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Kilmalkedar Monastery

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Kilmalkedar Monastery

<> <><>Kilmalkedar church, ogham stone, and slab cross. Page 181, MacDonogh, Steve. 2000 The Dingle Peninsula. Brandon, Dingle.
Opposite picture: Site map. A-church, B-oratory, C-corbelled building, D-stone cross, E-sundial, F-ogham stone, Galphabet stone, M & K-holy wells, N & P-bullaun stones, LSaint Brendans House. Figure 182, Cuppage, Judith. 1986 Archaeological Survery of the Dingle Peninsula. Oldreacht Chorca Dhuibne, Dublin.

Kilmalkedar monastery, founded in the seventh century, is located on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry and is spread out over ten acres. The site contains a church, ogham stone, oratory, sundial, several cross-inscribed slabs, and two houses. It includes structures built in the Early Christian era through ones built in the fifteenth century. Although primarily a Christian site, it includes some pagan elements. Supposedly, it was founded by Saint Maolcethair, son of the King of Ulster, who died at this site in 636. He chose it because of its proximity to Mount Brandon, a pre-Christian religious symbol, and the pilgrims track which leads to Mount Brandon passes through Kilmalkedar. Saint Brendan was adopted as the patron saint sometime in the centuries following the founding of Kilmalkedar (MacDonogh 1993, 186). Although it is not known when the church fell into disrepair, in 1756, half the tithes from the parish of Kilmalkedar still formed part of the money given to the chancellorship of Ardfert. The Office of Public Works conducted work on the site in 1982, and scholarly work was overseen by Romilly Allen as early as 1892 and H.G. Leask in 1955 (Cuppage 1986, 311). The churchyard holds objects from the Early Christian phase, some with pre-Christian meanings still attached. An ogham stone, 1.83m by .24m, has a hole near the top and sits outside of the church. Inscribed on it is ANM M(AI)LE INBIR BROCANN (Cuppage 1986, 310). Other holed stones can be found inside the church. In pre-Christian times, these holed stones were associated with regeneration and healing. The east window of the church has a similar meaning. Known as Cr na Snthaide, or the Eye of the Needle, on Easter Sunday people pass through it nine times with the belief that doing so will send them to heaven (MacDonogh 1993, 184-185). An oratory that predates Gallarus is now incorporated into the graveyard. A 3.3m by 3.06m corbelled building lies to the northeast of the graveyard. Though some speculate that it may have been an early residential cell, it is traditionally regarded as a chapel (Cuppage 1986, 308-309). A sundial also rests in the churchyard. Some interpret the marks as on the sundial as showing the three-hour intervals of canonical hours kept by the monks (Mould 1976, 184), but others say that it told the times for pilgrims (Harbison 1994,

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Kilmalkedar Monastery

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96). It has been moved at least once and stands 1.23m high. A simple slab cross, cross-inscribed stones, and gravemakers rest in the graveyard, and two holy wells are in the surrounding fields (Cuppage 1986, 308). Just below the churchyard is a chamber, known locally as Poll Jo, built into a thick wall with a small cross inscribed near it. This cell might be the earliest evidence of Christian settlement here, and could be the where Maolcethair lived. A bullaun, a boulder with a round hollow in its surface, can be found sunk into the ground outside. Tradition holds that it was used to separate cream from milk (MacDonogh 1993, 182-185), though it might have held water believed to have curative powers for pilgirms (Harbison 1994, 94). A second bullaun was unearthed as the road was widened in 1984 (Cuppage 1986, 312).

Left: Sundial. Page 182, MacDonogh, Steve. 2000 The Dingle Peninsula. Brandon, Dingle.

Right: Alphabet stone with holed stones nearby. Plate 30, Cuppage, Judith. 1986 Archaeological Survery of the Dingle Peninsula. Oldreacht Chorca Dhuibne, Dublin.

The church, consisting of a nave and a chancel, is built in the twelfth century in the Irish Romanesque style, similar to churches at Monaincha, Clonmacnoise, Ardfert, and Cormacs Chapel on the Rock of Cashel (Mould 1976, 154). The nave of the church was built in the mid-twelfth century and the Gothic chancel added later, replacing the original altar recess, remains of which can still be seen. The corbelled stone roof has collapsed, but many of the other structures of the church still survive and show evidence of the move from building with wood to stone. For example, the finials (an ornamental topping) at the top of the west gable resemble protruding cross-beams, and antae (elongations of the side walls of a church) exist on both sides of the west gable. The west doorway of the nave has a projecting hood, on which an anthropomorphic head forms the keystone. Inside the church is the alphabet stone, 1.22m high, but broken across the top. On the west side is inscribed DNI, a contraction of Domini, and an inscription of the Latin alphabet which was added at a later date, probably in the second half of the sixth century. The south side of the alphabet stone has a Latin cross inscribed on it (Cuppage 1986, 311-312).

Other nearby buildings include the Chancellors House and Saint Brendans House. The Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Ardfert, who was entitled to half the tithes collected, sometimes presided as rector here and stayed in the Chancellors House. It is 17.6m by 5.1m and subdivided by a cross-wall with a fireplace and outshot oven . Saint Brendans House, which may have been a clerical residence in medieval times, was built in the 15th century. It is three stories, 11.7m by

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7.15m, and the supports of the wooden floor are still visible (Cuppage 1986, 318).

Saint Brendans House. Plate 35, Cuppage, Judith. 1986 Archaeological Survery of the Dingle Peninsula. Oldreacht Chorca Dhuibne, Dublin.

Kilmalkedar shows the continuing uses of a site and the transitions made from one century to the next. Although it was established in the Early Christian period, some earlier beliefs were incorporated into the site, such as the holed stones. The site became a center of Christianity and scholarship, and the alphabet stone inside the church was probably a tool for an ancient monastic school. Buildings needed to be added to accommodate the growing population and growing bureaucracy. The church was built so that more people could celebrate Mass, and the transition from wood to stone buildings can be seen here, necessary as woodlands became scarce. The Chancellors House and Saint Brendans House both were built for people running the parish and church, as the need arose to house the Chancellor and clerics, and their construction shows the church was still flourishing in medieval times. Though it has fallen into disrepair, Kilmalkedar saw centuries of use and the changing style and functions of the buildings illustrate the growth of the Christian church.

Works Cited Cuppage, Judith 1986 Archaeological Survery of the Dingle Peninsula. Oldreacht Chorca Dhuibne, Dublin. Harbison, Peter 1994 Early Irish pilgrim archaeology in the Dingle Peninsula. World Archaeolgoy 26(1): 90-103. MacDonogh, Steve 1993 The Dingle Peninsula: History, Folklore, Archaeology. Brandon, Dingle. MacDonogh, Steve 2000 The Dingle Peninsula. Brandon, Dingle. Mould, Daphne D. C. Pochin 1976 The Monasteries of Ireland. Batsford Limited, London.

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01/07/2009