Innisfallen Monastic Settlement




N 52° 02' 47.88"   W 009° 33' 15.72"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

V 93382 89436

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Thursday 16 June 2016

GPS Accuracy (m)

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The monastic settlement as it appears from the dock.

It is believed that an early monastery was founded on Innisfallen in the 7th century by St. Finian the Leper, the same who founded a church in Aghadoe. The island was attacked several times by the Vikings and in the 12th century by the men of Amhlaoibh O'Donoghue. The monks of the monastery repaired the buildings after every attack, but no traces of those buildings survive today.
At the end of the 12th century the island was taken over by the Augustinian Canons who built a new monastic settlement that became a major centre of learning. The Annals of Innisfallen were written here.

The first thing that we saw upon arriving on the island was a small Hiberno-Romanesque church or oratory under a group of trees at the end of a grass pathway bordered with foxgloves. This oratory stands on the easternmost point of the island. It measures 7.20 metres of length and 5 metres of width, and it's aligned to the east (90°). The Romanesque doorway in the west wall has only two orders, it's only 75 centimetres wide and is decorated with chevron motifs and animal heads on its outermost moulding. There's a narrow round headed window in the east wall. The north and south walls are lower than their original height. Inside the oratory is a 10th century solid wheel cross which was found at the bottom of the lake. It's 63 centimetres high and 40 centimetres wide at the arms. The decorated side faces west. It seems there's the custom to leave some coins at the feet of the cross.

The rest of the monastic settlement has a complicated layout.
There's a square plan building that was the abbey. To the south of the complex is the church divided in chancel and nave. The chancel has two tall and narrow east windows. Below them there's a stone altar. Built in the south wall next to the altar is the piscina. The south wall is missing the upper part for the whole length of the chancel. The nave has a lintelled doorway in the west wall with south and north windows. In the southwest corner of the nave there's a bullaun stone. In the nave there are also some medieval burials marked with nice slabs flush with the ground.
Adjacent to the north wall of the church is the cloister. Nothing survives of the arcades of the cloister apart from the outline of the covered walkway. To the north and east of the cloister are the ruins of the domestic buildings such as the dormitory, the kitchen and refectory and the Chapter House.
About 15 metres to the west of the church is a long building known as the Abbot's Church. There are some stone walls to divide the length of the building in different sections. To the east is the chancel, with remains of the chancel arch dressed with red sandstone quoins. The top corner stone in the north jamb has a carved human face which, according to the tradition, depicts the founder St. Finian. There are two undefined doorways in the south wall and one round arch doorway in the north wall of this long building.

The island is populated by a group of deer, and some of them came over to see what we were doing.

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