Killone Abbey, Clare, Ireland

Killone Abbey is a beautifully situated 12th century Abbey three miles south of Ennis in County Clare. An enchanting long winding wooded stroll brings you to this picturesque setting beside Killone Lake and immediately its evident how prime a location this is. The abbey was founded in 1189 by Donal Mór O’Brien and dedicated to St John the Baptist. It appears the O’Brien family had close associations with this area and the abbey itself from inception to dissolution and they also feature in many folk tales of Mermaids and ‘Corpse Lights’ which I will get to later. Killone Abbey’s first written mention is in the Annals of Inisfallen when the death of the abbess was recorded in 1259, she was named as a daughter of Slaney O’Bryan who was the sister of Donnchadh O’Bryan, King of Thomond who had founded Ennis Franciscan Friary. Another O’Brien abbess was recorded in 1350 when the death of Dubhchollaithigh O’Brien was recorded. The O’Brien’s continued their influence in the area right up into the early 16th century when an abbess named Renalda O’Brien scripted her own last will and testament in 1510. The Abbey is recorded as being dissolved in 1543 but nuns may have returned as it was recorded as dissolved again in 1584. The last recorded abbess was lady Honora O’Brien who eloped to marry Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy, giving birth to a number of children before the Pope gave a dispensation for their marriage. After the dissolution the abbey was granted to Murrough O’Brien, the 1st Earl of Thomond who was the father of Honora. The abbey was recorded as being ruinous in 1617.

Thomas J Westropp recorded ‘corpse lights’ or ‘will-o-the-wisp’ at many graveyards in County Clare in his folklore study from 1913, these are normally seen as a flame or orb of light, many times blue in colour, hovering above the ground in cemeteries and en route to the houses of the recently departed. The story of the Mermaid at Killone Lough, which is situated beside the abbey, was recorded by John O’Donovan in 1839 who stated that locals believed the lake was enchanted and that a town existed below its waters that could be seen once every several years. Another tale recounts that an O’Brien caught a mermaid while fishing on the Lough and brought her home, when in the O’Briens house she was scalded with hot water, broke free and returned to the late but not before cursing the family.
Filedhan bhradráin on sruith,
File gan fuil gan feoil,
Gur ba mar sin imtheochas siol mBriain,
Na ndeasacha fiadh as Chilleóin.
As the return of the salmon from the stream,
A return without blood or flesh,
May such be the departure of the O’Briens,
Like ears of wild corn from Killeoin

Other versions of the legend state that the mermaid had been swimming up a small stream into the vaults of the O’Brien house to steal wine, a version of this story is recorded in the 1930s Dúchas Schools Collection,

“Killone Lough is about a mile distant from Ennis. It was said that this lake,was at one time, the abode of a mermaid .There was a ‘big house’ at Newhall which was occupied by a family of the O’Briens and wasn’t far from the lake. It is said the mermaid used to swim up a small river and steal wine out of the cellars of Newhall. The butler lay in wait for robbers, but what did he see coming into the cellar, but a woman as he thought….it was a mermaid that was in it and he stabbed her. As she floated away down the river into the lake she prophesied that the O’Briens in Newhall would all die out. Her blood stained all the lake ,and the water still becomes a rusty red at long intervals ,and is said to foretell a change of families in Newhall House. ” Cormac Mc Namara ,Corbally, Quin.
This story was told to me by John Mc Hugh ,Corbally, Quin, County Clare

GPS: 52.80628, -9.00417

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