An Incomplete Story

In recent years there has been some discussion about when the Franciscan Order first arrived in Ireland. A long-standing tradition had it that the earliest friars here established a house in Youghal, County Cork in 1214 (twelve years before the death of Francis of Assisi). However, the earliest contemporaneous account of an Irish Franciscan house dates from 1233, and refers to a property in Dublin which was evidently well-established by then since mention is made of the need to repair a church and house. Whatever the facts, the Franciscans proved highly popular and over the course of the thirteenth century, some 45 friaries had been set up across the country, usually at the behest – and with the funding – of an important local family. Such was the case with the house at Ardfert, County Kerry established in 1253 by Thomas FitzMaurice who would be buried in the church close to the altar following his death in c.1280.

The remains of Ardfry Friary indicate it was a substantial building. The wide body of the church concludes in a five-lancet window. As was usual with mendicant houses, the church had no side aisles but in the 15th century a transept was added on the southern side. This has a handsome nine-lancet window removed from the building in 1670 and installed in nearby Ardfert Cathedral before being returned to its original location in the second decade of the 19th century. To the north of the church lie the remains of the cloister, only the eastern side being still intact. In the 15th century a six-storey tower was added to the complex at the western end of the church, presumably to provide secure accommodation for the friars during a period of considerable internal turmoil when even religious establishments were not safe from attack. Ultimately, like all other such houses, Ardfert Friary was closed down in the 16th century, after which it passed into the control of Colonel John Zouche, an English soldier at the time based in Munster. By the 1630s the property had passed into the possession of the Crosbie family with whom it remained until the last century.

Ardfert Friary today stands in the middle of what was once a landscaped park, with the religious house serving as a romantic ruin. It is hard to appreciate this now because the former Crosbie residence has gone. The family, originally called Mac an Chrosáin, were bards in Laois who in the 16th century moved to Kerry. There Sean Mac an Chrosáin changed his name to John Crosbie, converted to Anglicanism and in 1601 became Church of Ireland Bishop of Ardfert. It was his descendants who occupied the site of the old friary and who towards the end of the 17th century built themselves a new residence, named Ardfert Abbey. Surviving photographs give an idea of what the building looked like with the main block, its breakfront centre pedimented, flanked by two ranges that came forward to create an open forecourt (further outbuildings ran on either side). Internally the most striking room was the hall, its panelling painted in monochrome with a series of classical figures running around the walls. But there was also a fine early-18th century staircase and handsome early classical reception rooms. All survived intact until Ardfert Abbey was burnt in August 1922, the remains being subsequently demolished. As a result, visitors to the friary today only see part of the site’s history and can easily misread the setting in which the building stands. An important part of Ardfert’s history has been forever swept away so that what now remains tells only part of the tale.


37 comments on “An Incomplete Story

  1. Paul Rea says:

    A very interesting post – thank you for posting about it. I have been following your blog for a number of years and love reading it. I was just reading about Ardfert Abbey, Ballyheigue Castle and the Crosbies over the weekend. My great grandmother grew up in O Flahertys pub ( Still extant and owned by a relative) directly across the road from the archway for Ardfert Abbey. The Archway, the water fountain, the central square and Ardfert as a whole seem somewhat incomplete these days without Ardfert Abbey present.

  2. Finola says:

    The friaries are all strikingly similar, aren’t they? Were they built to a common template? Love those cloisters – their twin is at Askeaton, just visited recently.

    • Yes, I think because the majority of Franciscan friaries in Ireland were built within a relatively short space of time, they tended to follow the same pattern and design. The Askeaton friary cloister of course is more intact, as is that at Quin, County Clare both of which I have featured in the past…

  3. Hibernophile says:

    Another erudite post. As ever concise, always engaging, never sermonic.

  4. The Prof says:

    Robert, I have enjoyed many travels around this Island tracing your footsteps, seeking out so many interesting places you have written about. Alas as the mercury drops and daylight fades I must now ‘go to ground’ for the bleak Irish winter. I have no doubt that your writing will continue to inspire me, and I shall emerge from my winter quarters next spring armed with a wide ranging itinerary of new places to explore. Many thanks for such inspiration.

