One tree, yew tree...
Rugged mountains jut out from the fertile, woody landscape while waterfalls tumble into crystal lakes. Tucked away among islands, waterfalls, and trees in Killarney National Park stands the ruins of a Catholic abbey. Venture through the forest and explore the ruins of Muckross Abbey.
The History of the Abbey
Vines creep along the stone walls as sunlight shines in through the window openings, illuminating the rooms inside. The abbey’s peaceful demeanor hides a violent past wrought with conflict.
Seán Forde, a conservation ranger, said the abbey was built almost 600 years ago by Donal McCarthy Mor.
A view of the graveyard at Muckross Abbey.
“One night while he was sleeping, he had a vision that it was to be built on a rock of music, carraig-an-chiuil,” Forde said, referring to the Irish term for rock of music. “He sent his men out to look for such a rock; they originally couldn’t find it.”
His men said they eventually heard music coming from a rock on the now site of Muckross Abbey. It took 20 years to build and was occupied by Franciscan monks for hundreds of years. During their occupation of the abbey, they faced many hardships.
Peter O’Toole, a conservation ranger, said the abbey was hit hard when Oliver Cromwell, who despised Roman Catholicism, invaded Ireland.
“They completely obliterated the library of manuscripts that they had at the abbey,” O’Toole said. “They were really out to erase all traces of Catholicism.”
The monks were eventually driven out, but the abbey still remains active, both as a tourist site and as a burial site.
“It has a very strong sense of place,” Forde said. “Only certain families were buried here and even until today, certain families are buried here.”
These families have some of the oldest ties to the graveyard and already have gravesites there.
Did you know?
Muckross is derived from the Irish words "muc" meaning pig and "ros" meaning wood. In Celtic times, there used to be wild boar in the area.
Tourists that visit the site can meander through the abbey and the surrounding grave yard. Gina Schriver, a real estate agent from Omaha, Nebraska, said she enjoyed visiting the abbey because she had complete freedom to explore the grounds.
“I think these sites are just remarkable that you’re able to come through and imagine all the different people that have been through it and all the different things that have happened here,” Schriver said.
Muckross Abbey is one of the many sites in Killarney National Park. Visitors making the trek to the abbey can enjoy almost 40 square miles filled with ancient ruins, diverse wildlife and a Victorian mansion.
Killarney National Park
Check out some of the other sites at the park.
Top 3 Must Dos
Drive along the N22 highway from Cork to the town of Killarney. It's about one and a half hours. Turn left on the Ring of Kerry to reach the abbey.
Take the train to Tralee from Cork (Kent) Station and get off at the Killarney stop. It is about an hour and 15 minute train ride. A car or bike will be needed for the last 7 km of the trip to get to the abbey.
Pro tip: Check out Muckross House, which is on the way to the abbey.