ByRoute 5.2 Co. Tipperary (SW) // Co. Kerry

Kilmallock (Co. Limerick / South)

Kilmallock (Cill Mocheallóg) (pop 2000) on the River Lubagh, is a town of considerable historical importance.

Blossom Gate at the end of Emmet St. (Photo by AF Borchert)

Kilmallock History


Founded as the site of a monastery in the C7th, Kilmallock became one of the principal towns of medieval Munster under Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, to whom King Edward III granted a charter in return for Irish fighters sent to help him against the Scots, commanded by three Geraldine cousins who the monarch dubbed the White Knight, the Black Knight and the Green Knight after the colour of their armour.


Maurice FitzGibbon‘s descendants kept the title of White Knight, and played an important role in the development of Kilmallock, which reached its zenith in the C15th when King Edward IV chose the town for the establishment of a Royal Mint. At that time many of the local gentry built stone mansions to a uniform three-floor design, of which only remnants can still be seen.


Kilmallock was used as a base by Crown forces during the Desmond Rebellions; the town was burned by  Geraldine soldiers  in 1571  and thereafter attacked so often that the townspeople had to abandon it more than once.


The Wars of the Three Kinddoms saw Klmallock taken in 1642 by Kilkenny Confederacy forces under Lord MountGarrett, Lord Purcell and Garrett Barry, but they were unable to hold the town. Kilmallock Priory was destroyed by a Parliamentarian army under Lord Inchiquin in 1648, and Cromwellian troops subsequently razed all the town’s fortifications.


Kilmallock was again sacked during the Williamite War, this time by the forces led by King James II‘s ilegitimate son James FitzJames, Duke of Berwick in September 1690. It took the town over a century to recover.


It is thought that as many as 8000 people died in or around Kilmallock during the Great Famine, many of them having travelled walked great distances in search of sustenance.


The Fenian Uprising on  5th March 1867 saw an attack on Kilmallock’s  RIC station by about 50 mostly young insurgents equipped with pikes, swords, agricultural implements, a few guns  and almost 14lb of bullets. The well armed police had little difficulty in routing their assailants. Two rebels and a medical student escorting his sister to safety were killed. The Fenian leader Capt. John Dunne escaped to America, but many participants were less fortunate, and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment or penal servitude ranging from one to 15 years.


The Civil War saw intense fighting in the geographical triangle formed by Kilmallock, Bruff and Bruree, including the only ‘line battle’ of the war with the two sides facing each other and clear front-lines, known as the Battle of Kilmallock, in July 1922, when Anti-Treaty Republicans led by Liam Deasy were defeated by Free State troops under General Eoin o’Duffy, contributing to the collapse of the shortlived Munster Republic.

Substantial portions of the old town walls survive, and the original street layout has remained relatively intact. A three-acre riverside park provides scenic views of the most notable historical buildings in the town.

The Blossom Gate is one of the finest examples of a medieval town gate in Ireland. It used to be called Bla Pat, a name formed from the Irish word Bla – flower, and the French word Port – a gate.

King’s Castle / King John’s Castle / John’s Gate, is a C15th Tower House with two wide arched openings on the ground floor, suggesting that it was originally a town gate. A fine example of a ‘Peel’ Tower, it was variously used as a citadel, an arsenal during the Confederacy Wars, the meeting place of Kilmallock Corporation, a school and a blacksmith’s forge.

Kilmallock Priory


The ruined Dominican Priory (1291), locally called  “the Abbey”, is scenically located beside the river. (Photo by AF Borchert)


The ruins contain original features such as the nave and chancel of the church, and later additions such as the south transept and bell tower. The cloister and the buildings ranged around it were much changed in the C15th.


The quality of architectural detail is impressive; in particular, the five-light east window is one of the finest in Ireland, and the south transept has a lovely C15th window with reticulated or honeycomb tracery. A pillar in the aisle arcade bears a ball-flower ornament, common in C14th English buildings but extremely rare in Ireland.


One of the fine choir tombs is that of Edmund FitzGibbon, the last White Knight, who died in 1608.

The ruined C13th Collegiate Church of St Peter and St Paul has a chancel, an aisled nave, a south transept with a fine doorway, and part of a C10th Round Tower. The church was served by a College (a community of clerics, which differed from a monastic community in that it did not follow a monastic rule). The spacious choir was used for Protestant worship until it was burned out by local thugs in a sectarian arson attack in July 1935. (Photo by elf2foraweek).

The fine neo-Gothic stone church of St Peter and St Paul (RC), designed by JJ MacCarthy and inaugurated in 1889 by the Bishop of Limerick, Dr George Butler, incorporates architectural features and decorative motifs from both the Collegiate Church and Dominican Priory, and has beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows, notably the Rose window over the main entrance.

The brick church of St Peter & St Paul (CoI), designed by FG Hicks and opened in 1938, has an attractive interior.

The house where the great C18th Gaelic poet Aindrias Mac Craith died in 1795 is well preserved. He is best known in the annals of Irish Literature under his nom de plumeAn Mangaire Sugach (The Merry Pedlar).

The Kilmallock Union Workhouse (1840) was designed by the Poor Law Commissioners‘ architect George Wilkinson to accommodate 800 inmates. During the Great Famine in the mid-1840s, sheds were erected to accommodate an additional 200 inmates, and a 40-bed fever hospital was subsequently added. Countless famine victims were buried in the workhouse burial ground known as “Bully’s Acre”.

The Famine Memorial Park was officially opened in 1999. In the centre of the Park stands a tall limestone structure, with a large limestone cross inset.

The Martyrs’ Monument honours three Irish priests found off the coast of Kerry in 1579, probably part of the invasion force of Spanish and Italian troops sent by King Felipe II and Pope Gregory XIII that had landed at Smerwick Harbour in support of James Fitzmaurice, the rebel Geraldine Earl of Desmond. Bishop Patrick Healy, born c.1545 in Co Leitrim, was educated at the Universidad de Alcalá and spent some time in Rome and Paris. He and his fellow Franciscan, Fr. Conn O’Rourke, a member of the House of Breifne, together with Fr. Maurice MacEnraghty, a native of Kilmallock, were found guilty of Treason, sentenced to death, and hanged, drawn and quartered at Kilmallock in 1579.

The Fenian Monument, a Celtic cross erected in the centenary year of the 1798 Rebellion, carries the names of the Fenians who fell in an 1867 attack on Kilmallock Barracks or who died later of the hardships they endured in prison.

Kilmallock Museum is highly recommended. It has scale models of Stone Age houses and a large model of the medieval town, C18th and C19th household and farming implements, weapons used by the Fenians and items recalling the War of Independence and the Civil War. During the tourist season, guided walking tours of Kilmallock’s heritage sites leave the Museum every weekday at 12:00 noon.

The Friars’ Gate Theatre is a multi-purpose venue for drama, dance and concerts, films, conferences and workshops, art and photography exhibitions etc. It also houses the Ballyhoura Heritage Information Centre, containing paintings and sculptures by local artists, a small library of books and films and a digital information resource.

Terra Nova, run by Deborah Begley, is a lovely 0.5 acre garden with ponds and streams, full of rare and exotic plants.

Spitalfield is the site of an old leper hospital.

Deebert House Hotel & Restaurant and Deebert House B&B are both highly recommended.

Flemingstown House in the foothills of the Ballyhoura Mountains has been in Imelda Sheedy King‘s family for five generations; she and her daughters provide top class B&B / Guesthouse accommodation featuring delicious homemade food.

Ash Hill Tower was erected in 1781 and “Gothicised” in 1837. It is now run as a Guesthouse. The impressive interior can be viewed by appointment.

Bulgaden Castle, two miles east of Kilmallock, is run as a Country Inn and concert venue, with facilities for weddings and conferences, and has a restaurant called Poachers.

Kilmallock’s Medieval Festival takes place every August.

Kilmallock is connected by the R512 to Bruff on ByRoute 6.

Tankardstown was the site of archaeological excavations that uncovered evidence of early farming activity and dwellings dating from shortly after 4000 BC.

Rathcannon Bog was where in 1824 Archdeacon Wray Maunsell found the complete skeleton of an Irish elk, now on display in the NMI.

Athlacca / Athlacka (Áth Leacach – “the flagged ford”) on the Morning Star River was the scene of a 1691 Jacobite defeat during the Williamite War, and has an old graveyard dominated by a photogenic ruined church tower & steeple.

Bruree (Co. Limerick / South)

Bruree is an attractive little town in the Maigue River valley. Despite its  name, no beer is manufactured locally. In Irish it is called Brúigh Rígh or Brú Rí – “the seat / abode of kings”.

Lissoleem Ring Fort is believed to have been built in the C2nd by Olill Olum, legendary founder of the Eoghenacht dynasty of kings of Munster, and later rulers at Cashel used to send gifts of animals and slaves to “the king of Bruree”. It was an important place for many centuries under the Ui Fidgeinte and the Dalcassians.

Bruree’s significance died after the Norman invasion. In 1242 it was seized from John de Marisco and his wife Mabel, who was the grandchild of Richard de Burgh, but returned when it was discovered that it was part of Mabel’s marriage portion. One Norman family settled in the area. The de Lacys became landowners in Bruree around 1290 and built three castles, all enclosed by a wall, the remnants of which can be seen beside the old Church of Ireland edifice. Hibernicised family members fought with the locals against the English in various wars and battles in later centuries, and were duly dispossessed.

Saint Munchin’s church (CoI), now disused, was built in 1812 on the site of an edifice recorded as having been dedicated in 1410 to Saint Mainchín.

According to some, the Maigue school of Gaelic bards continued to meet in Bruree until as late as 1746.

Notwithstanding its royal heritage, Bruree is probably best known as the childhood home of Eamon DeValera, one of the most controversial figures in C20th Ireland.

DeValera cottage. (Photo – Limerick Diocese).

The DeValera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre, housed in the former National School, uses audio-visuals, archive films, graphic panels, set pieces and displays of personal memorabilia and artefacts to tell the story of the village’s most famous son and of the area, ranging back to pre Christian times.

Bruree is linked by the R518 to Ballingarry on ByRoute 6.


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