For travellers that have been to Ireland before, they will know that you can't throw a stone in most Irish towns without putting a church window in grave danger. This island of saints and scholars is dotted with church buildings. From small, early medieval oratories to Byzantine beauties and Neo-Gothic fortresses of holy knowledge and worship, church-touring visitors will have their pick of the litter when it comes to style. For travellers unsure one where to start, why not give these five marvelous churches a try?
Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin
In Ireland, churches don't come any bigger than the Saint Patrick's Cathedral. While it is Ireland's biggest church, it is also the only Irish cathedral without a bishop. It was designated as the National Cathedral of Ireland by the Church of Ireland to prevent any Catholic takeovers of the space. Although a church has stood on this ground for roughly the past 500 years, visitors shouldn't expect much to be medieval about the interior. Although the imposing stone exterior seems ancient, the church underwent a massive renovation that bordered on a sheer rebuilding in the 19th century, making the Saint Patrick's Cathedral is surprisingly modern on the inside. The biggest attractions of the cathedral is to tour it's tombs that house famous names such as the famous blind harper Turlough O'Carolan, Ireland's first president Douglas Hyde and the dean of the cathedral Jonathon Swift and his beloved Stella.
Gallarus Oratory near Smerwick
Located on the Dingle Peninsula in the lonely County Kerry is a small medieval oratory that few people ever pay a visit to. Not only is it located in the middle of beautiful Irish countryside, but the Gallarus Oratory is pretty easy to miss. This early medieval church is built from stone without mortar and shaped like a boat, making it both an architectural and ecclesiastical gem to Ireland. This small building served as the place of worship for early Christian farmers on the peninsula. The building has stood since the 6th century, but the oratory was later abandoned like the rest of the area after repeated raids from Viking and Anglo-Normans. There is not much to see within the oratory itself, but it is beautiful in its simplicity and intriguing how such a simple structure could remain standing for hundreds of years without anything but the next stone to support it.
St. Mary's Cathedral in Limerick
Although Limerick's oldest church, St. Mary's gets surprisingly few visitors, which is a shame considering it is one of Ireland's most aesthetically pleasing churches. The cathedral was originally built by King Donal Mor O'Brien as a palace in the area, but it was transformed into a church and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1168. Although still beautiful, St. Mary's Cathedral is a shadow of what it once was when it was built. Throughout the Victorian era, the building was renovated several times into what travellers can see today. The cathedral features a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles on the outside while the interior includes beautiful stained glass windows and some ornate wood carvings on the misericords. These misericords, or support shelves that support the choir stalls, are the only remaining pre-Elizabethan carving left in Ireland which makes St. Mary's Cathedral even more precious to the country.
Saint Columba's House in Kells
Just an hour's drive outside of Dublin, Kells is an ideal place for a short trip back to the Middle Ages. As a town that boasts numerous medieval buildings and monuments, Saint Columba's House is tucked between the busy N3 and the Kell's round tower and looks as if it is right at home in the city. Although its steep roof and rugged gray stone construction lacks ornate charm, this little gem is one of the best preserved representations of early Irish churches. Today this lonely building and the nearby round tower are all that remain of the Monastery of Kells that was built here in the 6th century. This building has persisted through ancient raids and destruction in the area as well as modern urban development. While the Saint Columba House looks dull and grey on the outside, its interior is striking in its contrast. The walls are covered in rich wood and the floors host colourful tiles that make for a eye-pleasing and welcoming space.
John's Lane Church in Dublin
Located in the Liberties district of Dublin lays the distinctive red sandstone and granite building that is commonly known as John's Lane Church. Its official name is the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Augustine, but that is quite a mouthful so it is instead referred to by the name of its steep narrow side street. John's Lane Church was built with a Flemish style exterior, but hosts more of a French neo-Gothic character in its interior. What makes the church so memorable, aside from its colourful exterior, is a church steeple that measures 60 metres high, the highest in Dublin. Unlike many other churches, the John's Lane Church has a best time to pay it a visit. In the morning, the light floods beautifully through the stained glass windows, brilliantly illuminating the whole church, making an early morning visit a surreal experience.