Killagha Abbey, also known as ‘Kilcolman’ or ‘Killagha Abbey of Our Lady of Bello Loco’ is a 13th century ruined Augustinian Abbey and former manor house in Co. Kerry, on the banks of the River Maine. The abbey was founded in 1216 on the site of an earlier monastery erected by St. Colman, hence the name Kilcolman Abbey. The abbey was founded by Geoffrey de Marisco, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and an Anglo-Norman who had received large tracts of land in Munster from King John. Killagha Abbey was a very wealthy institution, paying the third highest rate of tax in the Diocese of Ardfert in 1302. The Prior of Killagha held a lot of power in the local area and was also a member of the Irish House of Lords. Part of Killagha’s wealth must have been due to its position as a important pilgrim site and it was well known for its beautiful setting, hence the name ‘Bello Loco’.
Due to its location the abbey was one of the last of the Irish ecclesiastical sites to be dissolved post-reformation. The abbey was seized during the Desmond Rebellions and the buildings were leased to Thomas Clinton, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s officers in Kerry. In 1588 the Crown transferred the abbey to Captain Spring of Castlemaine, a Protestant nobleman who had served during the Desmond Rebellion. Captain Thomas set about rebuilding the domestic buildings of the abbey into a more defensive castle-like structure. Although Spring’s son Walter Spring was High Sheriff of Kerry in 1609 his own son, also named Walter, who had been raised as a Catholic fought in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. As a result of this the abbey was attacked and the fortified domestic buildings were destroyed by cannon fire. After the rebellion almost all of Walter Spring’s lands were seized by Oliver Cromwell, from there on Walter Spring became known as ‘The Unfortunate’! The lands were then granted to Major John Godfrey, however due to the destruction of much of the abbey it was no longer used as a home. Further degradation occurred when some of the materials from the abbey were used in the construction of nearby houses. For the next 300 years and up to the present day the abbey’s grounds are still used for burials.
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