Ardfert Franciscan Friary
Order: Franciscan (OFM / Ordo Fratrum Minorum)
Founded in c. 1253
Founded by Thomas Fitzmaurice (d.1281)
- Domestic Buildings
- Cloister Garth
- Cloister Alley
Ardfert Friary stands in a secluded and peaceful position half a kilometre to the east of the village.
The Friary was founded about 1253 by the Anglo Norman Thomas Fitzmaurice, the first Lord of Kerry for the Franciscan Order and it has had a chequered history. It was originally built as a Franciscan foundation but in the 16th century it was occupied by English soldiers and later by Protestant bishops. It is thought that it is built on the site of the ancient monastery of St Brendan himself which was destroyed by fire circa 1089. Thomas Fitzmaurice himself is bured in the north-east side of the high altar.
The layout of the building follows the standard layout of most Franciscan friaries comprising a large church for both friars and the local population with a cloister and residential offices for the friars to the north of this church. A large portion of the structure still remains including one side of the cloister walk.
A residential tower was added to the west end of the church in the 15th century. It contains five floors each with a single room, some with window seats and garderobes (toilets). Unfortunately the tower is not accessible to visitors.
The friary at Ardfert stands as a picturesque ruin in the old demesne lands of Ardfert house. Remains consist of the choir, nave, cloister and dormitory and a thirteenth-century window divided into five lights at the east gable which would have caused the choir to have been brightly lit in comparison with the rest of the church. Close by is the medieval ecclesiastical town with a monastic history that may stretch as far back as the sixth century when St Brendan ‘The Navigator’ founded a monastery there. The nucleus of this ecclesiastical settlement is the cathedral, the standing remains of which contain pre-Romanesque masonry, the Romanesque west doorway and later medieval features. Over eight hundred burials were discovered as a result of excavations in the cathedral including one buried with Roman intaglio mounted on a twelfth/thirteenth-century ring and with three oval glass mounts around the head. This may have been a grave of an early bishop of Ardfert. Close to the Cathedral is a small Romanesque church and a fifteenth-century church incorporating a carving of a wyvern (a dragon with eagle’s legs).
In the 17th century the Friary became absorbed into the estate of the Crosbie family, the local landlords in the Ardfert area, and became an ornament in the grounds of “the big house”.
Ardfert Friary is an open site accessible to visitors year round. Access is on foot from a public car park, a walk of about 5 minutes.
A Brief History:
1253: Probably founded by Thomas Fitzmaurice, 1st lord of Kerry and Lixnaw who was buried in the friary
1310: Conflict between the bishop of Ardfert and the friars over burial rights during which the friars suffered violent beatings
1517: Friary became Observant
1584: The friars were driven out the friary and it was taken over as a barracks by Colonel John Zouche. Zouche also denied the funeral courtege of Thomas Fitzmaurice, 16th baron Lixnaw to the friary, resulting in his burial in the nearby Cathedral
1670: The fifteenth-century transept window of the friary church was removed and placed in the transept of the cathedral when it was converted for use as the Protestant parish church of Ardfert. It remained here till 1815 when it was restored to the friary as part of the settlement of the estate of John Crosbie, last Earl of Glandore