Kilcooley Abbey A Historian’s Paradise

Kilcooley Abbey, Gortnahoe, Thurles, Tipperary

It is another part of our hidden Tipperary, but Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development, based in the Heritage Centre in Killenaule, Thurles, Co Tipperary, are now poised to reveal Kilcooley Abbey’s architectural beauty, through the launch of a spectacular publication ‘Kilcooley Abbey’ by authoress Maura Barrett.

Kilcooley Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey close to the Village of Gortnahoe, here in Co Tipperary, located within the grounds of the Kilcooley Estate. This abbey dates from 1182 when Donal Mor O’ Brien granted lands to the Cistercians, to build an abbey here. The abbey which is a sister house to both Jerpoint Abbey and Holy Cross Abbey, is considered to be a hidden gem,tucked away in this remote corner of Co. Tipperary.

This book which has been written by Maura Barrett, latter Heritage Development Manager with Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development and part time Librarian in Killenaule, is their second outing into the world of publishing on this topic, explains Chairperson Sr. Patricia Wall. In 2005 they republished ‘Kilcooley: Land and people in Tipperary,’ also.

The author Maura Barrett provides a unique understanding of the history of this abbey and an analysis of the medieval tombs and sculpture contained within and is a must for history lovers.

Kilcooley Abbey is popular with visitors, but it is one of the lesser known sites in Tipperary and it doesn’t have a guide on site. There are no leaflets to explain the history of the abbey and Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development, in producing this book, attempts to break this barrier.

The book contains a history of the abbey, which spans one thousand years. Maura Barrett’s admiration for this site shines out through every page. She outlines a potted history of the abbey and goes to great pains to explain the medieval sculpture contained within the abbey. There are twenty pages of colour photographs depicting aspects of Kilcooley Abbey.  Maura explains: “I have always been fascinated by Kilcooley Abbey,  Maura, it gets in on you, every time I visit, I see something different, I was delighted to be able to write this book.

Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development is a community based charity, set up in the early 1990’s to develop the tourism and heritage potential of the Slieveardagh region of Tipperary. The Barony of Slieveardagh includes the  the parishes of Glengoole, Gortnahoe, Killenaule,Moyglass, Ballingarry and Kilcooley. The region has many attributes and attractions, whose potential is underdeveloped. Little is known about the region outside the general locality, hence, it is often referred to as ‘another hidden corner of Tipperary’. The area is home to the Derrynaflan Chalice, the beautiful Kilcooley Abbey, the 1848 Famine War House and a rich flora and fauna habitat. Other notable features of the area include its bog-lands and the areas long tradition of coal-mining. The heritage and culture of the area is acknowledged as its key strength and the main challenge of Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development is to exploit the commercial potential of these attributes, to create employment, stimulate investment in local businesses and above all to instill an awareness of the uniqueness of the area’s landscape.

Kilcooley Abbey is best noted for its fine East Window which according to the author Maura Barrett, contains the ‘finest example  flame tracery  in Christendom’.  There are a number of medieval tombs within the confines of the abbey, the most noted being the knight effigy tomb of the Butlers, latter progenitors to the present heirs to the British Crown, which is signed by the sculptor Rory O’ Tunney. “We are very lucky to have such an outstanding example of O’ Tunney’s work housed in Kilcooley, it is by far his most well known work.” explains Maura Barrett.

Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development have developed three Loop Walks in the area, one at Derryvilla, and two at Grange called the Grange/Crag Loop walks. An angling facility at Lough Doire Bhile has been developed also and this is an area of special interest for biodiversity, as it is home to the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly.

The Heritage Centre in Killenaule houses an Internet cafe, a community based office secretarial service, an ICT Training facility and Killenaule Library. Sliabh-Ardagh Rural Development are currently renovating the Old School House in The Commons for multi purpose community use.

This book, entitled ‘Kilcooley Abbey’ by Maura Barrett, will be launched in Tipperary Institute here in Thurles on Saturday 11th of December next at 8.00pm by Br Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey.

Refreshments will be served and all are welcome. The book is available for sale at Saturday’s launch for a special launch price of €10.

Further queries please, to 052 – 9156165 and 085 – 1169650.


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