One of the truly iconic sites of the Dingle Peninsula, Gallarus Oratory is a drystone church with a corbelled roof. Gallarus Oratory stands at the south-east side of a large stone-walled enclosure on the lower slopes of Lateevmore, with a vista that overlooks the broad crescent of land surrounding Smerwick Harbour. There is some debate about how old the oratory is, with the most likely possibility being somewhere around the 10th or 11th century.
The Architecture of Gallarus Oratory.
The church was constructed from a single continuous corbelled vault, with the splayed walls of the base supporting the roof. This style of construction provides Gallarus’s distinctive shape; from a distance it appears rather like the hull of an upturned boat. Gallarus is one of only three drystone churches that still has an intact corbelled roof (the other two being on Skellig Michael). There are around 36 drystone churches known in Ireland, and of these a remarkable 31 of them (or 86%) are located along the Iveragh and Dingle Peninsulas, a region that was encompassed by the early medieval kingdom of Corcu Dubine. Archaeologists like Tomás Ó Carrigáin and Peter Harbison have suggested that these drystone churches may reflect the spread of the cult of St. Brendan the Navigator, so perhaps the distinctive boat shape of Gallarus is a further expression of this. However Ó Carrigáin does further note that drystone buildings were becoming more common in Corcu Dubine in secular as well as ecclesiastical settlements, so it may be a reflection of the architectural fashion of the time.
Just outside the oratory you can see a leacht or altar feature with an early cross slab that bears the Latin inscription LIE COLUM MEC GR, which is thought to translate to ‘The Stone of Colum, Son of Gr…’.
As it is located on the Dingle Peninsula, Gallarus Oratory is a very popular site with visitors, but in between the coach tours it is possible to have the church almost to yourself while you soak in the atmosphere.