When I visited Ireland with my family in the Summer of 2015, we visited a place called Muckross Abbey in Killarney National Park located in Killarney. It ended up being my favourite memory from Ireland all because of the yew tree inside. The true name of this place is actually the Franciscan Friary of Irrelagh. This specific building was founded in the 1440s. It was used by Observantine Franciscans until the Cromwellians drove them out in the 1650s. Yew trees are common in old cemeteries and monasteries in Ireland since the yew tree is a symbol of life and death. The yew tree at Muckross Abbey is said to be over 500 years old.
How about I bring you to my favourite part of Muckross Abbey through photos:
Firstly, I need to show you the actual building that houses the tree. Here we stand in the cemetery behind the building. I was very interested in the cemetery (because I love cemeteries) and forgot at first that the man driving the horse and cart when we started our jaunt to tour a bit of Killarney had told us that there was a 500-year-old tree inside.
A view of the entire building from the cemetery.
Some of the interesting old graves in the cemetery with the building in the background. Old graves are so amazing to see. They are often very different, with different inscriptions and symbols than what we're used to nowadays. Also, they make me wonder about the stories of the people buried beneath them.
When I finally entered Muckross Abbey, I was interested in some of the graves that are actually inside of the building but I soon found myself walking into the cloister.
Once through the doorway, these are the views that you get. It really makes you feel like you have travelled back in time. You can imagine the friars walking through here in their robes.
When I first walked into the cloister and looked through the arches at the tree, it felt like time stood still for a moment. I just stopped and stared in awe at this magnificent tree. Some sunlight was shining down on it and it just seemed so mystical and magical.
It is definitely amazing to look up at this massive tree reaching out of the building towards the sky.
Here is part of a plaque with a sketch of the tree and cloister along with a few sentences about this part of the building. This is actually how I learned that the enclosed walkway with the arches is called a cloister.
Here is a pretty map made from tiles that I found inside the building. Unfortunately, one of the tiles is missing and some of the words and images are fading away. A clearer map can be found online on page 161 of The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (5th series, vol. 2, 1892). You'll just have to zoom in on the image. Pages 160-162 of the journal cover information about the architecture of Muckross Abbey.
It wasn't until after my family's trip to Ireland that I realized that seeing this tree was my favourite memory from our trip. When I think of Ireland, I think of words like "ancient," "mystical," "magic," and "history." I wanted to have a moment in Ireland where I truly felt all of these words come alive for me. I wanted some kind of magical moment. Seeing this tree was my magical Irish moment. I also realized that this tree is so old that it has been here for such a long time before I was born and it will still be here for a long time after my life ends. I think that's kind of beautiful. This tree has seen so much and it will continue to see many things. It is strong.
While I was reading Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley, I read these words spoken by Uncle Montague and they resonated so deeply with how I felt about the Muckross Abbey tree: "Look at how long some trees have been alive. Think of what they have seen. Why, there are yew trees in churchyards that may be more than a thousand years old - older still than the ancient church nearby. Their roots are in one millennium and their branches in another."
Unfortunately, our time at Muckross Abbey was limited since we had to continue on the rest of our tour. I actually didn't learn a lot of the history of this beautiful place until after my trip when I decided to read about it. If I were to revisit a place in Ireland, I would definitely return to Muckross Abbey just to wander around and visit more with the tree. I encourage everyone to visit this magnificent tree but if you are unable to, you can still check it out on Google Street View on Google Maps and look inside Muckross Abbey a bit. This link will bring you to the tree but you can go and look in some of the other rooms from there if you move around by clicking, holding, and dragging the image around and then clicking arrows when they appear.