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Muckross Abbey: History, Parking + 7 Ancient Features

Muckross Abbey: History, Parking + 7 Ancient Features

Killarney’s Muckross Abbey is a Franciscan friary that was founded around 1445. Although now in ruin, it is incredibly impressive.

Although the Abbey is now in ruin, it remains very well preserved in places – so much so that you can explore the ground floor, with the ancient yew, and the upper level.

One of the stand-out attractions on the Ring of Kerry, a visit here never fails to disappoint. Find info on parking, its history and more below!

Some quick need-to-knows before visiting Muckross Abbey in Killarney

Although a visit to Muckross Abbey in Killarney is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit smoother.

1. Location

You’ll find Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park, around 4km from Killarney Town (it’s a 12-minute drive, a 1-hour walk and a 15-minute cycle).

2. Parking

If you look at the map above, you’ll see the two Muckross Abbey parking options. The closest car park to the abbey is here on Google Maps, however, note that there’s very limited spaces. The second car park is much larger and it’s located at Muckross House here.

3. The best way to see it

In my opinion, the best way to see it is on the 2.5km Muckross Abbey Loop. This is an easy-going trail that takes in the Abbey and a popular corner of the park (see a map of the trail in our Killarney walks guide).

Muckross Abbey history

Muckross Abbey 

Photos via Shutterstock

Muckross Abbey was established in 1448 under the patronage of Daniel McCarthy Mor of the MacCarthy dynasty.

There’s a legend surrounding how Muckross Abbey actually came about, and it all begins with the King of Desmond, Cormac MacCarthy Mor (Daniel’s great grandfather).

The Rock of Music

Cormac wanted to found a monastery for the Franciscans but he struggled to decide upon a location. Then one night he had a vision that told him to build it on Carraig na Chiuil (the Rock of Music).

But there was a problem – neither Cormac nor his men had ever heard of such a place. Regardless, he sent his men in search of it. They were on the verge of giving up when they heard enchanting music.

It was coming from a place known as Irrelagh (where the Abbey now stands). 20 years after construction (in 1468), a papal indulgence was granted to help complete the buildings around Muckross Abbey.

Turbulent times at the Abbey

The friars who inhabited Muckross Abbey did so until protestant forces occupied it, damaging both the buildings and those inside.

The friars occupied the Abbey again in 1612, but it was in a bad state. It wasn’t until 1617 that it was fully restored. Soon after, in 1652, Cromwellian forces arrive.

They drove the friars out of Muckross Abbey and persecuted them. In 1929, the first high mass since penal times took place in the ruins of the Muckross friary with over 2,800 Franciscan tertiaries in attendance.

The yew tree and other architectural features

Muckross Abbey

It’s easy to visit Muckross Abbey in Killarney and completely miss some magnificent history that’s hidden in plain sight.

Below, you’ll find some of the things you need to keep an eye out for when you visit Muckross Abbey, like the Chancel and the ancient yew trees.

1. The Abbey itself

The compact abbey is made up of a rectangle nave and a chancel Church with an inserted central tower between them.

Adjoining the nave is a south transept while on the northern side of the Church are the cloisters, which beautifully surround the courtyard and an ancient Yew tree.

The refectory is located on the north-side of the cloister and to the south is the abbot’s house and kitchen.

The dormitory is located on the east side of the cloister and fragments of wall paintings show the importance of art to help motivate friar’s private devotions.

2. The finely preserved Chancel

There is a real feeling of peacefulness when you step into the Chancel at Muckross Abbey.

The south wall of the chancel has three windows and in the east gable is a huge three mullioned window.

South of the chancel lies a tomb recess and a double piscine with ogee arches. In the north wall of the chancel, there are two more tomb recesses.

You might notice that the arches of the east and north sides of the cloisters are different to the other side’s which would suggest that they are not of the same date.

3. The Graveyard

During penal times, Muckross was often used as a burial place for local chieftains and Kerry’s leading poets.

Muckross friary was often the burial place of choice for many big Gaelic clans such as the O’Sullivans, the O’Donoghues and the McGillacuddies.

The graveyard here is still in use with a number of burials taking place each year.

4. The Ancient Yew Tree

The ancient yew tree is arguably the most beautiful feature of Muckross Abbey in Killarney, as you can see from the photos above.

In the centre of the garth is an ancient yew tree, believed to be as old as the abbey itself. It is also thought to be Killarney’s oldest yew tree and the oldest of the species to be found in Ireland.

There is also a local legend that a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary is buried underneath the tree and anyone who damages the tree would die within a year.

Things to do near Muckross Abbey

best things to do in Killarney Ireland

One of the beauties of visiting Muckross Abbey is that it’s a short spin away from many other places to visit and things to do in Killarney.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Muckross Abbey (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

  1. Muckross House (7 minute drive): A 19th century Victorian mansion. Tour the house, gardens and farms
  2. Ross Castle (17 minute drive): A 15th tower house that was once home to the infamous O’Donoghue clan
  3. Torc Waterfall (8 minute drive): A 20 metre-high waterfall that’s easily accessible
  4. The Gap of Dunloe (30 minute drive): One of the Ring of Kerry highlights, it can be explored on foot, bike or jaunty
  5. Ladies View (23 minute drive): Arguably one of the finest viewpoints in County Kerry
  6. Moll’s Gap (30 minute drive): A bendy road with a fine aul legend tied to it

FAQs about Muckross Friary

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from where to park near the abbey to whether or not it’s worth a visit.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Who is buried at Muckross Abbey?

The graveyard at Muckross Abbey contains the tombs of many Gaelic Chieftains from ancient Ireland. A number of celebrated Kerry poets, including O’Donoghue, Ó Rathaille and Ó Súilleabháin, are also buried at Muckross Abbey.

Is Muckross Abbey free?

Yes. There is no admission into the abbey or the nearby car parks and it is open all year round.

How old is the yew tree at Muckross Abbey?

The Ancient Yew Tree in Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park is estimated to be 400 years old. This is debated, however, with some claiming it to be 700 years old.

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