Founded in 1440 as a Franciscan Friary, Muckross Abbey has an exciting and violent history typical of Ireland. In 1589 the monks were expelled by Elizabeth I, and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell's troops burnt it down when he reclaimed Ireland for the English bringing to an end the Irish Confederate Wars. Despite this setback, the friars continued to live here until 1698 when the new Penal Laws against Roman Catholics introduced by the English occupiers forced most in exile in France or Spain. These days it is a ruin but one of the most complete examples of Irish medieval church building you'll see.
Today, the Abbey still has its bell tower and church, and massive gothic arcades and arches. Four of Ireland's leading poets of the period were buried there, three in the church, one in the nearby cemetery. In the centre of the inner court is an old Yew tree. This grew from a sapling taken from the abbey on Innisfallen Island and planted in the new abbey at Muckross. In turn, a slip from this tree was planted at the abbey in Killarney Town.