Cistercian Abbey

I am delighted I chose to visit Kilcooley Abbey during the autumn period the colours of the trees along the tree lined driveway was quite beautiful, but not as stunning as some of the features awaiting me inside the abbey. The abbey was founded by the King of Thomond, Donal Mor O'Brien, in c.1182 and within two years the abbey became a daughter foundation of the Cistercian abbey at Jerpoint in County Kilkenny. The abbey was burnt in 1418 and almost completely destroyed by fire in 1445. The abbot at the time Philip O’Molwanayn is believed to have been responsible for the rebuilding of the abbey. Very little remains of the original structure. The O'Molwanayn family remained abbots until the abbey was dissolved in 1540.

In 1557 the abbey and the lands were granted to the Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond and Ossory. We know a community of monks had returned to Kilcooley sometime in the early 17th century as Thomas O'Leamy was appointed abbot in 1622. The monks remained until the abbey was sold to Sir Jerome Alexander. Following the Catholic Confederacy rebellion in 1641 the Cistercians returned to Kilcooley.

Screen between south tansept and sacristy

Crenellation on the 15th century tower

The Cistercians were finally removed by Cromwell’s forces in 1650. In 1660 the Alexander family had regained ownership of the abbey and by 1676 the building had been converted to a family home and the Cloisters into a courtyard or enclosed garden. Before the end of the 18th century Kilcooley House was built 400 metres to the north of the abbey.

Remains of the cloister

The Nave

Pictured above from the left is the superb east window in the chancel, a carving from the screen between the south transept and the sacristy, the sculptured slab of abbot Philip O’Molwanayn and another carved slab.

Chest tomb in the Chancel

Two weepers

From the moment I walked through the metal gate and into the Entrance Chamber I was immensely excited by the amount of superb craftsmanship on display. The main body of rich carvings is situated in the chancel. There are two tomb chests and a number of carved floor slabs. The most well known of the tomb chests is situated at the north wall. It bears an effigy of an Knight, Pierce fitz Oge Butler who died in c.1526. The latin inscription translates as 'Here lies, together with his parents, Pierce fitz Oge Butler, who died on the feast of St Benedict, Abbot, A.D. 1526. On whose souls God have mercy. A Pater Noster and Ave Maria' Sadly the knights face has been chiseled away,this may have been done by a rival. Lying at his feet is his dog a symbol of loyalty. The dog is showing his teeth which I believe means his master probably died a violent death. There are two front panels bearing weepers. The large left panel bears 7 apostles, namely Peter, Andrew, James the Pilgrim, John, Thomas, James the Lesser and Philip. The right hand panel bears another 3 apostles, Bartholomew, Simon and Thaddeus. The tomb was carved by the well known Ossory sculptor Rory O'Tunney. More examples of O'Tunney's work can be found at Jerpoint Abbey. I strongly recommend a visit to Kilcooley Abbey, one of Ireland's real hidden gems.

Effigy detail

Faithful dog

The dovecote 70m to the NE.

Situated: From Urlingford in Kilkenny head south on the R639.Take a left onto the R689. After 2.7 k the road changes to the R690. After 2.4 kilometres turn left through the gates. Follow the road to the Kilcooley Church Then walk across the field to the Abbey.

Discovery Map: S 2901 5779. Last visit Nov 2013.

Longitude: 7° 34' 16" W

Latitude: 52° 40' 14" N

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Photos: Jim Dempsey.