Ireland has a history of early Christian settlement dating as far back as the 6th century when monastic settlements were developed as bastions of the faith in the remote Irish countryside. Gallarus Oratory is the oldest and best preserved example of an early church that served one of these small settlements, and is probably one of the oldest intact buildings in Ireland. It’s amazing to think that you can experience something that has not changed significantly from the day it was built.
The church is thought to date from the end of the 8th Century, but may have been later as buildings entirely of stone are difficult to age without accompanying archaeology. The building was constructed by carefully laying stones at an angle in a dry stone corbelling technique that has resisted the worst of the Atlantic weather for more than 1,200 years.
This method of construction has given the oratory the appearance of an ‘upturned boat’ according to the guide books – to me it looks as though it has been moulded into shape rather than being built brick by brick. The Oratory is an excellent example of building ingeniously using local materials with a small workforce, and its design is unique to Kerry.
One of the only legends that has survived (although as with all legends and folklore it may be relatively recent) relates to the window at the rear of the building, which is said to have the power to clean the soul if you climb out of the oratory from it.
The Oratory is located on the Dingle Peninsula close to Smerwick harbour (Ard Na Caithne) There is a visitors’ centre located nearby where you can learn more about the Oratory and the archaeology of the Dingle Peninsula.