Kilmalkedar Church

Séipéal Chill Maolchéadair

Kilmalkedar Church

Séipéal Chill Maolchéadair

Kilmalkedar Church was founded by St Maolcethair in 636 AD and has become imbued with tales of St Brendan. There’s much to discover at this beautiful, feature filled site, one of the key highlights of the Dingle Peninsula!

Beautifully situated overlooking Smerwick Harbour, Kilmalkedar is one of Ireland’s most important ecclesiastical complexes, with a wealth of features to explore. Kilmalkedar takes its name from Chill Maolchéadair, in honour of its founder, the little known St Maolcethair, who died in AD 636, though the site is more commonly associated with the famous St Brendan the Navigator. The complex covers an area of over 10 acres and includes a Hiberno-Romanesque church, a large stone cross, an ogham stone, a sundial, St Brendan’s House and a number of other important ecclesiastical features. You can find a description of all of the key features of Kilmalkedar below the gallery.

The History of Kilmalkedar Church

There is little to be seen of the earliest phases of Kilmalkedar, and no traces of a large monastic enclosure can be seen today. The earliest tangible evidence is the ogham stone, that might date to the 6th or 7th century (see below), and the large cross that stands close to it may be of a similar date. Kilmalkedar’s significance grew when it played a central role in the celebration of St Brendan. The church is situated on the Cosán na Naomh (the Path of the Saints), an important pilgrimage route that leads to the summit of Mount Brandon. This significance led to Kilmalkedar controlling a rather extensive parish, with a number of other important ecclesiastical features in its hinterland – like the nearby St. Brendan’s Oratory.

By the beginning of the 12th century, the great province of Munster was largely split into two competing power blocks. Des Mumha (South Munster) was ruled by the Mac Carthaigs and their allies (including the Corcu Duibne of the Dingle Peninsula). Tuad Mumha (North Munster) was ruled by the Uí Briain, who were allied to the Ciarraige, the dynasty who controlled much of Kerry including the influential ecclesiastical centre of Ardfert. The ascendancy went back and forth a number of times. It was in the context of this dynastic power struggle that the wonderful Romanesque church of Kilmalkedar was constructed.

The church is believed to have been the work of the same master architect that constructed Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel for Cormac Mac Carthaig. He is believed to have sent the architect down to his Corcu Duibne allies. However, unlike his masterpiece on the Rock of Cashel with its continental influences, here at Kilmalkedar the mason perhaps had a slightly more conservative brief, to construct a church of stone that reflected and echoed the traditional Irish oak churches that were so familiar across the landscape at that time. The result is a truly beautiful building that reflects the European influences of the Romanesque, but still retains a distinctly Irish character. In that way, Kilmalkedar can perhaps be said to be the first example of truly Hiberno-Romanesque architecture in Ireland.

Like Cormac’s Chapel, Kilmalkedar Church is also thought to be mid-12th century in date, though the chancel was extended in around 1200. Notable features of the church include the ornate doorway, which is typically Hiberno-Romanesque in design, with three orders decorated with zig-zag design and a carving of a human head in the centre, which perhaps represents the founder or an important church figure. The projecting antae and the blind arcading on the interior are also classic features of Romanesque architecture. The chancel arch is also finely decorated in the Romanesque style, and the ‘Alphabet Stone’ is positioned just next to the arch (see below).

You can see a description of some of the key features of the site below the gallery.

Visiting Kilmalkedar Church – Information

No Visitor Centre
Partial Wheelchair Access
Green Icon showing the site has family friendly facilities