several of them, amongst whom O’Heyne mentions Donald O’Neaghten, Edmund O’Bern, Raymund MacEochaidh, and Bernard O’Kelly, were put to death. Afterwards they obtained a small house and land and assembled a community numbering sixteen in 1791; but it died out in 1844. Of the original buildings only ruins of the church remain. The Franciscans also had a convent at Roscommon for a brief period; founded in 1269, it was burned down in 1270, and on account of the founder’s death never rebuilt.