Corcomroe Abbey is beautifully located in a green valley surrounded by the grey limestone landscape of the Burren. The Latin name for Corcomroe – Petra Fertilis (the Fertile Stone) suggests that the valley of the abbey was productive despite the stony surroundings. In Irish Corcomroe is derived from Corca Mrua though the meaning of this is unclear.
Corcomroe Abbey is believed to have been founded by Donal Mór O’Brien, King of Thomond, in around c.1194. It was home to a small community of monks that originated in the Cistercian foundation of Inislounaght (near modern day Clonmel, County Tipperary). Today the church is the most significant visible remains of the abbey. It dates to the early 13th century, and though smaller than other Cistercian churches, the quality of the stonework and architecture is still very high, particularly at the eastern end of the building where you can see carved capitals with delicate designs of flowers and decorative bases.
The Architecture of Corcomroe Abbey and the tomb of Conor na Suidaine O’Brien, King of Thomond.
The elegant architectural style at Corcomroe is believed to have been the work of master masons known as ‘The School of the West’. The roof has fine rib-vaulting with unusual herringbone design that is uncommon in Ireland. You can also see a beautiful example of a sedile with faint traces of paint on the remains of the plaster. At the base of the wall you can also see the effigy of the King of Thomond, Conor na Suidaine O’Brien, who was interred here in 1268. Conor had ruled over Thomond for 26 years, though it is recorded that in the ‘latter part of his reign he was filled with despondency and no longer cared to play the king’. His death came at the hands of his cousin, Dermot, the son of Murtough O’Brien, at a place called Suidaine, near Bealaclugga (Bell Harbour today). King Conor was on his way to enforce his authority over a number of rebellious local chiefs but was met with an ambush by his cousin, who also slaughtered many of the king’s family, as described in the Annals of the Four Masters:
‘Conor Roe O’Brien, Lord of Thomond, Seoinin, his son, his daughter, his daughter’s son, i.e. the son of Rory O’Grady, Duvloughlin O’Loughlin, Thomas O’Beollan, and a number of others, were slain by Dermot, the son of Murtough O’Brien, for which he himself was afterwards killed; and Brian, the son of Conor O’Brien, then assumed the lordship of Thomond.’
This was another bloody episode in a deadly feud amongst the O’Briens that had been kindled by the Anglo-Normans and that would continue up until the 14th century. Conor was laid to rest in the abbey his grandfather had founded 74 years earlier.
On the wall near the tomb of the King you can also see an effigy of an abbot. In contrast to the elaborate chancel area, the nave of the church is rather plain and austere, and may represent the financial difficulties that Corcomroe faced in later periods. In 1544, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the lands and abbey of Corcomroe were in the hands of Murrough O’Brien, a descendent of the O’Brien who founded the monastery some 350 years earlier. Outside the church and in the surrounding fields, you can see partial remnants of other buildings associated with the abbey, like the ruin of a gatehouse and fragments of the precinct walls.