Kilcooley Abbey, Tipperary, Ireland

Close to the village of Gortnahoe in Co. Tipperary stands the elegant ruins of Kilcooley Abbey. The architecture of Kilcooley and in particular the stonework around the windows is some of the most beautiful I have seen. Though most of the remaining structure dates from the 15th century, a Cistercian Abbey has stood on this site since 1182. Founded by Donal Mór O’Brien, the church was built around 1200 and had a nave and two aisles, after the destruction of the monastery the church lost its two aisles and a new north transpet and tower were added. The nave is still roofed but the rest of the church is open to the elements. Unfortunately on the day of my visit the Abbey was locked and I was unable to wander around its beautiful interior instead almost breaking my neck trying to heist myself onto the windows to get a picture of the inside!

The tomb of the knight Piers Fitz Oge Butler stands in the chancel and is adorned with carvings of 10 apostles and a knight with a dog curled up at his feet. Beside the church, the Parlour and Chapter House are still standing, also the Calefactory remains. Adjacent to the Abbey stands the less impressive ruins of the infirmary.

A short distance from the Abbey stands a possible dove-cote or pigeonhouse, also on the walkway down to the Abbey there is an unusual Pyramid shaped tomb that stands beside the gable end of an old church, a memorial to the Barker family.

The abbey was surrendered during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 with the lands being granted to the Butlers who allowed the monks to remain on the land until it was sold to Sir Jerome Alexander in 1641. After the Catholic Confederacy rebellion in 1641 the monks returned but were forcibly removed in 1650 by Cromwell’s forces. In 1660 the Alexander family regained control of the Abbey and when Elizabeth Alexander married Sir William Barker in 1676 the abbey was converted into a domestic dwelling, one can only imagine what it was like living in such a beautiful structure. In 1790 the nearby Kilcooley House was built and the abbey ceased to be used as a domestic dwelling.

Kilcooley Abbey has featured in two movies, ‘Catholics; (1973) and ‘Excalibur’ (1981).

GPS: 52.67185, -7.5634

10 thoughts on “Kilcooley Abbey, Tipperary, Ireland

  1. Fantastic piece. Thank you. That pyramid tomb is highly unusual, it must be unique in Ireland, The only similar thing I’ve seen elsewhere is a one near the protestant cemetery in Rome.
    Wonderful the Butler family allowed the monks to live on for 100 years after the Reformation.
    Interesting also, to compare the layout here to other Cistercian foundations, (Monasterboise, the now-gone St Marys in Dublin etc) as you know the ground plan tended to be very consistent, right across Europe. Anyway, great piece. Thank you.

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