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.


19 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.

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