Monastic Sites

Clonmacnoise image

One of Offaly's defining features is the large number of significant early monastic sites. This was identified in the first Offaly Heritage Plan 2002 - 2006 and the current plan continues to emphasise its importance. There have been a number of projects that have been undertaken to date.

Publication - Stories from a Sacred Landscape, Croghan Hill to Clonmacnoise by Caimin O'Brien

In 2006, Offaly County Council published a book Stories From A Sacred Landscape, Croghan Hill to Clonmacnoise by Caimin O'Brien. This sets out the vivid picture of 23 monastic settlements, highlighting their role in society and their changes in fortune through political upheaval. It is now sold out but it is available through the library service and limited copies are available from the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, Bury Quay.

Monastic Sites to Visit in Offaly

There are a number of sites that are appropriate to visit and have information boards. For more detailed information on the archaeology of each site see www.archaeology.ie

  • Clonmacnoise - This stunning site on the Shannon is run by the Office of Public Works, it is open 7 days a week and tours are available.

  • Lemanaghan - This site is on the R436 Ballycumber to Ferbane road. It has undergone a programme of conservation from 2000 to 2010. There is an information board on site and a Lemanaghan Conservation Plan published by the Heritage Council. The site is managed by a local management group along with Offaly Heritage Office, the National Monuments Service and the Heritage Council. It is closely connected with Boher Church where St Manchan's Shrine is on display.
  • Rahan - This site is signposted from the N52, Tullamore to Birr road, 1km from Mucklagh. The early church, at the centre of the large circular enclosure is owned by the Church of Ireland and the large graveyard adjacent is Roman Catholic. There is access to this site across the field but please respect the farmer who has cattle and sheep in the enclosure. Keep your cars on the road and leave all gates as you find them. The Rahan Conservation Plan was commissioned by Offaly County Council in 2007 and was carried out by conservation architects Howley Hayes. Copies can by purchased from the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society in Bury Quay, Tullamore or email info@offalyhistory.com.Conservation work on the church was concluded in 2013 with assistance from the Heritage Council. The church is an interesting example where harmful concrete render has been removed and the lime render has been re-applied. The second medieval ruined church on site is in the care of the Office of Public Works. 3d scans of the carved stone and the OPW church are available to download at http://www.offaly.ie/eng/Services/Heritage/Digital-Media/Archaeology-3d/
  • Birr - The early medieval church of St Brendan at Church Street, Birr has been conserved by Offaly Local Authorities, with assistance from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Heritage Council, under the guidance of Chris Southgate, conservation engineer. An information board is at the site.
  • Durrow - This site is located on the N52 between Tullamore and Kilbeggan on the left approaching Kilbeggan. The High Cross at Durrow has been moved inside the church by the Office of Public Works (OPW). The OPW commissioned Howley Harrington Architects to prepare a conservation plan for the site. Download OPW Durrow Conservation Plan 2005 |
  • Seir Kieran - This site is in Clareen and is sign-posted from Birr and from the Kinnitty to Birr road. This site is managed by the Office of Public Works with a Church of Ireland church at its heart. There is parking adjacent to the church for cars. An information board is at the site. There is a holy well and rag tree close by. The base of the high cross was scanned and is available on http://www.offaly.ie/eng/Services/Heritage/Digital-Media/Archaeology-3d/
  • Gallen - This site is just south of Ferbane and is adjacent to the nursing home. It is managed by the Office of Public Works. An information board is at the site.
  • Killeigh - Killeigh village is on the N80 Tullamore to Portaloise road. This is an interesting site which has an evolving settlement around it. There is an information board in the Green.
  • Drumcullen - This site is outside Kinnitty on the Rath road with an acute turn which requires you to go past, turn and come back! The land between the road and the site is farmed so please leave gates as you find them. This church and graveyard are in the ownership of Offaly County Council. The high cross now at Kinnitty Castle is believed to be from this site. A second high cross-head was removed from the site to the Parish Church of Rath in 2015. Download the brochure about Drumcullen high cross head by Peter Harbison. There is an information board at this site.
  • Letter - Located just south of Cadamstown on the R421. The site is signposted and there is an information board at this site.
  • Kinnitty - The present Church of Ireland church is located on the site of Early Christian monastery founded by St Finan in the 6th century. Little is visible of the early monastic site. There is an interesting early Christian cross-slab located inside the church decorated with spiral headed crosses in the angles of a large double lined cross. Key available from Peavoy's shop on the corner. There is an information board at the church.

Geophysical Surveys of Monastic Sites

In order to gain a greater understanding of the structure of monastic sites in the county, a number of geophysical studies have been undertaken at Lemanaghan, Killeigh, and Rahan by Offaly County Council with funding from the Heritage Council.