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A look at Abbeyfeale in the 1840s

Abbeyfeale, a parish in the Newcastle union, within the Glenquin barony, is nestled in the verdant county of Limerick, in the province of Munster. This delightful parish is located about 10 miles southwest of Newcastle, along the mail-coach road that connects Limerick to Tralee. Abbeyfeale is home to approximately 5,492 inhabitants, with 699 of them residing in the village.

Abbeyfeale owes its name to a Cistercian abbey founded in 1188 by Brien O’Brien and its location on the River Feale. This abbey was transformed into a cell for the Monasternanagh or Nenay Abbey in the Pubblebrien barony in 1209.

Situated amid a rugged mountainous landscape, the village of Abbeyfeale was almost unreachable in the past. However, the construction of new roadways has greatly altered its accessibility, leading to significant improvements in the villagers’ living conditions by facilitating the marketing of their produce. The inhabitants are now engaged industriously and profitably.

The village features a hotel and several respectable houses, although the majority of dwellings are traditional thatched cabins. A receiving house operates in Abbeyfeale, connecting with the post offices of Tralee, Killarney, and Newcastle. The village also houses a constabulary police station.

Fairs are held on June 29th and September 24th, primarily for the trade of cattle, sheep, and pigs, and also on the first Tuesday of each month. These fairs provide an energetic, community-centred atmosphere and boost the local economy.

The parish encompasses 18,150 statute acres, of which 1,620 are arable, 12,800 are pastures, and over 3,700 acres are wastelands and bogs. Despite its previous neglect turning parts of the land marshy and cold, steady improvements are being made in its cultivation and farming techniques. A considerable amount of butter is produced here, which is forwarded to Cork and Limerick.

The handsome Wellesley Bridge and the Goulburn Bridge are landmarks along the main road from Limerick to Tralee. The new road connecting Abbeyfeale to Glin, traversing through the heart of the mountains, has opened up this secluded district, which was once an inaccessible headquarters of the Rockites in 1822.

The living in Abbeyfeale is a vicarage in the Limerick diocese, under the Crown’s patronage. The church, a small yet picturesque early English style edifice with a lofty square tower, was built in 1812 near the village, with the late Board of First Fruits contributing £800. The Roman Catholic parish mirrors that of the Established Church, with a chapel constructed in 1846 on the ancient monastery’s site.

At a distance of a mile from the village along the river bank stand the ruins of Purt, or Portrenard, Castle. This fortification, built by a branch of the Geraldine family to command the pass of the Feale, still boasts a powerful presence with its strong construction and bold location.

Fairs in Abbeyfeale are held on May 2nd, July 18th, October 13th, and December 15th, offering regular opportunities for social interaction and trade.

Adapted from: Lewis – A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland
Photo from: The Lawrence Collection

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