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The town of Abbeyfeale has its roots in the twelfth century when Brien O'Brien founded a Cistercian abbey in 1188 on the banks of the river Feale, hence the name 'Abbeyfeale'. The abbey became a cell of Monasternanagh in the barony of Pubblebrien in 1209.

In his book "Portrait of Limerick", Mainchín Seoighe tells us how the Feale got its name. It is thought that the river Feale is named after a lady called Fial. She was bathing in the river one day when she saw a strange man approaching her along the riverbank. The shame of Fial, about to be discovered naked by a strange man, caused her to die of embarrassment. Ironically though, the strange man was none other than her husband.

Another story related to the area, concerns Thomas Fitzgerald. While out hunting boar one day, Thomas Fitzgerald, the fifth Earl of Desmond, stayed the night in one of his tenants' houses, a man called Mac Cormack. Thomas saw Mac Cormack's daughter Catherine and fell in love with her. Despite Catherine being of Gaelic blood, Thomas wanted to marry her. This would have been in violation of the Statutes of Kilkenny, which stated that a man of Norman blood could not marry a woman of Gaelic blood. However, Thomas married Catherine and lost all his lands and title. In 1418 they left for France and two years later Thomas died.

The Rockites under their leader Sean Fitzmaurice (Captain Rock) used Abbeyfeale as a base camp for their activities in the 1822 due to its inaccessibility. Within a couple of months, Captain Rock and some of his followers were executed.

Samuel Lewis stated that the village of Abbeyfeale was "almost inaccessible". This problem was solved with the building of roads under the stewardship of Richard Griffith in the early 1820s. Now Abbeyfeale has become a 'boom town' due to its location and its road system. Today Abbeyfeale has a population of around 2,000 people. Begley mentions that the parish also included Templeathea as late as 1704 but the exact date for separation of the amalgamation is not known.

About one and a half miles outside the village, are the ruins of Port Castle, which was built by the Geraldines to command the crossing of the river Feale.

According to Mainchin Seoighe, before cattle marts began, a fair was held in Port each November that was run in conjunction with a pattern and horse jumping competition.

Statue of Fr Casey
© Statue of Fr Casey

The main feature of the square in Abbeyfeale is the statue of Fr William Casey. Fr Casey was parish priest from 1883 to 1907 who helped the tenants farmers fight against their landlords. He also became a good friend of Michael Davitt and formed the first Land League group outside of Mayo. The fight was about the "Three F's" - Fair rent, Fixity of tenure and Freedom of the tenant to sell his interest in his holding.

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