Activists hoping to raise funds to restore famous medieval priory in Kerry

Photo: RTE News

Plans are afoot in mid-Kerry to restore what was once one of the richest priories in Ireland.

Historians and foreign tourists mostly comprise the annual visitors to the Augustinian Abbey at Killagha near Milltown, completed in Anglo-Norman times.

However, locals are determined to make it a major attraction again. Founded in 1215-1216 by Strongbow’s nephew Geoffrey de Marisco, it passed through a number of hands during a long tenure, first as a large abbey and then as a manor home.

For over 300 years, Killagha was the richest foundation not alone in Kerry but was also one of the richest of the 223 Augustinian abbeys in Ireland. Its prior was traditionally a member of parliament. As a place of pilgrimage, it was known throughout the medieval world.

Dissolved in Elizabethan times, later than most abbeys, it was seized by the crown and transferred to an Elizabethan captain Thomas Spring, a Protestant nobleman of Castlemaine, and had been run as a manor or castle. However, years later during the Cromwellian era, the abbey was confiscated and destroyed and granted to a Cromwellian soldier, John Godfrey.

It was no longer used as a dwelling house and the abbey and graveyard returned to the older name of the site, Kilcolman.

Materials were removed and reused in the building of other houses including, it is believed, a new manor house for the Godfreys in Milltown.

The ruins of the church and a few indications of the priory remain. A fine east window erected in 1445 has been restored.

Hundreds of foreign visitors arrive each year to the site which is located on the main Milltown to Killorglin Road. The Augustinians called it after Our Lady De Bello Loco — of the beautiful place.

Apart from history buffs, the site remains little known and its importance little appreciated.

It is now principally a burial ground, maintained by the council.

However, a group was set up in 1990 to help restore the abbey and keep it from falling into further disrepair and prevent its collapse.

Pat McKenna of The Killagha Abbey Restoration group says that parts of the repair must be done immediately. “The west outer gable is drifting and in imminent need of repair.”

The abbey, he emphasised, had both historical and tourism values and people needed to be more aware of it.

A fundraising campaign is underway and, in the long term, it is hoped to re-roof the ruins.


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