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Kilcrea friary is located in the barony of Muskerry, Co. Cork, a short distance west of Cork city (111.2). It was founded in 1465 by Cormac Laidir MacCarthaigh.While 1465 is the generally accepted foundation date, dates of 1470 and 1478 are also on record for the friary. It is strate-gically located in the rich valley of the Bride River, which runs close by on its north side. The approach to the friary from the northwest is both picturesque and unusual. Travelling over a hump-back bridge, from which a splendid view of the site is to be had, a short walk along a tree-lined grass avenue brings one to the west doorway of the church. In the fields to the west of the friary stand the ruins of Kilcrea castle which was also built by the friary's founder. The friary was founded for the Franciscan Observants and now stands in ruins. While it has been abandoned for a long time its turbulent history, the impressive survival of its buildings and the stories and legends about those who were associated with it will ensure that it continues to hold an important place in the history of Munster. In order to appreciate its history it is firstly necessary to understand the development of the Franciscan Order, from its origins in Italy to its introduction into Ireland. abbey1.jpg (193557 bytes)


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St Francis and the Franciscans Francis Bernardone was born around the year 1182 in Assisi, c.1 OOkm north of Rome. He was the son of a rich cloth merchant and, during his youth, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. While work-ing for his father he undertook business trips during which he became aware of the development of new types of freelance itinerant preachers throughout Italy. These men sought salvation through voluntary poverty and, unlike most members of traditional monastic Orders, they enthusiastically undertook preaching missions within the rapidly growing towns. These new radicals, embracing poverty and mendicancy, were viewed with some suspicion by the Church. However, they seemed to have made a great impression on Francis who, in spite of his privileged position, appears to have had a genuine sympathy for the poor and the suffering. In 1205 Francis made the decision to renounce his wealth and lifestyle. He made a complete break with the past and lived as a hermit in various caves and ruinous churches. Within a shortspace of time he was joined by a few disciples. It is unclear whether Francis was moving toward! the lifestyle of a hermit or the more public role of a preacher at this stage. In 1206, however at Portiuncula, near Assisi, he made his decision. He was attending mass and heard a readin~ from the Gospel of Matthew in which Christ's instructions to his disciples are given: 'Preach a~ you go, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." ...Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper nor a staff; for the labourer is worthy of his food'. Henceforward Francis and his follower~ devoted themselves to preaching, like the other lay freelancers of the time. What differentiate( them, however, was Francis' strict rules about poverty. The lifestyle he promoted has beer described as a form of organised destitution. He and his followers were wanderers, sleeping ir barns and sheds, begging for their daily food and preaching in the streets and market squares They refused to own property or to touch money.

In effect Francis rejected the values ofhis own class. In this sense he may be regarded as a rebe who reacted against the co-existence of great wealth and absolute poverty in the boomin~ towns of thirteenth-century Italy. The voluntary poverty which he and his followers espouse( identified them with the poor and the deprived. He was joined by followers who were main-ly drawn from the aristocracy, the merchant classes and the universities. The preachings of thes( men, however, had no social or political aims, being mainly focused on the needs for repeQtance and penance.



By 1210 Francis had twelve followers and together they travelled to Rome to petition Pop, Innocent III to approve their rule of life. Innocent had misgivings about them, but he did giv, verbal approval. Thus the first step in the foundation of the Franciscan Order was taken. Shortt afterwards Francis received Clare of Assisi, a woman from an aristocratic family, into the reli gious life. This act formed the basis for the establishment of the Franciscan Second Orde1 known as the Poor Clares. Around the same time a group of lay people asked Francis for hi guidance on the secular way of life, and the Franciscan Third Order was formed. Following the approval of the Order by Pope Innocent the numbers of its followers began t, grow rapidly. By 1221 there was no less than 3,000 friars. Official papal approval of the Orde was received in 1223. In 1224 Francis received the stigmata. He died in 1226 at Assisi and WG canonised two years later.abbey_1.jpg (126774 bytes)

The name Kilcrea (Cill Chre) means the Cell of Cere, Cera or Cyra. St Cere, who lived in the sixth century, is said to have founded a nunnery about a mile east of the friary in the parish of St Owen's, now called Ovens. She was the daughter ofDubh, who was of the race of Cornarius and monarch of Ireland, while her mother was from Scotland. According to Smith, the eigh-teenth-century historian 'Her festivals were celebrated on the 16th of October and the 5th of January, the days of her birth and death respectively' .When the Franciscan friary was founded it became known as 'Kilkere' or 'Kilchre' in her honour. Today its name has been anglicised to Kilcrea. Therefore, it appears that Kilcrea was a location with ecclesiastical associations long before Cormac Liidir MacCarthy founded the Franciscan friary there in 1465. The friary was dedicated to St. Brigid of Kildare. Cormac Liidir MacCarthy, son ofThady MacCarthy, was Lord of Muskerry (PI. 3). His nick-name, Liidir (strong, great), was appropriate as he was responsible for the building of castles at Kilcrea, Blarney and Dripsey as well as the religious foundations at Kilcrea and Ballyvacadane. He was killed by his brother and nephew at Carrignamuck Castle, Dripsey, in 1494, and is buried in Kilcrea friary

During the dissolution of the monasteries, which affected county Cork by 1542, Kilcred remained inhabited by the friars under the protection of the MacCarthys. Neither was thei! occupation affected during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary. However, Kilcrea was subj ectec to stern pressure during the reign of Elizabeth. In 1570 John Perrott became President of Munster and appointed Richard Dixon as Bishop o Cork and Cloyne. He also sent Thomas 0' Herlihy, Catholic Bishop of Ross, to London foJ imprisonment. Here he spent almost four years in the Tower of London before being releasec due to the efforts of Cormac MacDiarmuid MacCarthy of Muskerry. He died in 1579 and i, buried at Kilcrea.



In 1584, following Cormac MacTadhg's death, the friary was plundered by English soldiers, tw

In 1589, Cormac MacOermot MacCarthy, the nephew of Cormac MacTadhg, was granted the friary. An Elizabethan fiant of 1596 records the leasing of Kilcrea and its lands to Richard Hardinge. In the following year, 1597, one of the most hallowed members of the community died -Thaddeus O'Sullivan. He was buried at night in the cloister outside the chapter-room door.

In 1599 English soldiers were stationed in Kilcrea castle, located nearby, when Cormac MacOermot moved from here to Blarney castle. It was now impossible for the friars to frequent their church as Kilcrea castle directly overlooks the friary. It was probably during this year that the soldiers killed Matthew O'Leyn, an elderly Kilcrea friar. Catholics were able to repossess their lands and buildings in 1603 under the reign of King James, a Catholic. Shortly afterwards the buildings at Kilcrea were repaired and the friars returned. However, the friary fell into Protestant ownership in 1614, and a record of 1616 states that the friars could no longer live there due to persecution and wars. This record states that there were still four friars living in the vicinity at this time. The friary was occupied by Cromwellian troops in 1650. In 1661, under the reign of Charles II, it came into the ownership of Oonagh, first Lord Clancarty, and remained in this family until the end of the seventeenth century. Some friars continued to hold out in close proximity to the friary. The Liber Lavaniensis records the names of all the guardians appointed to the friary from 1629 up until 1717 .There are suggestions from local sources that a Friar O'Lonergan served as guardian of Kilcrea from 1782 until 1787 , and that the last guardian was a Father E. Hogan who was still alive in 1882. The 1880s marked the end of the Franciscan tradition in Kilcrea and in 1892 it was taken over by the Board ofWorks as an architectural monument.