Throughout the entirety of Ireland, ruins of castles, old buildings, mansions, and various other structures dot the countryside. In addition to these modern ruins, other, older ruins from Neolithic times hide under hills and other spots. All of these remnants of the past provide Ireland as a whole with a unique charm, and offer unique opportunities for those travelers who wish to experience locations that are off the beaten path. While some of these locations are on private property, and are inaccessible, some of these locations are well preserved, and hidden in plain sight in various spots of the country, such as Corcomroe Abbey.
Founded in 1194 by Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, by the Cistercian order, Corcomroe Abbey then sat in a remote fertile valley, surrounded by the wilderness of the Burren. While much of Ireland has unique topographical features, none is more distinct than the Burren region, which is covered with cracked grey limestone pavements that stand inapposite to the expected rolling green hills and fields that dominate large portions of the island. Today, in the same fertile valley, surrounded by the same unique geological features of the Burren, Corcomroe Abbey still sits some eight hundred and twenty-three years later, still mostly intact, with most of its walls still standing.
Even though the abbey is over eight hundred years old, it was not an active location for the entirety of this time. The historical records state that starting in the fifteenth century, it became too poor to support a full community of monks, which led to structural alterations to the building; and by the seventeenth century, the buildings were no longer maintained, and fell into disrepair. In 1879, the Office of Public Works acquired the property, and today, the remains of the abbey are a public park. It is important to note, however, that the cemetery surrounding the abbey has been utilized through modern times, and as such, travelers, explorers, and visitors that do visit the ruins should exercise care, caution and respect for those interred therein.
Directions: The ruins of the abbey are located forty kilometers to the South of Galway, the largest city in the region. The abbey is also nine kilometers to the East of Ballyvaughan, a small town in the area. From Ballyvaughan visitors would want to travel East on the N67 towards Galway; and after seven kilometers, will want to turn right onto the L1016. After 200 meters on the L1016, there will be a brown sign directing one to the abbey that is well signed. Irrespective of which way one comes, the ruins are also readily visible from the local roads. As always, I would advise explorers seeking remote spots in a foreign country to have a map or GPS device to aid them in navigating particular routes or destinations.
Tips/Interesting Facts: As I mentioned at the beginning, this ruin is hidden in plain sight, in that it is visible from the local roads, but given the remote nature of the valley, and the Burren in general, is not often visited. When I visited, there were no other tourists, and while I was there in the off-season, I cannot imagine the ruin ever swarming with tour buses or people given its location. As such, it is a fine spot to visit, explore, and appreciate. Adding to these positive factors, it is also located near a number of unique spots in and around the Burren region that can be connected for a unique day trip. While these following facts may only interest me, when operational, the Abbey was known as “Sancta Maria de Petra Fertili”- “St. Mary of the Fertile Rock” because of its fertile valley location in the Burren. Separately, legend has it that King Conor O’Brien (Donal Mor O’Brien’s son) had the five masons who completed the stonework on the abbey killed after construction was completed, in order to ensure that they could never build an equally impressive rival structure elsewhere. Conor O’Brien was then later killed in battle in 1268, and his tomb is still impressively visible within the ruin today. While not for everyone visiting Ireland, Corcomroe Abbey is a great stop for travelers who like to explore, and for parties traveling in and around the Burren region of Ireland.