Coole Abbey Co Cork

Coole Abbey  is a really interesting site, located about 4-5 miles outside of the scenic town of Castlelyons in Co Cork.  The site of an early medieval  monastery,  founded  by St Abban in the 6th century,  today  all that remains of  the early monastery  are two churches and a holy well. Of the surviving churches the  smaller of the two  sits in a field beside the road from Conna to Castlelyons. The  larger church is located c. 200m to the northeast  in an  historic graveyard.

map coole

Location map of the churches and Holy well at Coole (taken from Bing Maps)

Placename Evidence

Cúil  is the Irish for Coole and it translates as corner or nook.  Early medieval documents  refer to the abbey as Cúil  Chollaigne.

The Saints Associated with Coole

Coole is associated with two saints  Abban (Abán)  and Dalbach.

St  Abban  was born into the Uí Chormaic (Dál gCormaic ) dynasty in Leinster. He is associated with the churches of Mag Arnaide (‘Moyarney’/Adamstown, near New Ross, Co. Wexford) and Cell Abbáin (Killabban, Co. Laois) . In Munster  he established a monastery at  Ballyvourney, Co Cork  which he later surrendered to St Gobnait. He is also associated with Killagh Abbey near Milltown Co Kerry and Kilcrumper near Fermoy and  he founded  the church at Coole  (Cúil Chollaigne). Abban has two feast days the 16th of March and the 27th October (O’Riain 2012, 51-52; 254).

The second saint  association with Coole is St Dalbach. Dalbach  and the church at Coole were associated with the anchorite movement known as the ‘Céili Dé’ (clients of God)  who flourished in Ireland  between 750-850. The saints pedigree links him to a Cork based tribe known as the Uí Liatháin. The saints obit was entered in the annals for the year 800 and his feast was assigned to the 23rd October ( O’ Riain 2012 ,254).

There are few  early medieval historical references to the site. One that is of interest is found in Mac Carthaigh’s Book a collection of annals that date from 1114 to 1437.  The annals for the year  1152  states the churches of

 Cork, Imleach Iubhair (Emly), Lismore, and Cúil Chollainge (Coole) were burned in the same year.

The Annals of the Four Masters also record that in 1151

Gillagott Ua Carrain, lord of Ui-Maccaille, was killed at Cuil-Colluinge, by the Ui-Mictire

Architectural remains

The Cork Archaeological Survey mentions the  presence of a  low curving earthen bank   that can be picked out  c. 70m north of the smaller church. The bank  curves northwest – eastnorthwest  in the field and it may  represent evidence of an early  ecclesiastical enclosure.

The two surviving churches date to the  12th & 13th centuries. The smaller  church is  built of sandstone and most of the fabric dates to the 12th century. It  is rectangular in shape, with  only the east gable surviving to any great height.

Smaller church beside the road

Smaller church beside the road

A modern style has been inserted into the west gable.  The church has some pre-Romanesque feature such as antae which  project from the  east ends of the north and south wall. It is thought antae which are corner projections  found on some early stone churches  were attempts to imitate  wooden churches  which  had stout corner posts jutting out beyond the gable-wall. Another early feature is  a gable headed (triangular headed) east window with exterior rebate  which is found in the east gable.

06-DSCF2046

East gable of church showing gable headed window and antae

Archaeologist Tomás Ó Carragáin (2010, 102-103)  suggests the gable headed window  dates to the  11th century.  Within the church there is a stone altar which sits in front of east window.  It is likely it was  restored at some point in the past by the office of public works (ibid., 336). There is  also a local traditionally that  mass was said here in penal times .

Altar in front of the wast window

Altar in front of the east window

The second church is larger in size and  it functioned as the parish church in late medieval times. Today it  is situated within a historic  graveyard  filled with 18th and 19th century gravestones.

Larger church at Coole

Larger church at Coole

The  church consist of a nave and chancel.  The nave appears to be Romanesque  c. 12th century  in date  and the west wall has traces of a roll-moulded jambs in the lower course of the door. The nave  is a later addition and dates to the 13th century.  The east gable of the nave has a piece of Romanesque sculpture in the form of  a finely carved  rosette.  Similar rosettes stone in England date 12thc century. This stone was  probably re-used from an earlier church here.   A similar type stone is found c. 20 miles away  at another small monastic site at  Kilmolash in Co Waterford.

Rosette  carving in the -- gable

Rosette carving  east gable

A large  well carved pointed arch,  which appears to be  a later insertion, joins the nave and chancel.

Arch between  chancel and nave

Arch between chancel and nave

The  chancel  is later then the nave and was  added in the late medieval period  (Ó Carragáin 2010,  307).

Door into ----

Pointed doorway in the south wall of the  church

Records dating to 1615 state the church’s nave  was ruinous but  the chancel was in repair. The building ( chancel) was in use until the 18th century  when it was finally abandoned.

Relics of Coole

The Pipe Rolls  of Cloyne  mention a relic  called the Coole missal  upon whose page margins  important memoranda of the lands and rights of the church were recorded (Power  1919, 47)

Waters (1927, 53) writing in 1927  mentions that a relic of Saint Patrick’s tooth was kept here but he does not say where he came across this information and I cant find any reference to this relic in the   Lives of Abbán  etc or in antiquarian books relating to Cork. If there was a relic of  St Patrick’s tooth here it is likely to have come here in the  later medieval, as Patrician links in Munster  for the early medieval period are minimal or its equally possible it is folklore that developed around the site in the post medieval period. These are just some initial thoughts and I will delve into this  more deeply in the coming weeks and keep you posted on what I find out.

Holy well

Below the church is  a lovely holy well. There is little information about the well  but it is  still in use as a number of statues and votive offerings sit on top of the small corbelled well house that covers the well.

The well is marked simply as  holy  well  on the 1st edition OS  maps and Power in 1919 who is usually most detailed in his recording of sites also refers to the site as simply the holy well (Power  1917, 51) and  that  it was ‘still venerated’

013-DSCF5262

The information plaque at the sites  connects the well to St Devlet  and suggests this is an Anglicisation of St Dalbach. The plaque gives the following  folk tale of the origin  for the well.

Long ago the blessed well at Coole was just a spring. A female inhabitant of Coole Abbey House was reputed to have  seen a monk praying at this spring and she ordered an oratory to be built over it.

It also states that the waters here hold a cure for sore eyes and warts but one has to visit the well and ‘pray at  each of the seven kneeling  stones exposed around the outside  of the well chamber’.

Id love to hear from anyone who knows more about the well and the traditions associated with it. If anyone does have any information you can email me at pilgirmagemedievalireland@gmail.com.

References

Thanks to Terry O’Hagan the author of the blog Vox Hibernionacum  for discussing the cult of St Patrick in Munster, but any omissions or misunderstandings are my own.

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/secondary-students/art/irish-churches-monastic-b/early-monastic-churches/

http://www.castlelyonsparish.com/history/historical-areas/coole-abbey/

Ó Carragáin, T. 2010. Churches in Early Medieval: Architectural, Ritual and Memory. Yale Press.

O’Keeffe, T.  2003. Architecture and Ideology in the Twelfth Century Romanesque Ireland Dublin: Four Courts press.

 O’Keeffe, T 1994 “Lismore and Cashel: Reflections on the Beginnings of Romanesque Architecture in Munster “JRSAI 124, 1 18-52.

Ó Riain, P. 2011. A Dictionary of Irish Saints. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Power, Rev. P 1919. ‘The Churches of Coole County Cork’ JRSAI Vol.1 , 47-54.

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