Gallarus Oratory, Kerry, Ireland

Gallarus Oratory is one of the most iconic heritage sites on the Dingle Peninsula and is the most well preserved oratory in West Kerry. The structure is believed to date from between the 8th and 10th centuries and is reminiscent of a boat turned upside down. The chapel uses corbelled vaulting, the stones are placed on top of each other projecting inwards by small increments as the walls rise. The stones are also angled to be lower on the outside than on the inside allowing for a natural flow of rainwater away from the structure. It was built using little mortar on the exterior but there is evidence of lime mortar being used to line the walls inside, there is only one small window to the rear of the oratory. The chapel has only had some slight sagging in the roof which is truly remarkable considering it has withstood Atlantic gales for up to 1200 years.

Gallarus Oratory is named ‘Séipéilín Ghallarais’ in Irish which means ‘The Church of the Place of the Foreigners’ which is understandable considering it overlooks the harbour at ‘Ard na Caithne’ and must’ve been the first port of call for many visitors to this peninsula. A small cross slab stands at the east end of a bed of stones beside the oratory.

Gallarus has many folklore legends and traditions ascribed to it, in 1758 an English Traveller Richard Pococke was told that the bed of stones and small cross marked the tomb of a Giant. A legend overheard by Lady Chatterton in 1838 and documented in her book, ‘Rambles in the South of Ireland during the Year 1838’ states, ‘(These stones) were held in great reverence by the peasantry in the neighbourhood, who suppose that on them a peculiar kind of bell was once placed, by means of which alarm could be given to the inhabitants of the village…A boy once stole a stone from it. When he got home he began to swell till he would fill the whole house. He became too large to get out of his cabin. Soon his mother restored the charmed stone, and the boy instantly shrunk to his former size. Another legend which still can be heard today is that whoever is able to climb out of the oratory through its small window will have his soul cleansed, though considering the size of the window this feat is pretty much impossible!

The rain on the day of my to Gallarus Oratory was torrential and I almost didn’t make my way to it at all, however once on site I could see how beautiful and comforting the small chapel structure would have been as a respite from the onslaught of the Atlantic rain and winds.

GPS: 52.17268, -10.34932

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