A little further from my home in Blarney away to the south west is Kilcrea Abbey. Kilcrea is certainly one the best preserved monastic ruins in County Cork. The story of the Abbey intertwines a number of themes that have appeared on this blog.
On the south bank of the River Bride, to the west of Ovens, Ballincollig and the City, lie the remains of Kilcrea Abbey.
Ovens itself is the location of the Ovens Cave which contains a Mass Rock in a chamber about 100 yards from the entrance along a gallery that is only five or six feet high. Mass Rocks are found all over Ireland in secluded spots where Mass could be said by fugitive Priests away from the notice of the persecuting English who had outlawed the Mass and the Priesthood among the provisions of the Penal Laws. So there remains plenty of physical evidence of the cruel persecution and the stubborn fidelity of the Catholics in this area of Cork.
Kilcrea Abbey was founded in 1465 for the Franciscans by Cormac Láidir MacCarthy Mór, the chief of his name and Lord of Muskerry. He was later buried in the Abbey. A monument erected in his memory reads in Irish:
In ndílchuimhne ar
Chormac Láidir MacCárthaigh
an té a bhunaigh an mhainistir seo
agus a chuir faoi choimirce bhríde í
gura sona Dé a anam a dea-bheart
Coiste Cuimhneacháin 1965-1966
That translates as:
To the sweet memory of
Cormac the strong MacCarthy
Lord of Muskerry
who founded this Abbey
of the Order of Francis
and who placed it under the patronage of St. Brigid
in the year 1494
may God give his soul his good measure
Commemmoration Committee 1965-1966
The Abbey was dedicated to the patronage of St. Brigid of Kildare. Historians tell us that our heavenly patron, Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy (b. 1455), studied here before pursuing his studies on the Continent at Paris and later Rome. Less than a century after its foundation, in 1542, the Irish Commissioners of Henry VIII set about the work of dissolving the religious houses of Ireland but it was not until 1577 that Cormac McTeige MacCarthy, of the family of the founder, received the lease of the property from the Commissioners. However, faithful to the wishes of his forebear, he did not expel the Franciscans in taking possession of their property. He died in 1584 and the convent was raided twice by the authorities between his death and the fall from favour of Sir Cormac Diarmuid MacCarthy, when the Abbey was confiscated again by the English Government in Ireland.
However, the Franciscans returned quietly at the beginning of the 17th century but in 1650 the troops of Cromwell occupied the buildings of the Abbey and the nearby Castle. From that point onwards, the Abbey fell gradually into ruin until it became a National Monument at the end of the 19th century although that did not mean it was a dead museum piece. The Franciscans continued to appoint Priors to Kilcrea well into the 19th century and the Abbey continues to be a burial ground for the local people to this day, like so many of the ruins that punctuate the landscape of Ireland, reminders of the glories of past glories and past persecutions.
As well as the founder and his decendants, the famous Bishop O'Herlihy of Ross was buried near the high Altar in 1579. Bishop O'Herlihy was one of the few Irish Bishops to attend the sessions of the Council of Trent but shared with many the distinction of imprisonment in the Tower of London where he was consigned by the infamous and bloody President of Munster, Perrot.
Another notable burial in Kilcrea is Art O'Laoghaire, a martyr of the Penal Laws. Returning from exile, where he had served the Empress of Austria with distinction, he was hunting one day when a local magistrate named Morris took advantage of one of the Penal Laws of William III that required Catholics to offer up their horse for sale if it be demanded by a Protestant.
O'Laoghaire would not offer up his horse and they quarrelled. The magistrates of the area met and declared O'Laoghaire an outlaw. He was shot dead at Carriganimna, close to Macroom, by a force of English soldiery.
His wife, Eibhlín Dubh, an aunt of the great Daniel O'Connell, composed the Toramh-Chaoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire or Lament for Art O'Laoghaire. His epitaph reads:
"Lo Arthur Leary, generous,
Handsome, Brave, slain in
His bloom, Lies in this humble
Grave. Died May 4th 1773.
Aged 26 years."
"Having served the Empress Marie Therese as
Captain of Hungarian Hussars, he returned
home to be outlawed and treacherously shot
by order of the British Government, his sole
crime being that he refused to part with a
favourite horse for the sum of five pounds."
St. Brigid of Kildare, patroness of Kilcrea, pray for them!
[First Published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Blog in December, 2009]