Chapter 3 - Understanding Abbeyfeale

Open16 Sep, 2023, 8:00am - 16 Oct, 2023, 5:00pm

Abbeyfeale is located on the Limerick – Kerry border, on the N21 National Route, approximately 65km south-west of Limerick City.

The river basins of the River Feale and River Allaughan converge in the town, in the foothills of the Mullaghereirks mountains. The N21 Limerick to Kerry national primary route – a key access route in the South West transverses the town centre along Main Street. The urban form of the town has developed in a linear nature extending along the National Road (N21) and Regional Road (R524).

The Square, the River Feale and the town centre with its traditional streetscapes are important elements in the make-up of the town’s physical appearance. Abbeyfeale is typical of an urban settlement located in a predominantly rural area. The town performs important civic and services function with a concentration of civic amenities including schools, a library and a church. These provide services not only for the resident population but also for a much wider rural based population. Abbeyfeale town centre stretches along the N21 and consists mainly of retail, commercial, public/institutional buildings and some residential dwellings. The Market Square forms the focal point of the town containing the statue of Fr. William Casey. A more loosely knit pattern of development, consisting mainly of housing, spreads further east and southwest. The majority of the town’s building stock is of nineteenth and early twentieth century origin. The town displays a number of notable buildings, including: Leen’s Hotel, the old convent and old cinema buildings on the Limerick approach to the town and many fine buildings in the centre of town.

Abbeyfeale owes its name to a Cistercian Abbey founded in Abbeyfeale in 1188 and the adjoining River Feale. The Abbey, located north of the present-day town square, founded by Donal O’Brien, King of Limerick, King of Thomond and King of Munster, has since all but disappeared, and the only identifiable remnants is that of the lower section of the Gable end of an 18th – 19th Century Thatched Chapel, which is just inside the entrance gates to the Old Abbey Site. The settlement subsequently developed as an important market town, administrative civic centre and logistics centre for stage coaches and rail transport in the 1800’s in West Limerick. The urban form of the settlement developed in a linear pattern along the present day N21 and the R524, built circa 1787 and 1836 respectively.
The railway line opened in 1880 and associated business and trade, such as pubs, a hotel, financial services and agri-business and trades operated in the town serving its agricultural hinterland. From the early 19th century, Abbeyfeale grew in importance and expanded as a market town and commercial centre. A new Market Square was laid out, with new streets leading off it, and the building trades found a new demand for their skills. This vibrant economy contributed to the unique Stucco architectural detail by Pat McAuliffe’s found on many of Abbeyfeale’s buildings, in the town centre. Pat McAuliffe (1846 - 1921) was a local Listowel plasterer and builder, who used stucco or external plaster to decorate the facades of townhouses and shops in the town and surrounding area. The Market Square located in the heart of the town has historically played an important hub of economic and social activity for the residents of the area and continues to do so to date.

By the 20th century, the town continued to expand, with low density housing and businesses, such as the Mart and Kostal Manufacturing Plant, locating on the edge of the town. By the mid to late 20th century, housing estates developed in the town to accommodate a growing population, on the Clash Road, Killarney Road and on New Street. The local community developed a substantial community park on the edge of the town on the Killarney Road by the early 21st century. The development of the Limerick Greenway to the north of Abbeyfeale, in recent years offers many opportunities for the town to grow a tourism base, in West Limerick. 

The principal demographic trends for Abbeyfeale as set out in Census data 2016, which identifies the population of Abbeyfeale, as being 2,023, however, a recent release from the Central Statistics Office indicates that the population of Abbeyfeale has grown to 2,206 in 2022, growth of 8.3% over the period 2016 – 2022, unfortunately, in the absence of the full analysis of the Census 2022 data, there is a reliance on 2016 data for the purposes of the development of the socio economic profile. Some of the key challenges that are identified for Abbeyfeale, include a high dependency rate with an increasing young and older population in the town, low median income, a high unemployment rate and a lower educational attainment rate.

The Town Centre Health Check seeks to establish an innovative baseline, to help monitor and drive the development of the town centre going forward, it usually includes land use surveys to establish the overall vacancy rates in the town, business surveys to establish current levels of commercial activity and outlook, consumer opinion and attitudes and movement and accessibility assessments. Town Centre Health Checks are a means of assessing the vitality, resilience and performance of town centres over time. Limerick City and County Council have been monitoring vacancy in towns across the county, over the last 10 years. Vacancy in Abbeyfeale town centre was previously surveyed in 2013. The map below outlines a very simplistic overview of vacancy of both commercial (red properties) and residential properties (orange properties).

A follow up Town Centre Health Check was undertaken by the Council in August 2022 which identified that 30% of existing commercial/residential units are currently vacant, many of the buildings have remained vacant since 2013, and include prominent buildings such as the Old Cinema, Old Convent, many vacant public houses, old shops and dwelling houses, on the Main Street and New Street in particular.

According to GeoDirectory, Abbeyfeale was amongst 15 towns in Munster with the highest retail vacancy rates 30% in Q2, 2022, which correlates with the survey carried out by the Council. The retail and commercial sectors are pivotal to the revitalisation of the town, as they determine footfall, which in turn has positive spin-offs in terms of social interaction, cultural and civic activities, perceptions of safety, and improved visual appearance, community pride and place-making, and general ambiance of the town.


The below figure outlines a comparative analysis of the changes in both commercial and residential vacancy in Abbeyfeale between 2013 and 2022, while there are been limited change, the change has been in a positive direction, particularly in terms of addressing residential vacancy. The introduction of funding stream, such as Croí Conaithe will continue to assist in terms of addressing vacancy, as well as work undertaken by the Local Authority in terms of tackling dereliction and vacancy.

There are 82 businesses currently operating in the town centre, providing a wide array of services, including retail services, health and medical services and some office and manufacturing facilities. The figure below outlines the percentage breakdown of services by business type in Abbeyfeale.

Having regard to the location of Abbeyfeale on a major national artery, connecting Limerick and Kerry, the town is shaped by the significant traffic volumes that traverse the town on a daily basis, as part of the formulation of the Traffic Management Scheme, a number of traffic surveys were carried out in 2019 and 2021, the Annual Average Daily Traffic travelling through the town exceeds 10,000 vehicles, figures were lower in 2021, as a result of the Covid pandemic. These volumes have a significant impact in terms of shaping the town. Limerick City and County and Council in conjunction with Transport Infrastructure Ireland are progressing to planning, the development of a bypass for the town, which will have a transformation effect on the town and offer significant opportunity for enhanced public realm and quality of lives for the residents of the town. Coupled with high volumes of traffic is pedestrian safety, there are currently two pedestrian crossing points in Abbeyfeale, however, as outlined above, the town in linear in nature and the locations of the pedestrian crossing do not always accord with the desire lines of the pedestrians. Pedestrian surveys were undertaken in April 2021 and highlight the desire lines in Abbeyfeale, the Traffic Management Scheme has taken account of these locations and incorporates a number of new pedestrian crossings to enhance pedestrian safety throughout the town.

The SCOT Analysis examines the Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities, and Threats which currently exists in Abbeyfeale. This assessment identifies the crucial issues within the town and identifies opportunities to tackle these challenges. The findings from the SCOT analysis has played a vital role in shaping the overall development strategy for the Town Centre First Plan.