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Cistercian Abbeys: KILCOOLY

Name: KILCOOLY Location: Kilcooly parish County: Tipperary
Foundation: 1182-1184 Mother house: Jerpoint
Relocation: None Founder: Donal Mor O’Brien
Dissolution: 1540 Prominent members:
Access: Accessible to the public

Kilcooly abbey was founded in 1182 by Donal Mor O’Brien, king of Thormond, and may have originally been intended for monks from Daire-Mor. In any case the abbey was affiliated to Jerpoint in 1184. The abbey was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Benedict. The location of the abbey was unusual. Whereas most Cistercian houses were situated close to streams or rivers, Kilcooly was founded in the middle of a flat plain. Its Latin name Arvus Campus ('the arable plain'), reflects the location of the abbey. In 1228 Stephen of Lexington was attacked by robbers in a forest near Kilcooly while visiting the Cistercian houses in Ireland. Stephen later deposed the abbot of Kilcooly for neglecting his duties and the prior was ordered to act under the new English abbot of Jerpoint. In 1418, the monastery was damaged by fire and in 1445 the abbey was almost completely destroyed by armed men. Apparently the abbot was forced to travel to England with two of his monks in search of food and clothing. By c. 1500 an abbot’s tower had been erected over the south transept. At the time of Dissolution only two monks lived at the monastery and the abbey had an annual income of £32, with a potential peace time value of £46. The abbey was surrendered in 1540 and the property was granted to James Butler, earl of Ormond.

Following the Dissolution it seems that the monastery was converted into a number of dwelling houses. In the 1640s it is thought that the Cistercian monks may have returned to the monastery for a brief period when one, John Stapleton, is said to have served his novitiate here. In 1690, John Stevens noted that the ruined walls were divided into two or three small apartments. In the late eighteenth century Sir William Barker, whose family had resided in the old monastery, built a winged house to the east of the abbey and transferred his family there. In 1840 his house was destroyed by fire and William thus built a summer-house in the ruins of the abbey, which he later used as a residence. The house was still occupied in the first half of the twentieth century.

Little survives of the original monastic buildings although there are extensive remains of the fifteenth-century church. These include the presbytery, the arches of the crossing tower supported on a series of well cut corbels, two elaborate stone sedilia and a sculptured sacristy. The church contains carvings of the twelve apostles, a dolphin and a mermaid. The cloister buildings have been so much altered since 1540 that it is difficult to discern the medieval fabric. The protestant church to the north-east was built on the site of a chapel, thought to have been the old gatehouse chapel. Several tombs have survived, including the sculptured slab of abbot Philip O’Molwanayn (d. 1463) and an effigy to Pierce Butler, a member of the Butlers of Ormond family, who died in 1526. The ruins lie on open plain and can be accessed by the public.