GPS: 51°51′53″N, 8°43′24″W
The ruins of Kilcrea Friary (also called Kilcrea Abbey) are located near the small town of Aherla in County Cork , Ireland. It was founded in 1465 (or maybe 1470 or 1478) by Cormac 'Laidir' McCarthy. It is strategically located in the rich valley of the Bride River, which runs close by on its north side.
The approach to the friary from the north-west 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, flanked by mounds said to be composed entirely of human bones and skulls, 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 Cormac 'Laidir' McCarthy.
The ruined friary was founded for the Franciscan Observants. Although 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.
The name Kilcrea (Cill Chre) means the Cell of Cere, Cera or Cyra. St Cere, who lived in the sixth century, and 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 of Dubh, who was of the race of Cornarius and monarch of Ireland, while her mother was from Scotland. According to Smith, the eighteenth-century historian 'Her festivals were celebrated on the 16th of October and the 5th of January, the days of her birth and death respectively'.
During the dissolution of the monasteries, which affected county Cork by 1542, Kilcrea remained inhabited by the friars under the protection of the MacCarthys. Neither was their occupation affected during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary. However, Kilcrea was subjected to stern pressure during the reign of Elizabeth.
In 1570 John Perrott became President of Munster and appointed Richard Dixon as Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. He also sent Thomas O' Herlihy, Catholic Bishop of Ross, to London for imprisonment. Here he spent almost four years in the Tower of London before being released due to the efforts of Cormac MacDiarmuid McCarthy of Muskerry. He died in 1594(97) and is, buried at Kilcrea.
In 1584 following Cormac MacTadhg's death, the friary was plundered by English soldiers. In 1589, Cormac MacDiarmuid 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.
Cormac 'Laidir' MacCarthaigh died in 1494. 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 MacDiarmuid moved from here to Blarney castle. It was now impossible for the friars to frequent their church as Kilcrea castle directly overlooks the friary.
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 Fr. 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 of Works as an architectural monument.