This graveyard is in the townland of Abbey, in the parish of Glenroe- Ballyorgan and in the barony of Coshlea. The townland is a long narrow townland located east of the village of Ballyorgan and west of R517, Kilfinane to Mitchelstown road. Keale townland lies to the east and Ballydonohue to the west. The Keale River forms the southern boundary of the townland and the graveyard overlooks this river valley.
The graveyard can be located by taking the road to the east from Ballyorgan village. Travel several hundred metres along this road and the graveyard is located to the south, on the right. Though the graveyard does not have road frontage, access to the site has been made easier by a fairly newly laid pathway from the road to the site. The graveyard is well maintained and pathways have been laid throughout.
According to www.logainm.ie. the site was formerly known as Mainister (Bhaile) na nGall, ‘the monastery of (the town of) the Standing stones?. In 1655 there is reference in the Civil Survey to it being called ‘Abbey-Ballynegaule’. In 1840, the Ordnance Survey Name Books referred to the site as ‘Mainistir na nGall’.
The name ‘Abbey’ refers to a monastery believed to have been founded here in the 7th or 8th century. By the 14th century the Dominican order had established a house here. It was suppressed during the Reformation in the 16th century. The last prior was Donough O’Dorgan in 1558. The ruin of the abbey forms the north-west corner of the graveyard, though heavily overgrown with vegetation. It's most likely that the abbey complex was composed of many more buildings than what survives today, (Limerick Diocese Heritage.org).
Westropp (1904-5) records that the friary was described as having a fabric that measured 71 feet 8 inches by 21 feet 8 inches, with walls that were 3 feet thick and in good preservation. It had a west door and two south doors with flat arches, as well as a round-headed splay arch on the east window. The south and two north windows had round-arched lights and splays. The friary was mentioned in a document from 1657 as having the "walls of an old abby," and its condition was recorded in 1840 as having lost its lights, (Archaeology.ie.).
Abbey Graveyard measures approximately 39 metres north-south and 48 metres east-west, and is enclosed by a stone wall dating from after 1700. The entrance gate is in the north-east corner, marked by limestone piers and an iron gate.
A total of 134 memorials were recorded by the Historic Graves Survey in 2012. Of this number eight memorials were located within the ruins of the church. In all, the memorials primarily date from the 19th century to the present day. A total of 11 memorials date to the late 18th century, with the earliest date recorded commemorating the burial place of Honora Corbett who died in 1772, aged 72 years (memorial no. 122).
Surnames recorded included the following; Dineen, Sheedy, Clery, Mee, Tobin, Fenton, Lane, McGrath, Ryan, Hanrahan, McNamara, Sampson, Tracy, Clancy, Kerby, Lee, Lonergan, Hayes, Gleeson, Riordan, Wallis, O’Regan and O’Farrell.
Many fine headstones are present here including groups associated with the Wallace/Wallis families believed to be related to the Staker Wallace.
Patrick ‘Staker’ Wallace (1733-1798) was a United Irishman. The Society of United Irishmen was a union of Catholic and Protestants determined to gain a representative government for Ireland through separation from England. Patrick was born at Teermore, north of the town of Kilfinane. He was a small farmer in his sixties when he became involved in revolutionary activities. He was married to Hanora Riordan of Glenroe and had five children. As a United Irishman he was chosen as commanding officer for the “division of Moorestown”.
A history of Limerick published in 1866 included a list of sentences passed by the General Court Martial in Limerick on 4th July 1798. Included on the list was a Patrick Wallis (Wallis and Wallace are interchangeable spellings of his surname). He was found guilty of ‘collecting subscriptions for procuring the assassination of Captain Charles Silver Oliver’. According to the sentencing, he was to be ‘hanged at Kilfinane, his head to be affixed on one of his own pikes, and placed on the castle’, to serve as a warning to others.
Local folklore records that after he was beheaded, his mother took his head from a stake outside the marketplace in Kilfinane and buried it in a family grave here in Abbey, (www.duchas.ie).
Another story according to folklore, records that the Staker Wallace was captured following a horse chase across Red Bog, under the command of Captain Ryan. Wallace’s horse sank into a bog hole but Wallace managed to jump clear of it. The chase continued until a man named Sheedy captured him. After execution his head was spiked on the market gate of Kilfinane, and left so until the hair fell off. The head was taken down at last and lost, (www.duchas.ie).
(Another story is that Wallace was not on horseback, but was chased by a man called Michael Walsh who was forced into the pursuit by Silver Oliver because Walsh had a good horse. Walsh had no wish to capture Wallace and so deliberately jumped his horse into a bog hole, but managed to survive. Wallace refused to inform on his friends and so was tied to a cart and flogged up and down the main street of Kilfinane. He was hanged and beheaded a few days later.)
A memorial stands in the square in Kilfinane town commemorating the execution of Staker Wallace, shortly after the 1798 Rebellion. It is a stone head carved in a limestone block. It was erected in 1998 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his beheading.
Referring to the three old graveyards in this district, Abbey, Darragh and Kilflynn, folklore records that ‘unbaptised children were buried in the same graveyard as baptised people’, (www.duchas.ie).
This post was researched and written as part of a grassroots heritage tourism project (www.incultum.eu) in collaboration with Ballyhoura Development CLG (https://www.ballyhouradevelopment.com/), Cork Co. Council (https://www.corkcoco.ie/en) and Limerick Co. Council (https://www.limerick.ie/council). The stories were initially gathered during a community survey of the graveyard. They form part of the Historic Graves Project Destination for Ballyhoura (https://historicgraves.com/destination/ballyhoura).