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establishment of monastic settlements

-St Patrick came in 432 AD
-date marks Ireland's move to Christianity
-missionaries established small communities ruled by their own bishop
-gradual shift towards monastic settlements
-made church organisation in Ireland v diff from that of Britain or continental Europe


Early Irish Monasteries

-enclosed within circular walls. Larger communities had two surrounding walls, centre being area of more sanctity
-monastic enclosure at centre, towards south-east in smaller enclosures
-cemetery located near church
-buildings constructed of wood + circular in shape
-abbots house near church + surrounded by beehive huts
-Abbot was head of settlement + had high social standing
-v few sites survived
-west of Ireland + some coastal islands, monasteries built in stone, remains better preserved


Examples of monasteries

1) Skellig Michael

2) Clonmacnoise


Skellig michael

remote monastery off coast of Kerry



built near Shannon river (athlone, Co Offaly) which made it easy to get to.
It grew to be largest celtic monastery in Ireland
People came from all over Europe to study there
Many kings buried at this site


Skellig Michael - location

island off coast of Co.Kerry


Skellig Michael - function

centre for prayer, place of learning, other holy men travelled there to study bible + become monks


Skellig Michael - date

6th-8th century


Skellig Michael - description

-stone beehive huts built on Skellig Michael island, well-preserved little monastic settlement
-six small stone huts can still be seen
-perched high on a tiny rock island, dedicated to saint Michael, patron saint of high places
-stone steps rise steeply from landing area, church of St Michael surrounded by six beehive huts


Skellig Michael - construction

-use same corbel method of construction as found in Newgrange
-corbelling allows builders to create dome or arch of stone by layering each progressive course of stone a little further inside one below, creating an inward curve which continues until walls meet at top
-both dome-shaped + rectangular corbelled buildings there
-settlement on Skellig's not typical monastery, give idea of scale + complexity of early monasteries


early christian churches

-first stone churches v small + had only one room
-simple rectangular plan
-small window in east glove + western doorway allowed little light to penetrate
-no mortar used, stones had to fit exactly together to form strong durable walls
-wooden churches had steeply pitched roofs covered in thatch or wooden shingles, traditional followed when churches built in stone
-idea of how these buildings looked from written accounts in Annals (narrative of events written year by year) + from images in crafts (eg Book of Kells)


Eg of early christian church

Gallarus Oratory


Gallarus Oratory - location, function, date

location - Dingle Pensula
function - place of worship
date - 8th-9th century


Gallarus Oratory - description

-best preserved of the group of corbelled + rectangular oratories on mainland
-side walls form one continuous surface from ground to ridge + supported by inward leaning gables
-doorway has inclined jambs (opening is narrower at top)
-tiny east window has round top cut from two stones + not true arch


Gallarus Oratory - construction

-constructed using corbelling technique (describe technique)
-uses carefully selected stones, larger at corners + base, smaller and lighter towards top + centre, where cave-in most likely to happen
-stones laid down sloping out from centre of wall, trimmed to an even surface on outside to shed rain + wind
-walls sloped inwards for strength


round towers - eg

round tower at Ardmore Co Waterford


round tower at Ardmore Co Waterford - location, function, date

location: near monastic settlements at Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Tramore, Monasterboice

Function: bell tower, look-out, place of refuge

Date: 10th century


round tower at Ardmore Co Waterford - description

-tall, slim buildings, with tapering conical roofs
-situated close to church/monastery
-four windows at top, one window for each storey below, each faces diff direction
-doorway reached by ladder drawn inside
-internally had wooden floors also reached by ladder



a room or building meant for prayer


round tower at Ardmore Co Waterford - Functions

-presumed to be bell towers but not equopped w hanging bells
-probably mark of statuses-may have been used to store valuables or as places of refuge as height of doorway from ground would suggest