Heritage Trail.

Steeped in Irish history.

Abbeyfeale Heritage Trail.


Cistercian Abbey (Original Site)

C.1188 – C.1580

A Heritage Plaque identifies the entrance to the site of the original Cistercian Abbey which was founded in 1188 by Donal O’Brien, King of Limerick, King of Thomond and King of Munster. A drawing showing the ruins of the Abbey was sketched in 1655 as part of the Down Survey and shows a multi-story Tower next to the Abbey which had direct line-of-sight to the Earl of Desmond owned Purt Castle further down the River Feale.

The Abbey along with other buildings were destroyed by Sir William Pelham and his Army in March 1580 as part of the Desmond Wars 1579-1583.

Stones from the ruined Abbey were later used to build a Thatched Chapel on the same site around mid-1700’s in which a famous meeting took place in 1840 to discuss the destitute plight of 600 men, women and children in the Parish. A small section of ruins from that Chapel still exists today.

The site of the original Abbey and subsequent Chapel is today part of one of the oldest Graveyards in the region, stretching back over 800 years to when the first Monks arrived.


Purt Castle

c.1400s - c.1583

A Heritage Plaque identifies the site of Purt Castle on the Great Southern Greenway - a short walk from Abbeyfeale’s Old Railway Station. Originally known as “Caisleán Phort Trí Namhad” (Port Castle of The Three Enemies), and later as “Portrinard Castle”, today it is known simply as Purt Castle. It is estimated to have been built in the early-mid 1400’s by the powerful Earls of Desmond. Originally built as a round wooden fortress and later rebuilt as a stronger square stone fortress of which some of its ruins remain today.

On 16th March 1580, Sir William Pelham and his Army acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I camped at Purt Castle in their search for the Earl of Desmond. Unable to find him and locals not knowing where he was, Pelham and his Army destroyed both Purt Castle and the Old Abbey in Abbeyfeale.

Three years later and with 30,000 people dead throughout Munster, the last Earl of Desmond - Gerald FitzGerald - wrote to the Queen looking for a truce in the war. It was signed; Abbeyfeale, 15th April 1583, Garrot Desmond.

The Queen did not acknowledge and Gerald was killed a few months later on 11th November 1583 between Ballymacelligott and Tralee in Co Kerry.


Thomas FitzGerald 5th Earl of Desmond

c.1386 - 1420

Thomas FitzGerald, 5th Earl of Desmond was forcibly dispossessed of all his lands and his Title in 1418 by his uncle James FitzGerald after Thomas fell in love with and married Catherine MacCormac of Abbeyfeale, who was a daughter of one of Thomas's dependents - William “The Monk of Feale” MacCormac. The marriage did not comply with the “Statutes of Kilkenny” - a series of laws which banned marriages between native English and native Irish, the fostering or adopting of Irish children by English, use of Irish names and dress by English, along with several other Acts which severely and forcibly restricted relationships between those of Norman descent and those of Gaelic descent.

Thomas and Catherine’s love for each other and subsequent marriage broke “every law in the book” and cost them their fortune. They were forced to flee to France where Thomas died two years later. He was so highly regarded that both the King of England and King of France attended his funeral in Paris.

The poet Thomas Moore wrote a love ballad entitled "Desmond's Song" which began; By the Feal's wave benighted, No star in the skies, To thy door by Love lighted, I first saw those eyes. Some voice whisper'd o'er me, As the threshold I cross'd, There was ruin before me, If I loved, I was lost.


Daniel O'Connell - Statesman

1775 – 1847

A Heritage Plaque identifies the Building formally known as Leahy’s Inn where Daniel O’Connell - “The Liberator” - along with other members of his family was registered numerous times in old Business Records between 1836 and 1842. These accounts relate predominately to the hiring of horses and Drivers for their Carriages on various journeys to and from Dublin and their home in Derrynane in Co Kerry. There are also several letters by Daniel O’Connell and members of his family which were written to the Leahy family in Abbeyfeale informing them several days in advance of their travel arrangements and any requirements they may need when they arrived.

Daniel was a well-known Barrister and later an even more powerful Politician. He is best known for his campaign for “Catholic Emancipation” - the right of Irish Catholics to sit in Parliament, his opposition to “Tithes” - the payments by everyone in Ireland to the English Church, and his campaign for the “Repeal of the Union” - Ireland to be able govern itself. He is also known for shooting dead John D'Esterre in a duel in 1815 after refusing to apologise for comments he made about Dublin Corporation. Daniel died in 1847 aged 71. His heart is buried in Rome and his Body buried in Glasnevin Co Dublin.


Princess Cristina di Belgiojoso

1808 – 1871

A Heritage Plaque identifies the Building formally known as Leahy’s Inn where Princess Cristina di Belgiojoso is registered in old Business Records on 2nd Oct 1839 as hiring 4 horses - Mouse, Jack, Poll & Nancy - and 2 drivers - Brown & Farrell - for her onward journey by Carriage following her visit to Abbeyfeale. These are the only known surviving records of her stay in Ireland.