  5. teresastokes says:

    Fascinating. Bishop John Crosbie was my tenth great grandfather. I never knew till reading this that he was originally called Sean Mac an Chrosáin.

    • Thank you for getting in touch. Are you, by any chance, accordingly related to the Talbot Crosbies who continued to live at Ardfert until the 1920s (I have reasons for enquiring, so hope you might let me know…)

      • teresastokes says:

        I am related, but obviously very distantly. I have read the page about the Crosbies of Ardfert on “Lord Belmont of Northern Ireland” whose blog I am sure you are familiar with, and have worked out that the last man mentioned there, John Burrell Talbot-Crosbie, was a sixth cousin of my grandfather Herbert Stokes. So any in my own generation would be my eighth cousins!

    • Michael Keane says:

      I recently published a book From Laois to Kerry which featured the Laois origins of the Crosbies and their establishment in Ardfert and elsewhere in North Kerry. Bishop John Crosbies brother Patrick was responsible for transplanting large numbers of the Laois Septs to Kerry. On August 25th we held a festival in Laois The Return of the Septs with descendants of the Septs in Kerry returning to Laois. The book is available on Amazon and in selected bookshops

  6. Stephen Baker says:

    Interested to read the comments from Teresa Stokes and Paul Rea.
    As a resident of Ardfert for 30 years and a keen local (amateur) historian firstly Mike and Tracey O’Flaherty still own what was O’Flaherty’s Bar (now a ‘Carry Out’) and there is loads of info and photographs gathered relating to the Crosby family.

    • teresastokes says:

      One day I will try and go there. I don’t live in Ireland unfortunately as my grandfather Herbert Stokes moved to England in the 1920s (as many did).

      • Steve Baker says:

        Teresa: At a recent talk in St. John’s Church of Ireland, Tralee, Co. Kerry, I discovered plaques on the wall of the church honouring Major General George Baret Stokes, Captain George Vesy Stokes and Captan Oliver Maurice Fitzgerald Stokes. I’m sure they are your descendants. Would you like photo’s of the plaques?
        My e-mail is:

  7. Eileen Stack Shanahan says:

    I recall visiting the Abbey in 1980 and seeing a statue of Bishop Philip Stack, high up on a plinth near the High Altar. Appointed by Pope Sixtus IV 26 June 1473, but set aside; provided again by Pope Innocent VIII 27 October 1488; died before November 1495. The Stacks were closely related to The Fitzmaurices Lords of Kerry and Lixnaw.
    When I visited the Abbey last summer 2017, I looked especially for the statue and found it had disappeared. Hopefully it has been taken into care by the Board of Works – however there is no evidence or photograph of the statute to suggest that it is in safe custody. Perhaps it has been stolen?
    Can anybody throw light on the whereabouts of this ancient statute.
    Eileen Stack Shanahan

  8. Tom Crane says:

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

  9. Hannah Crosbie says:

    Hi, fantastic post. I am a Crosbie from the Ballyheigue/ Ardfert Crosbies. My 3 x great grandfather, Bernard Crosbie, came out to Australia in the 1850s with portraits of the Earls of Glandore in tow. His father, Barry, was born in Ballyheigue. We are still trying to figure out the exact connection, so any information on the Crosbie family would be greatly appreciated. I understand that they were perhaps not well liked in the area!

