Early Christian Ireland has inspired wonder and intrigue in both the inhabitants of Ireland and visitors to her shores for countless years. Here we have listed 10 of our favourite Irish Monastic Sites dating as far back as the 6th century. Some are incredibly remote while others were bustling centres of Medieval Irish life, but each one is unique and special in its own way. So read on and take a closer look at the Medieval Monasteries of Ireland and see for yourself why our beautiful country been called, 'The Isle of Saints and Scholars'.
For more information on any of these sites, simply click on the image to be redirected to the relevant XO Chronicle or watch our live webinar below.
Located on the largest of the Aran Islands just off the Galway coast, all that remains of St Enda's Monastery are two churches, a holy well, and the base of a round tower. Though not the most impressive in terms of scale, this is the oldest Monastic Site on the Aran Islands. It was founded by St Enda in the 6th century, meaning that it belongs to the earliest phase of Monastic activity in Ireland.
No list of Irish Monasteries would be complete without Skellig Michael. Dramatically perched on a ruggid island jutting out of the Atlantic, this County Kerry treasure is an example of ascetic monasticism. This means that the monks at Skellig Michael sought to completely remove themselves from society so as to better develop their personal relationships with God. In recent years the iconic beehive huts have been brought to the attention of the world as they feature in the latest installments of the Star Wars saga. Skellig Michael was founded by St Finian sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries.
Located in the Garden of Ireland, Glendalough Monastery was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. During the Medieval period, this became an important pilgrimage site. Extensive renovations and extensions took place over the centuries and many of the buildings standing today date to the 11th and 12th centuries.
Clonmacnoise is located on two important Medieval transport links, the River Shannon and the Esker Riada. Both of these natural features served as highways in the Medieval period. This made Clonmacnoise a popular destination for pilgrimage, and little has changed today as the informative visitor centre and wonderfully preserved buildings see tourists flocking to Clonmacnoise to this day. It was founded by St Ciarán in the 6th century.
Set against the dramatic background of the Burren in County Clare, Corcomroe Abbey was founded by Domhnall Mór O'Briain in the 12th century. It was an important Monastic Site right up to the 17th century, which is interesting as many Irish Monasteries were dissolved in the 16th century by the English King Henry VIII.
Though the village of Cong is perhaps best known as a filming location for 1952 movie The Quiet Man, no visit to Cong is complete without a stroll through the ruins of the beautiful riverside Abbey. The complex of buildings as they stand today were built in the 12th century under orders from the King of Connaught, though it is believed that an earlier Monastery was founded on the same site by St Feichin in the 7th century.
The Priory at Kells was founded in the 12th century by Geoffrey Fitzrobert de Monte Morisco who had the first canons sent over from Cornwall. The Priory became incredibly powerful in the 13th and 14th centuries as it continued to amass lands. Its appearance differs from many of Ireland's Monastic Sites as the large defensive wall and towers make it seem more like a castle than a house of prayer and learning.
Home to Ireland's own leaning tower, Kilmacduagh Monastery is located in south Galway in the shadow of the Burren. The Monastery as it stands today was established in the 13th century, but the site was previously occupied by a 7th century Monastery which was established by St Colmán.
The Buttevant Friary was founded in County Cork in the 13th century by the de Barry family. It is dedicated to the martyr St Thomas Becket. It is home to some of Ireland's earliest examples of Franciscan architecture.
Last but by no means least we come to Tintern Abbey in County Wexford. It was founded in the early 13th century by the Earl of Pembroke who sent for monks from the Tintern Major Abbey in Wales. It was an incredibly powerful Monastic Site in Medieval Ireland, so much so that the Abbots were granted a seat in parliament. Like many of the most powerful religious sites, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 16th century. It then came into private ownership and was a family residence for a number of years before coming under the protection of the Office of Public Works.
From Ascetic Monks on the Atlantic Islands to Franciscan Friars and Parliamentary Abbots, the Monastic Sites of Ireland are as varied as the people who occupied them. These houses of prayer and learning were once the centre of Medieval Irish life, and today serve as popular tourist destinations. The 10 examples listed here are just a small selection of the many Monastic Sites dotted around Ireland and its surrounding islands. They are one of the great treasures of our archaeological record so be sure to fit in a visit to a Monastery on your next trip to Ireland.
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