Cristina came from a very wealthy and privileged Italian background, married a Prince at 16, separated shortly afterwards and became involved with revolutionaries in the fight for Italy’s independence. She lost her huge inheritance due to her actions and was forced into exile in France. She bought an apartment in Paris, raised funding for a Saloon which became a focal point for intellectuals and revolutionaries across Europe – all this by the age of 22

Nine years after touring Ireland she funded and commanded her own Army into war but again her efforts failed. Shortly afterwards she went into exile in the Middle East and Turkey along with daughter Maria. In 1856 she returned again, this time through the political system where Independence was finally accomplished in 1861. She retired and died near her beloved Milan aged 63


Charles Bianconi

1786 – 1875

A Heritage Plaque identifies the Building - known locally as Eggleston’s - on the corner of Main Street and Church Street which was the site of one of the largest Stage Coach Depots in the region in the mid 1800’s. It was operated by Italian-Irish entrepreneur and developer of public transportation in Ireland; Charles Bianconi. It was one of a number of sites in Abbeyfeale registered to Mr. Bianconi in Griffiths Valuation of Limerick which was completed in 1853

Carlo Bianconi was born in Italy in 1786 and changed his name to Charles when he arrived in Ireland in 1802 at age 16. He began working in Dublin and shortly afterwards moved to Clonmel in Co Tipperary where in 1815 he began developing his idea for a more stream-lined form of public transportation.

Charles established regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes costing 1 and a ¼ Pennies per Mile. He further modified his services after the introduction of Railways offering connections to and from various Stations.

Charles married Eliza Hayes, had three children and donated land for a Church in Boherlahan, Co Tipperary where he and his family are now buried.


St Mary's Church 1846 – 1968 (Original Site)

Rev William Casey 1844 - 1907

A Heritage Plaque identifies the site on Church Street of the original St Mary’s Church. Known local as “The Famine Church”, it was built largely from donations by parishioners just prior to the Great Famine. Some of the stones used came from an earlier Chapel located at the Old Abbey Site in the Square. A newer Church was built further up the town in 1968 and St Marys was eventually knocked to make way for St Mary’s Boys National School.

The same Heritage Plaque commemorates the life of Rev William Casey who first arrived in Abbeyfeale in 1869. While on horseback he rescued four young men from drowning during floods in the River Feale. He was an active member of the United Irish League in the fight for Tenants rights. He founded the Abbeyfeale Temperance Society, the Abbeyfeale Brass Band, the Abbeyfeale branch of The Land League, Fever Hospitals - during the 1883 fever epidemic, the Abbeyfeale Football Team - prior to the GAA setup of 1884, along with being very active in Limerick County Council and many other Organisations and Committees.

Rev William Casey died on 29th Dec 1907. An imposing Bronze Statue on a magnificent carved Granite Pedestal stands in the Square in his honour.


Pat McAuliffe - Stucco Artist

1846 – 1921

A Heritage Plaque identifies the Building - traditionally known as W.D. O’Connor’s on Main Street which is deemed to be the finest example of work done by Stucco and Architectural Artist Pat McAuliffe. Not alone is it considered the most elaborate Celtic design of his lifetime but includes both Latin and Anglo-Saxon phrases to attract enquiring minds.

‘VITA BREVIS ARS LONGA’ (Life is short, Art is long) appears, at the top of the corner overlooking Main Street. Underneath is the Scrolled Text; ‘Hal, wes, bu folde, fira, Modor / beo, bu, grovende, on, Godes / fodre, grefylled, firum, to, nytte’ (‘Hail to thee, Earth, Mother of men / be fruitful in God’s embrace / filled with food for the use of men) which is an Anglo-Saxon agricultural fertility charm - perfect for a Market Town like Abbeyfeale.

Pat McAuliffe lived all his life in Listowel in Co Kerry. Without any formal training in art or design, he used his skills as a roofer and a plasterer to begin experimenting in the casting and moulding of concrete. Self-taught, he was considered a Master of his trade and decorated the facades of over 50 homes and businesses. Pat married Catherine Gleeson, had eight children and died in Listowel in 1921


Temperance Hall

1872 - 1920

A Heritage Plaque identifies the site on the corner of Church Street and Listowel Road of the original Temperance Hall which was adjacent to the then St Mary’s Church. The multi-functional Hall was also home to the very popular “Fr Casey’s Brass Band”. In September 1920 the British “Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve Force” better known in Ireland as the “Black and Tans” due to the colour of their uniform, went on a rampage through the town. The looting, burning and grenade bombing of several buildings and private homes took place along with the shooting dead of two young men. On one of these excursions a group of “Black and Tans” broke down the gate and kicked in the door of the local Temperance Hall before setting it alight resulting in the destruction of the building and the loss of nearly all of the instruments belonging to Fr Casey’s Brass Band. The Band never recovered from the loss of its instruments and the fundraising and building of a new Community Hall further up the town had to be undertaken a few years later.

Research & Design by Maurice O’Connell 2017