In the town of Birr, Co. Offaly, is the site of St. Brendan’s Monastery, which was reputedly founded in the 6th century AD/CE by Brendan the Elder. The precise location of the monastery is unknown; however, it is believed to have been at the site of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) church yard, located between Church Lane and Castle Street.
The monastery is known to have been the location of several significant church synods or conferences including the synod of Adomnáin (697 AD/CE). Adomnáin was an Abbot of Iona (in Scotland) from the late 7th century. The synod resulted in Cáin Adomnáin, a Brehon (early Irish) law which prohibited the killing or abuse of women, children, clerics and other non-combatants, and forbade their use in warfare. A successor to St. Brendan, Macregol, produced a manuscript known as the Gospels of Macregol in the 9th century, which is now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. There is a copy on display in Birr Library.
The site is now occupied by a complex of buildings including: a square shaped church (OF035-012001), thought to date to the 14th century (based on its eastern window), as well as a three storey 17th-century tower; the graveyard contains 18th and 19th century memorials (OF035-012002). The church served as the parish church, while in use.
Geophysical, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), survey by Ashely Green (Bournemouth University) and the archaeological division of IHS, was undertaken at the site in June 2017, at the request of Birr 2020. The survey revealed evidence of several trends/features, as well as probable grave cuts, currently unmarked, including outside the current graveyard boundaries.
In August 2017 the Irish Heritage School partnered with Prof. Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers of University of Colorado, Denver to undertake 3D scanning, or digital conservation, of the standing remains. This data will be an important monitoring and conservation tool for the site.
Green, A. 2017. St. Brendan’s Church, Birr, Co. Offaly: Geophysical Survey Report. Unpublished technical report, available on request.