St. Declan's Ardmore - Ireland's First Christian Community

Ardmore is a fishing village in the Southeast of Ireland in just over the border from County Cork in County Waterford. It is the legendary home of St. Declan who is said to have come to Ardmore, bringing Christianity before St. Patrick somewhere between 350 and 420 AD.

St. Declan built a monastery in a high place overlooking Ardmore Bay. Ardmore from the Irish Aird Mhor means Great Height. The ruins of a 13 century church and 8th century oratory as well as a well preserved round tower dominate the hillside where St. Declan first settled and built his monastery.

As you drive up the hillside, the round tower - which stands over 90 feet high - roars up from the landscape. It's quite overwhelming at first. Just near the tower are the ruins of St. Declan's Church (12th century), and below that is the 9th century oratory where St. Declan is believed to be buried. These three architectural relics rise out of a sea of graves, occupying nearly every available ground space. Some markers are new, shiny granite, some old limestone with faded inscription, and some merely a jagged stone set atop a lump.

Faith - centuries old perhaps - pervades the space around St. Declans Church and oratory. Religious scenes carved in stone during the 9th century were preserved and moved to this church when it was built in the 12th century. The scenes - Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Judgment of Solomon, the Visit of the Magi, and more - were used to help teach the local community about the Christian faith. The oratory, still standing after 1200 years has been a place of private prayer and reflection. One needs only to be still in this religious compound and look out over the land and sea to sense the faith of men and women that has been nurtured and grown here.

The remnants of by-gone faith and human spirituality are not only in these buildings. There are unseen remnants - felt only in prayer here. All the elements here - the sky, the wind, the sea - seem brighter, somehow more vivid.

Ardmore is a thin place.

Adare - Ancient City in Limerick

Adare is a perfect "first town" to visit when arriving in Ireland not only because of its proximity not only to Shannon Airport, but to many sites of interest in Muenster and Leinster.

Adare is an estate village developed by the Earl of Dunraven in the mid-19th century. Its anchor was Adare Manor (home of the earl) which still stands - now a luxury hotel surrounded by a golf course with miles of walking trails. The town is well known for its thatched-roofed cottages, upscale dining and public park.

I went to mass at Holy Trinity Abbey, a former Trinitarian monastery (the only Trinitarian monastery in Ireland). The Trinitarians served here in the early 13th century. Their mission was to raise money for ransoms to free hostages captured by the Moors during the Crusades. The Abbey has a stain glass window depicting a monk with a purse, trading the purse for the chains of a prisoner.

On the grounds of Adare Manor - in the middle of the golf course are the ruins of a Franciscan Friary, founded for the Franciscans in 1464 by the Thomas, the Earl of Kildare. This magnificent ruin still has the remains of a cloister walk which traces a path around a giant yew tree.

I ate an exquisite meal at The Blue Door Restaurant on the Main Street, housed in one of the thatched cottages. I stayed two nights just outside of town at Elm House, a Bed and Breakfast run by Mrs Pauline Heddeman.

Thin Place?
Adare is a homey place - a hospitable place. The ruins of the Franciscan Friary I found to be thin. Tracing the steps of medieval friars around the cloister walk and up the stone spiral stairway was moving. There is a dry holy water font, relatively unchanged over the past five hundred years.

The Friary is is thin place.