Muckross Abbey, or the Franciscan Friary of Irrelagh, was founded for the Observatine Franciscans in 1448, and is the burial place of local chieftains and three Gaelic poets. It is famous for the large ancient yew tree that rises above the cloister and extends over the abbey walls. Some think the abbey was built around the tree, as yews are seen in Irish lore as a tree of life and linked to the immortality of the soul. The abbey is the main religious site to be seen in Killarney National Park, Kerry. It has suffered a violent history and has been damaged and reconstructed many times. In 1589, Elizabeth I expelled the monks and in 1653, Oliver Cromwell's troops burned the abbey down. The monks lived there until 1698 when the new English penal laws against Roman Catholics forced their exile to France and Spain.
Muckross Abbey Today
While today it is a ruin and has no roof, the building is reasonably well preserved The abbey is open to the public and is a short five- minute walk from the car park on the N71. It is three miles from Killarney Town.
The Ghost of the Brown Man
It has been rumoured that the abbey and its adjoining graveyard may have inspired Dublin-born writer Bram Stoker. Historical records document that a religious hermit named John Drake lived in the abandoned friary for eleven years during the mid 1700s. Drake famously slept in a coffin. Meanwhile, an ancient legend tells of "the Brown Man" who was seen by his wife feasting on a corpse within one of the graves. These stories may have fuelled the Dracula novel, written by Stoker, who visited the area in the late 19th century, and was seen wandering around the ruins late at night. Today, visitors to Muckross Abbey agree that it has an uncomfortably spooky atmosphere.