    • Stephen Baker says:

      Hello Hannah, I am currently living in Ardfert and there is plenty of information relating to the Crosbie family especially here in Ardfert. I have a few photographs of the Ardfert Crosbies also a photograph of Ballyheigue Castle, the ancestral home of that side of the family. My e-mail is:

      • Michael Keane says:

        Hello Stephen, Having completed my first local history book ‘From Laois to Kerry’ in 2016 which featured the roles of Patrick and his son Sir Pierce Crosbie in transplanting many of the Seven Septs of Laois to North Kerry in the early 1600s and becoming their landlord, I became increasingly intrigued with the varied and highly significant roles of the Crosbies over the course of Irish history. As a result I have now completed a first draft of a book on the Crosbies throughthe centuries from the 1500s to the present time. My aim is to have it published in 2021. If interested I can provide an outline of the contents. Incidentally I published a second book ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ in 2018 which also contained a Crosbie connection as the aforementioned Sir Pierce Crosbie was married to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven.

        Regarding your photos of the Crosbies and Ballyheigue Castle, If you are interested I would like to discuss the possibility of including some in my proposed book.

      • Hannah Crosbie says:

        Hi Stephen, that would be awesome! I will send you an email. I am so sorry for my delayed response!

      • Stephen Baker says:

        No problem Hannah, look forward to hearing from you soon. Regards Steve

    • Michael Keane says:

      Hello Hannah, Having completed my first local history book ‘From Laois to Kerry’ in 2016 which featured the roles of Patrick and his son Sir Pierce Crosbie in transplanting many of the Seven Septs of Laois to North Kerry in the early 1600s and becoming their landlord, I became increasingly intrigued with the varied and highly significant roles of the Crosbies over the course of Irish history. As a result I have now completed a first draft of a book on the Crosbies through the centuries from the 1500s to the present time. My aim is to have it published in 2021. If interested I can provide an outline of the contents. Incidentally I published a second book ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ in 2018 which also contained a Crosbie connection as the aforementioned Sir Pierce Crosbie was married to the widow of the 1st Earl of Castlehaven.

      • Stephen baker says:

        Hello Michael, sorry to have left it so late to reply, I would love to to see an outline of the book if it’s not too late. Best wishes Stephen Baker

    • Michael Keane says:

      Hello Hannah, having read of your Crosbie Kerry ancestry just letting you know that I plan to launch a book on the history of the Crosbies later this summer. This follows on from my book From Laois to Kerry launched in 2016 which discusses how the Crosbies first came to Kerry

  10. Having traced my ancestors back to to 1845 in Laois -a Joseph Crossen married 1845 in Portarlington to a Maria Maher I would be interested in information on the Crosbie family which name replaced the Mac an Crosains of the 17th Century.This Joseph Crossen is listed on his son’s marriage cert as a Stewart

    • Michael Keane says:

      Hi Ernest, have just seen an email of yours about MacCrossan Crosbie ancestry. I have been doing research on this for a number of years. I published a book From Laois to Kerry in 2016 which dìscussed the MacCrossan Crosbie history. Its available in Allbooks and Easons in Portlaoise or indeed from myself although my stock is practically gone at this stage. I will be launching a new book later this summer which will be a much more complete account of Crosbie history

  11. Michael Keane says:

    Hello Stephen, Nice to hear from you and hoping all is well in my native county during these strange times. I had hoped to have my book on the Crosbies published at this stage however I’m afraid covid has greatly disrupted plans. The current target is June/July. A preview is attached as requested,
    Best wishes


