Major Irish ecclesiastical sites are characterised by ten or more small single-altar churches, along with other sacred foci such as high crosses and round towers and are delimited by curvilinear earthen banks. Though they are popularly referred to as monasteries, they do not conform to modern expectations of ‘monastic’ architecture. This is because they were not modelled primarily on contemporary Continental monasteries but on the great cities of Christendom. Some sites, including Iona and Clonmacnoise, seem to have laid particular emphasis on Jerusalem, while others, most notably Armagh, looked primarily to Rome. These sites did not, it seems, become major urban centers. Instead they represent experiments in symbolic urbanism in response to Judaeo-Christian and Roman ideas. Geographical remoteness from their models resulted in a relatively uncomplicated and clear distillation of a few crucial ideas about what constitutes a sacred city. Though simple and seemingly ‘vernacular’ in form, these complexes were sophisticated and ambitious in conception.
Tomás Ó Carragáin is a graduate of University College Cork and the University of York and became a lecturer in the Archaeology Department, UCC, in 2002. His publications include Inishmurray: Monks and Pilgrims in an Atlantic Landscape (Collins Press, 2008) and Churches in Early Medieval Ireland: Architecture, Ritual and Memory (Yale University Press, 2010), the first in-depth study of Irish architecture from the arrival of Christianity to the early stages of the Romanesque. He is currently working on the Making Christian Landscapes project which is funded by the Heritage Council and considers the impact of Christianity on early medieval landscapes in Ireland and neighboring countries. A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA), he won the 2009 Society for Medieval Archaeology Martyn Jope Award, the 2011 Michael Adams Prize in Irish Medieval Studies, and the 2011 UCC College of Arts Research Achievement Award.
Sponsored by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies