Research at the site of St. Brendan’s Monastery

In the town of Birr, Co. Offaly, is the site of St. Brendan’s Monastery. The modern town layout, a designated Heritage Town, results from the architecture and design aesthetic of the Georgian Period. The 18th and 19thcentury remodelling of the town overlies the earlier medieval town, and the 6thcentury AD/CE monastery established by Brendan the Elder. The precise location of the monastery is unknown, however it it believed to have been at the site of a Church of Ireland (Anglican) church yard, located between Church Lane and Castle Street.

Current research is led by Prof. Bodhi Michael Rogers of Ithaca University, undertaking 3D Scan digital conservation of the standing remains, Ashely Green (PhD Candidate, Bournemouth University), who has undertaken archaeogeophysical survey on the site (results forthcoming).

About St. Brendan’s

The site is now occupied by a complex of buildings including: a square shaped church (OF035-012001-) built with roughly coursed limestone with large sandstone quoin stones with 17th-century tower three storeys high added to the S end of W wall which is located in centre of a large irregular shaped graveyard containing 18th and 19th century memorials (National Moments Service, SMR Numbers OF035-012001- church; OF035-012002- graveyard). This church was the parish church, while in use.

The monastery is known to have been the location of a number of significant church synods or conferences including the synod of Adomnáin (697 AD/CE). Adomnáin was an Abbot of Iona (in Scotland) from in the late 7th century. The synod resulted in Cáin Adomnáin, a Brehon (early Irish) law which prohibited the killing of women and other non-combatants and forbade their use in warfare. It imposed penalties abuses against women, children and clerics. A successor to St. Brendan, Macregol produced there a manuscript known as the Gospels of Macregol, now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. There is a copy on display in Birr Library.

Thanks also to Amanda Pedlow and the Offaly County Council Heritage Office, for supporting the project, and to Frances Kawala and the Birr 20/20 group. 

Read More:

Birr History Society: Birr History [Web Published]. Accessed 19/09/17

National Monuments Service: Historic Environment Viewer (SMR No. OF035-012003-)