A visit to Muckross Abbey is one of the most popular things to do in Killarney National Park.
The well-preserved Muckross Abbey was once the home to Irish monks when it was founded back in 1448.
Located five minutes from the Muckross House car park, Muckross Abbey is free to enter and open all year round.
In the guide below, you’ll find everything you need to know before visiting Muckross Abbey in Killarney, from its history to what to see nearby.
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.
Pay particular attention to point 3, about getting around, as this is a great option for exploring the park.
You’ll find Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park, around 4km from Killarney Town and a stone’s throw from a clatter of other great attractions.
If you don’t fancy walking too far to get to Muckross Abbey, you’re in luck – there’s a car park a short stroll away (just off on the N71 – stick ‘Muckross Gardens’ into Google Maps and you’ll find it easily).
3. The best way to see it
Personally, I think the best way to see Muckross Abbey and all of the National Park is by bike. You can rent one in the town and zip around all of the different sites in the park with ease (there are cycle lanes).
Muckross Abbey history (a speedy overview)
The Muckross Abbey was established under the patronage of Donal ‘an Diamh’ MacCarthy in 1448.
Donal’s great grandfather, Cormac MacCarthy Mor, decided to found an abbey after the idea appeared to him in a vision.
The Rock of Music
He decided that it should be built on Carraig na Chiuil (the Rock of Music). Men were sent to find it but couldn’t.
As they passed Irrelagh, they heard beautiful music coming from a rock and finally found the location.
20 years after construction (in 1468), a papal indulgence was granted to help complete the buildings around Muckross Abbey.
Violence at the Abbey
The friars remained in Muckross until protestant forces occupied it, damaging the buildings and killing a number of friars.
In 1612, the friars occupied the old buildings again with the buildings being fully restored in 1617. In 1652, the friars were driven out and persecuted by Cromwellian forces.
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.
Things to keep an eye out for at 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 though some might find it a little eerie too.
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 photo 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 in Killarney
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
A prominent focal point of Killarney National Park, the 19th century Victorian mansion is surrounded by two beautiful lakes and visitors should take the opportunity to explore all 14 rooms through a guided tour.
The huge mansion and peaceful gardens were so famed for their elegance and beauty that even Queen Victoria decided to pay a visit to see what all the fuss was about.
2. Ross Castle
Located on the edge of the stunning Lough Leane, the 15th Ross Castle was once home to the infamous O’Donoghue clan.
A guided tour is highly recommended as there is a lot of well-preserved rooms in the five floors of tower to explore. You can see Ross Castle on many of the different Killarney walks.
3. Torc Waterfall
The 20 metres high Torc Waterfall is created naturally as the Owengarriff River drains from the Devil’s Punchbowl Lake and towards the base of Torc Mountain forming scenic rock pools.
There is a little bit of walking so make sure that you have adequate footwear on during the incline hike up.
4. The Gap of Dunloe
Situated between the Purple Mountain and MacGillycuddy Reeks, the Gap of Dunloe offers a visual display of stunning backdrops, lakes and rivers.
There is also a magical wishing bridge where if you make a wish on it, then it comes true (well one way to find out!).
Most people tend to cycle through it though if you walk, it can take around 2.5 hours or less depending on how fast you walk.
5. Plenty more things to see
As Muckross House is on the Ring of Kerry, there’s no end to the number of things to do and places to visit nearby. Here’s a few suggestions:
FAQs about visiting Muckross Abbey
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.
Is Muckross Abbey worth visiting?
Yes, it 100% is, once you know a bit about the history and you know what to look out for (see above for the different features to keep an eye out for).
Is there parking near it?
Yep! You can park in the car park next to Muckross House and Gardens. It’s a short walk to the abbey from there.
Is there much to see nearby?
Yes! There’s loads to see and do nearby, from Ross Castle and the Killarney Lakes to Torc Waterfall and much more.