Muckross Abbey, or more properly, Muckross Friary as it is a Franciscan foundation, was founded by the Gaelic lord Donal McCarthy Mór in around c.1445. Relatively well preserved and set close to the eastern shore of Lough Leane in Killarney National Park, Muckross Friary is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque of Ireland’s late medieval ecclesiastical sites. The Franciscan community here were of the Observantine chapter, so-called for their strict observance of the Franciscan vows of poverty, diet, clothing and denial of material possessions. Though in many ways the friary reflects the simplicity aesthetics of the Franciscan community that it housed, there are many fine details and beautifully proportioned architecture to discover.
The name Muckross derives from the Irish ‘mucros‘ meaning ‘pig wood’. Though it was originally called Irrelagh (meaning ‘eastern pass’). The friary is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and it is recorded that it had a miraculous statue of the Virgin. Muckross became the main burial place of the McCarthy Mores and the O’Donoghues of the Glens. As well as being the burial place of chieftains and the local community and friars, Muckross Abbey is also the burial place of the notable Kerry poets; Geoffrey O’Donoghue, Aogán O’Rathaille and Eoghan Ruadh O’Suilleabhain.
The friary had fallen into decline by the end of the 15th century, and like all of Ireland’s medieval monasteries, abbeys, friaries and priories, in 1541 Muckross was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries enacted by King Henry VIII. Though friars continued to administer to the local community and they were formally reestablished in 1612, before being finally driven out when it was burned by Cromwellian forces in 1652. By the early part of the 17th century, a large estate of land in this area, including Muckross Abbey, had passed to the control of the Earl of Kenmare.
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