St. Fanahan's Church




N 52° 15' 35.1"   W 008° 15' 50.64"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

R 81973 12039

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Tuesday 20 June 2017

GPS Accuracy (m)

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The chancel was the earlier church, then in the 15th century a new and wider section was built to the west.

St. Fanahan founded a monastic settlement at Brigown in the 7th century on a land that the King of Munster granted to him. Fanahan is also known as the Warrior Monk. He was reputed for his huge piety and heroism, but he was also hot-tempered and his fighting skills were appreciated by kings and chieftains. He helped them to settle fights by using his crozier as a weapon.
Brigown comes from the Irish Brí Ghabhann that means "The Slope of the Smith", remembering the seven smiths who forged the seven sickles used by Fanahan to inflict mortifications on his own body for seven years in order to ensure his place in heaven. St. Fanahan died in 665, his feast day is November 25th.
The monastery would include one or more churches and small huts where the monks would work and live, and a scriptorium, a place where the manuscripts were copied. These buildings were made of timber, so they have disappeared.
The present church is from the 11th century, even though some elements were added until the 16th century.
A round tower was added to the monastery around the 10th century, but a lightining hit and damaged it during a storm in 1720, and what remained of it was demolished in 1807 by Rev. Robert Austen, who used the stones from the tower to build a new rectory.
The monastery probably was dissolved after the Norman invasion in 1169, but it retained its function as a parish church for the following four centuries.
Above the south lintelled doorway the base for a high cross has been inserted in the masonry.
Two stones on each side of this cross base are former grave markers from Norman burials.
Another ancient grave slab is set into the wall to the west of the doorway.

By looking at the ruins it is clear that the early church was smaller. In the 15th century a new wider section, the nave, was built to the west and a Gothic chancel arch was inserted in the west wall of the early church that became the chancel. The east walls has massive buttresses on the outside.
The church building was restored in the late 19th century, with major works on the south and north walls. The north wall appears thicker than the south wall. The east (100°) window is from the 17th century.
The west wall of the nave is totally missing, but traces in the masonry reveal that the church had antae on this side.
The church appears in Papal taxation at the end of the 13th century, but it was recorded as in ruins in the second half of the 17th century.
The church was heavily repaired and restored in 1891 by Canon Courtney Moore who also inserted the valuable stones around the doorway in the south wall.

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