The abbey of Mucross adjoins the pretty village of Cloghreen, [in Kerry] and is in the demesne of Henry Arthur Herbert, Esq., which includes the whole of the peninsula. The site was chosen with the usual judgment and taste of “the monks of old,” who invariably selected the pleasantest of all pleasant places. The original name was Ireloughand it appears that long prior to the erection of this, now ruined structure, a church existed in the same spot, which was consumed by fire in 1191. The abbey was built for Franciscan monks, according to Archdall, in 1440; but the annals of the Four Masters give its date a century earlier: both, however, ascribe its foundation to one of the Mac Carthys, princes of Desmond. It was several times repaired, and once subsequently to the Reformation, as we learn from the inscription on a stone let into the north wall of the choir.
The building consists of two principal parts-the convent and the church. The church is about one hundred feet in length and twenty-four in breadth; the steeple, which stands between the nave and the chancel, rests on four high and slender pointed arches. The principal entrance is by a handsome pointed door-way, luxuriantly over-grown with ivy, through which is seen the great eastern window. The intermediate space, as in-deed every part of the ruined edifice, is filled with tombs, the greater number distinguished only by a slight elevation from the mold around them; but some containing inscriptions to direct the stranger where especial honor should be paid. A large modern tomb, in the center of the choir, covers the vault, in which in ancient times were interred the Mac Carthys Mor, and more recently the O’Donoghue Mor of the Glens, whose descend-ants were buried here so late as the year 1833.
Close to this tomb, but on a level with the earth, is the slab which formerly covered the vault. It is without inscription, but bears the arms of the Earl of Clancarty. The convent as well as the church is in very tolerable preservation; and Mr. Herbert has taken especial care, as far as he can, to balk the consumer, time, of the remnants of his glorious feast. He has re-paired the foundations in some parts and the parapets in others, and so judiciously that the eye is never annoyed by the intrusion of the new among the old; the ivy furnishing him with a ready means for hiding the unhallowed brick and mortar from the sight. In his “caretaker,” too, he has a valuable auxiliary; and a watch is set, first to discover tokens of decay, then to prevent their spread, and then to twist and twine the young shoots of the aged trees over and around them.
The dormitories, the kitchen, the refectory, the cellars, the infirmary, and other chambers, are still in a state of comparative preservation; the upper rooms are unroofed; and the coarse grass grows abundantly among them. The great fire-place of the refectory is curious and interesting -affording evidence that the good monks were not forgetful of the duty they owed themselves, or of the bond they had entered into, to act upon the advice of St. Paul, and be “given to hospitality.” This recess is pointed out as the bed of John Drakea pilgrim who, about a century ago, took up his abode in the Abbey, and continued its inmate during a period of several years. As will be supposed, his singular choice of residence has given rise to abundant stories, and the mention of his name to any of the guides or boatmen will at once produce a volume of the marvelous.
The cloister, which consists of twenty-two arches, ten of them semicircular and twelve pointed, is the best preserved portion of the abbey. In the center grows a magnificent yew-tree, which covers, as a roof, the whole area; its circumference is thirteen feet, and its height in proportion. It is more than probable that the tree is coeval with the abbey; that it was planted by the hands of the monks who built the sacred edifice centuries ago. The yew, it is known, lives to a prodigious age; and in England, there are many of a date considerably earlier than that which may be safely assigned to this.