    The Crosbies of Cork, Kerry, Laois and Leinster

    Bards, Imposters, Landlords, Politicians, Aeronauts, Newspapers

    Expected Launch: June/July 2021

    The Crosbies of the Examiner newspaper chain of Cork trace their roots to Thomas Crosbie who arrived from North Kerry in 1842. The Crosbies of North Kerry extend further back to the early 1600s with the Kerry Crosbies in turn extending to much earlier periods, originating with the MacCrossans, bards to the O’Moores of Laois and O’Connors of Offaly from ancient times.
    In the late 1500s, two MacCrossan brothers of Laois changed their name to Crosbie, claimed they were from Lancashire and expressed allegiance to the British crown. They both achieved prominence with the elder brother, Patrick becoming a large landowner with major estates in Laois and Kerry while his younger brother John became Protestant Bishop of Ardfert (Kerry) from 1601 to 1621. Sir Pierce Crosbie, heir to Patrick, became a member of the royal court during the reigns of James I and Charles I, attained membership of the English Privy Council and the Irish Parliament and Privy Council and later played a prominent role in the Catholic Confederacy uprising. His first cousin David Crosbie, son of Bishop Crosbie, opposed the confederacy and was personally rewarded by Cromwell. Having established themselves as part of the new ascendancy in Kerry, along with achieving an Earldom, the Crosbies proceeded to play prominent roles in parliament in both Dublin and Westminster through the centuries. While controversial landlords during the Great Famine years, later generations supported Home Rule, with one Kerry Crosbie becoming a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 general election. Their two great houses in Kerry, Ardfert Abbey and Ballyheigue castle were both burned down during the War of Independence and Civil War.
    Like many large extended families of their time, the Crosbie family story contained its share of scandals, sexual and otherwise. For example, the sinking of a ship laden with bullion just off the coast from one of the main Crosbie estates in Kerry in 1730, resulted in accusations against the Crosbies which led to arrest, court hearings, jail, alleged murder and much manipulation of the legal system at the time. Also, two Crosbie brothers, members of the extended Crosbie family then living in Carlow and Wicklow, played their own part in Irish history. While Sir Edward Crosbie of Carlow was dramatically executed during the 1798 rising, his younger brother Richard achieved fame by becoming Ireland’s pioneer of manned balloon flight. Their Cork Crosbie cousins continued as successful newspaper proprietors over five generations until 2017, reporting on the many dramatic events in Irish history over that period as well as actively participating in Irish politics over a number of years.
    The recounting of the overall family history of the Crosbies reveals the varied and significant roles played by various members of the family over the course of Irish history. In a wider context the story provides an insight into some of the complex dimensions of the many conflicts and political intrigues in Ireland over the centuries, with the Crosbies invariably playing a prominent part.

    The author Michael Christopher Keane is a retired lecturer from University College Cork. A native of Tarbert, Co Kerry, he currently lives in Farran, Ovens, Co Cork. This will be his third local history book. The previous books are as follows:

    From Laois to Kerry (2016)
    I. The Laois Origins and Continuing Presence in Kerry of the Moores, Kellys, Dowlings, Lawlors, Dorans, Dees and McEvoys
    II. The Remarkable Lives of their Transplanter and Landlord Patrick Crosbie and his successor Sir Pierce Crosbie

    The Earls of Castlehaven Lord Audleys of Cork and Kildare (2018)
    War, Sex, Corruption and Land
    From the Battle of Kinsale to the Great Famine and beyond

  12. Hannah Crosbie says:

    Hi Michael and Stephen! Sorry, I only just saw your replies. I would love any photos or information that you have available. Michael – that book looks incredible! I look forward to purchasing a copy. Obviously we are not direct descendants of the Earls of Glandore, but the Crosbie family that came out to Australia were quite well to do and their houses were named after Glenderry and Glandore. Just really struggling to fit the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle together. I will send you an email!

  13. Ed Harty says:

    As someone who grew up in North Kerry, I too would be interested in reading the story of the Crosbie’s. There was nothing mentioned in school about this sort of thing, we relied on our grandparents to relay any stories & they would have been very young at the time of the troubles. It’s like a certain part of history had been “wiped” from the local history, most likely because of the tough conditions & lives people were living, selective amnesia? & the desire to move on from a bad experience, albeit a 300 years long experience. There was also the ongoing Irish Government relationship with the British Government to take into account considering that the Irish republic relied so much on England for economic support, so not wanting to rock the boat would have been the go-to position. Collaborative families also still lived locally which would have made things complicated.

    Photos of the big house in Ardfert show that they lived incredibly well, not bad for a clan of imposters. I wonder if the missing silver from he Danish shipwreck at Ballyheigue contributed to their wealth. It’s a shame the house was destroyed, there was nothing to be gained from this but in the long term though it’s hard to see how these houses would have survived economically in the fledgling Irish republic.

