St. Katherine’s Abbey lies in the heart of West Limerick, almost invisible from the roadside, nestled away in farmland, secluded and decaying. Cattle roam the fields, blissfully unaware of the history and tales of haunting stemmed in Black Magic and tragedy.
The Black Nun’s Abbey
The local name is Monasternagalliaghduff, anglicised from the Irish Mainistir na gCailleach Dubh, or “The Black Nun’s Abbey” and is affectionally known by paranormal enthusiasts as the Abbey of the Black Hag. It has been a source of paranormal and archaeological intrigue for centuries. It is named after Katherine de O’ Conyl and was originally thought to be 13th century, due to Vatican records, however it may be a hundred or so years older than this.
It was founded following a donation of land by John FitzThomas of Connello and was reported as a house of God right up until the Dissolution of Monasteries where it was given a monetary value, although it appears it was abandoned long before this time.
The layout is typical of a Medieval abbey and within the ruins, the refectory, cells, cloister and other rooms are still clearly evident among the rich earth, foliage and old trees. The intriguing element, is that no matter how bright the day is, this unroofed nunnery is plunged in darkness.
Dark history, folklore and haunting are at the very centre of this rural nunnery, so let’s find out why!
The Desmond – Ormond Feud and a Countess Buried Alive
The Earl of Desmond, who was the House of Fitzgerald was involved in a lengthy and often bloody feud with the Butler family, the Earldom of Ormond during the 15th Century. It was a major battle for supremacy. It was bitter, complicated situation and sent a tidal wave of uncertainty and despair. It was so bad, that that in the chapel of Dublin Castle, the Earl of March, Bishop of Cloyne, recited this prayer at mass:
“Eternal God, there are two in Munster that destroy both us and our property, to wit the Earls of Ormond and Desmond, together with their bands of followers, whom in the end may the Lord destroy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Now do remember with this tale, that records were notoriously badly kept, so identifying which Earl and Countess is tricky! However, under attack, the Earl Fitzgerald decided to get his wife to safety.
As he was pulling her onto his steed, an arrow pierced her thigh, shattering bone and spraying blood. As he rode on into the night, the Countess took on a deathly pallor, so the Earl reined in his mount to seek sanctuary at St. Katherine’s Abbey.
His wife seemed very dead indeed to the heartbroken man, so he swiftly buried her beneath the altar and continued to safety.
As time passed, the order of nuns began to hear blood-curdling screams in the night. Unable to cope any longer, they decided to re-inter the Countess in the hope of bringing her peace. To their horror, they discovered the corpse to have broken finger bones and nails torn out. The unfortunate woman had been buried alive!
To this day it is believed the Countess has been unable to find peace and continues to scream in anguish, waiting for her husband to save her from a fate truly worse than death. During excavations, it was determined that indeed bodies were buried within the footprint of the convent. Was one of them the re-interred Countess?
Black Magic Black Nun
So what of the Black Nun?
It is believed that one of the order wasn’t content with servitude to God, humbleness and helping the community. She wanted power – and that power would come at the cost of her soul!
She had her own cell, in which it was said she worshipped Satan and performed Black Magic, becoming a slave to the Occult. This was the highest form of blasphemy and the other nuns in the order fled their defiled home in fear, while the hag as she had become, remained in her house of darkness.
To complete her rituals, the Black Nun would go out into the local community and perform depraved sex acts and offer sacrifices, partly substantiated by the discovery of the bones of children including a spine.
Now the name Black Hag could be as simple as the fact that with malnutrition, the lack of daylight, living conditions and the ashes of fires, the woman would have had a gaunt, skeletal and very much black face along with her black robes.
The stories of dark magic could have been used as a justification for the dissolution of the nunnery during the Reformation at the hands of Henry VIII or at a time where witches were being hunted, the Pope was believing all the reports given to him and pointing an accusing finger as was happening all across Europe. I don’t believe we will ever truly know.
Investigating the Paranormal
It was time to visit the location and see if the claims of paranormal activity could be quantified. As the ruins are on private land, as Irish Paranormal Investigations, we sought permission and had a good discussion with the owners about their unique landscape feature!
To them it feels serene and peaceful, although this could be very much that any entities within are used to their presence and are as respectful of their landlords as the owners are respectful and protective of the Abbey. A kind of truce between the living and the dead as it were.
On our first walk around, I distinctly saw a translucent hand through a gap in the wall. I was shocked to say the least and still feel uneasy about it. The hand was reaching out as if to take Communion and the foliage around the apparition was disturbed, wavering, despite no hint of a breeze or movement throughout the trees and leaves around me.
As we continued on separate sides of one of the room ruins, most likely a Calefactory, a dark shadow rushed between us, dare we say shaped as a person in nun like robes? We were both convinced there was an actually living person playing tricks, so ran after it, but there was no one there.
We found in the cell, that torchlight would not penetrate the darkness, despite natural light having a way in and the torch shut off and would not work again until we left that space. We also had battery drainage and I felt a staring presence on my back as we left.
In what is reputed to be the Hag’s cell, I recited the Lord’s Prayer and as I did so, the place lightened and serenity took hold until I finished.
Overall, it is indeed a place of peace and I do not sense any darkness or evil within. Perhaps the Black Nun remains to seek redemption or chained forever to the place of her misdeeds. The Countess may well be a residual presence, her screams of fear forever imprinted in the stones of the Abbey.
One thing is for sure, if you are looking for a place that has dark history, folklore and hauntings all in one place, these sacred ruins buried deep in rural County Limerick are definitely top of that list!