Ardmore - St. Declan's Church




N 51° 56' 56.1"   W 007° 43' 34.4"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

X 18874 77402

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Tuesday 18 June 2013

GPS Accuracy (m)

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The long building of the Ardmore church.

Ardmore is small village, but holds one of the most beautiful treasures in all Ireland.
It is said that Ardmore is where the very first monastic settlement was built in Ireland. St. Declan arrived to Ireland from Wales several years before St. Patrick and founded a monastery here on the heights of Ardmore. The date of his arrival is debated, but it is commonly believed that it was between 350 and 400.

The church that we see today is often referred to as a cathedral and it is likewise locally known.
In the 9th century, a new building was erected on the site of the earlier church. This new building was what now is the chancel, on the outside wall of which the masonry of the ancient church can still be seen. This church was enlarged by Meolettrim O Duibh-rathra between the 11th and 12th century with the addition of the very long nave. Many other features were added in the 14th century on the east gable and the south wall. As a result, the church presents different building styles, but nonetheless all these works make this building one of the finest, if not the finest, buildings we ever saw.
The chancel and nave have a beautiful pointed archway in the Transitional style between them supported by two elegant piers. The capitals of the two piers are richly decorated with floral motifs. The building is 29 metres long and 9 metres wide at the west gable. The northwest corner has a massive buttress protruding from it. The chancel is aligned to east (90°), its window is now walled up. The entrance to the building is through a three orders arched doorway in the north wall of the nave. A crude cross is incised on one of the jamb stones of the doorway. Inside the church there are several burials, both flush with the ground and altar tombs. Two ogham stones were found in the monastery and are now kept and protected inside the chancel. One has its place in a niche in the south wall next to the archway. It has a rather triangular shape in plan, it's 1.15 metres tall, 30 centimetres wide at the base and tapers a little upwards. It carries ogham inscriptions on all the edges.
The second ogham stone is in the northwest corner of the chancel, it also has a triangular shape in plan, it's 1 metre tall, 28 centimetres wide at the base and 20 centimetres thick. The ogham inscription on this stone is much less visible.
But the most striking feature of them all in this church is on the outside of the west gable where two series of carved arcades are visible. We arrived at the church late in the afternoon, with the sun in the perfect position to give the carvings the light they need to be observed at their best. The carvings represent scenes from the Old and New Testament.
In the upper arcades there are thirteen panels of uneven size, the middle one being the larger. Many of them are so worn and weathered that have completely disappeared. On these panels mainly human figures are carved, but none of them is recognizable. In the fourth bay there's what it seems an ecclesiastic imposing his hands on the head of a kneeling figure. In the fifth bay there are two figures carrying offers. In the sixth bay there's a bishop holding a crozier in his left hand, the right hand is raised but missing. In the seventh bay there's another bishop in front of a kneeling figure holding a goblet. In the eighth bay is another bishop with crozier. In the tenth bay there's the Judgment Scale with figures hanging out of the bowls. In the eleventh bay a kneeling figure presents an object, probably a large tray or dish, high above his head to a standing figure on the right. The other worn bays would have shown other ecclesiastical figures.
The lower arcade has two large semicircular spaces bordered with a moulded string. The northern space is divided into three smaller bays. They represent a horseman mounted, the Temptation of Adam and Eve, a warrior with his lance who kneels before a bishop. The southern space of the lower arcade is divided into six spaces. The one above shows the Judgment of Solomon and also a figure playing a harp, probably King David who plays the harp for Saul. The five spaces below show the Adoration of the Three Magi.
The west gable takes a golden colour in the sunset light and this effect adds magic and wonder to this fantastic place.

The first time we came here was on June 6th, 2001. We were very lucky to see it in a wonderful light on that occasion as well.

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