    What interests me what happened to these settler families that seemingly disappeared from the landscape very quickly, it must have been very traumatic for them. The big names in North Kerry were the Crosbie’s & the the Stoughton’s whose Ballyhorgan house also got torched though the Ballinoe house survived. The Stoughton’s appear to pre-date the Crosbie’s in their arrival to the region.

    I really appreciate what the owner of this website has done, it shows how rich the history of Ireland. is.

    There are theories that trauma can have a negative inter-generational effect or maybe it’s just that some people have more knowledge of their country’s history as regards this colonial legacy plays out.

    • Michael Christopher Keane says:

      Hi Ed, I have read your post about the Crosbies of North Kerry with great interest. I am a native of Tarbert which was once owned by Patrick Crosbie, the first of the Crosbie imposters to arrive into Kerry. I have a longstanding interest in the history of the Crosbies and I now have a book with the printers which aims to give a detailed account of their period of over 300 years as leading landlords in North Kerry. I hope to be in a position to launch the book in about two months. This in fact will be my third local history book connected to the Crosbies. My first book ‘From Laois to Kerry’ (2016) dealt with the early Crosbie arrivals into Kerry who brought along with them a large contingent of Laois clans who were forcibly transplanted into North Kerry at that time. I then got a bit diverted and published a second book ‘The Earls of Castlehaven’ (2018). This also emerged from a Crosbie connection as Sir Pierce Crosbie, son and heir to Patrick Crosbie above, was married to the widow of the first Earl of Castlehaven. The new book hopefully fills out the remaining Crosbie North Kerry story of around 300 years. Separately there is also a certain amount of material about on the history of the Stoughtons. If you email me I can provide further info on the content my books and any other relevant material which I have

      • Ed Harty says:

        Hi Michael, great to hear from you. I became aware of the Kerry plantation only recently, I think it was on another page on this website. I hope to get hold of a copy of your book, it’s available from the UK, (I’m in Perth W. Australia). I grew up on a farm between Causeway & Ballyheigue, smack in the middle of the Crosbie/Stoughton houses. I remember my father saying our family were in Stoughtons region. I notice the the spelling of Staughton is also used. The surnames Lawlor, Dee, Dowling & Kelly are familiar. As far as I can work out, the Stoughton landlord based in Ballynoe was an absentee landlord in contrast to his relative in Ballyhorgan which is near the village Ballyduff. Don’t know when my ancestors turned up on the scene in North Kerry, could have been anytime before 1770, lack of records prior to this time make things difficult when trolling the internet for information. My main interest is trying to picture how life was like in the 300 year period mentioned in the previous message
        I also have a connection to Tarbert, I spent 4 years there as an apprentice in the Power Station. My email address is : . I look forward to reading you books. I commend you in making the effort to research this period in our local history, after all it represents a huge period. It’s tough to think that rural Ireland lived in a largely feudal society until independence. Britain’s colonial exploits have come under scrutiny in recent times for valid reasons. The native Irish were the first to experience this sort of colonial exploitation from what I can see. Don’t want to appear that this presents as chip on shoulder thing as regards English influence, just trying to understand what happened over this colonial period from a local point of view.

      • Michael Keane says:

        Hi Ed

        I was interested to learn that you worked in Tarbert power station. I come from a farm about two miles to the west on the Ballylongford road. I grew up in Tarbert in the 1950 to 1970s so maybe we were under the same roof at some stage, maybe in the Ballybunion ballrooms of long ago, happy days. My father had a first cousin Ida Keating whose husband Roger Harty I think came from Causeway. While their home was in Chicago they also had a holiday home in Ballybunion for many years.

        Regarding the Stoughtons I have a good article of about 15 pages detailing their history in Ballyduff/Causeway and elsewhere. In relation to this and my books on the Crosbies I could either post them to you or maybe best to keep in contact by email, however your email did not come through in your comment. I am now adding mine below but maybe they are being deleted,

        Best wishes

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