Exploring Muckross Abbey
November 7, 2016
A couple of notes before I get into this blog. First, because this blog is about our exploration of a ruined abbey, I’d intended to share it on Halloween. But we suddenly had to put down our elderly cat Kami whose kidney disease advanced rapidly and caused her to crash early that morning. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything for the rest of that day, so I’m sharing it belatedly. Second, this blog has a complementary video! I’ve started a channel over on YouTube, so please check it out as well. Video is a new medium for me because I was using an ancient camera without it for the longest time (I know!), so I’m excited to experiment with it going forward. It’s a learning process but I’m finding it fun, and hope you’ll enjoy watching.
The rain blowing sideways as we walked from the car towards Muckross House in Killarney National Park, and the sideways glances from the few jaunting car drivers in front of the house, should have re-directed our adventures indoors or at least under the cover of a carriage. The half-hearted question of whether or not we’d like a lift from one of the drivers was met with a look of relief when we cheerily answered “No thank you” and turned away from the house without a second glance.
Walking along a paved path flanked by wet, green fields, we set off towards Muckross Abbey. Cows grazed in the distance. As I stopped to take a photo, the wind picked up and sent them running across their field and out of sight. Continuing towards to the abbey, our route became enveloped by forest on either side. A sign indicated we were only 1km away but distances mean very little in terms of time when you stop every few feet to take pictures!
We came to the lake shore and, mesmerized, watched the wind move across the water causing ripples along the surface. The leaves and branches swished and creaked above us, remind us of the storm and we moved on. The woods were so lovely and green that our imaginations were full of fairies from Irish legends moving about the underbrush. Of course, the fairies in Irish legends weren’t always friendly, so we hoped we didn’t meet any!
Our path led out of the forest and we spotted the abbey behind a stand of trees to our right. Muckross Abbey was built in 1448 and originally used as a Franciscan friary. Even the abbey was not safe from Cromwell’s troops, but despite that, it is in relatively good condition. Entering through the gate, we were immediately in a cemetery which wrapped around the front of the abbey. It was silent except for the rain falling on the graves and the ever-present wind rustling the surrounding trees.
A footpath led through the cemetery to the front entrance of Muckross Abbey. There is (perhaps was?) no door, and the first thing we noticed inside were large tombs and crypts. Inside is a bit inaccurate, because in this front hall and throughout much of the structure, there is no roof. Another couple hurried back out the entrance, muttering something about there not being much to see here. Well, no, not if you are rushing and not using all your senses to experience a place. No matter, all the better to have the ruins to ourselves to explore.
In an antichamber off the main entrance, we found the remains of frescoes in two small alcoves. The windows were not glassed - simply tall and narrow openings in the walls.
Turning a corner, we reached the central courtyard where a Yew tree still stands tall. Its leaves rustled in the wind, but the second story walls protect it from erosion. A covered ambulatory wraps around the Yew tree, but here the ground feels sunken, and it is so waterlogged that our shoes squished as we walked.
Branching off of the courtyard is a large, dark hall. So dark, that Nathanael had to turn on the flashlight on his phone so that we could see a little. There is one tiny window at the entrance and that is all for natural light. We were undecided if that would have been the monks sleeping quarters, with rows of bunks along each wall, or the dining room filled with trestle tables. Seeing a staircase outside the hall, we climbed up to the second story. The stairs were solid stone but uneven, and a window halfway up provided dim light. On the second floor, we had views over the cemetery below.
On one side, there is a large fireplace and chimney in a room which is not (no longer?) covered. It may have been the kitchen, or perhaps the abbot’s quarters. We weren’t sure, but we enjoyed finding clues about the spaces and imagining how the monks lived. Another staircase led us into a darkened room with wooden shutters for the windows. I suspect that this is where the monks slept. Through another door, we walked into a great hall with a high wooden roof. Although still pouring outside, it was bright, and I moved towards the window at the far end for another view over the cemetery. And here is one of the great things about photography and videography - sometimes, it is only in post-processing that you see things in your image that your eyes missed. I don’t mean visual clutter, like lamp posts sticking out of someone’s head, or a bag of dog poo on a sandy beach. I mean ethereal things. I think something of that nature is visible in the video, but it give it a watch and let me know what you think.