Early Christian Irish monasteries survey

Most research on Early Christian monasteries in Ireland has concentrated on the upstanding stone architecture and sculpture. This focus on the ritual core of the monastery has tended to limit the range of evidence available for assessing the wider cultural and economic role of monasteries in society.


The purpose of this long-term project was to examine the topographic setting of monasteries and consider their layout, including the size and nature of the outer enclosures frequently associated with the ritual core.

Monasteries of various sizes and degrees of importance have been selected and surface and geophysical surveys have been carried out. The project aimed to investigate a number of key questions:

  • What physical components make up an Early Christian monastery in Ireland?
  • What functions did monasteries serve?
  • Can the largest monasteries be termed urban?


Large scale surveys have taken place over a number of years at:

  • Clonmacnoise, County Offaly
  • Monasterboice, County Louth
  • Devenish, County Fermanagh.

Another survey continued work in the Lough Erne basin in County Fermanagh where there is a high concentration of monastic sites. Geophysical and topographic surveys were also undertaken in 2005 to complete fieldwork at Aghalurcher and begin extensive survey at Galloon, both in County Fermanagh.


Results from Clonmacnoise have been published in:

  • H Mytum 2003 'Surface and geophysical survey at Clonmacnoise: defining the extent of intensive monastic settlement', In H. King (ed.) Clonmacnoise Studies 2, 35-58. Dublin, Duchás.

Find out about .


This Project was funded by the University of York.

Back to: Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology