Aghadoe Cathedral is situated on a beautiful clearing overlooking the lakes of Killarney, with the abbey of Innisfallen island visible below. Aghadoe was once known as ‘Acha Dá Eo’, in old Irish, meaning “The field of the two yew trees”. There is evidence that Aghadoe is built on a pre-Christian site and was later linked to the 5th century missionary St Abban. Two 7th century Ogham stones and a bullaun stone are the first evidence of Aghadoe as an important religious site. One of these Ogham stones, cemented in the south wall bears the inscription “BRRAUNANN”, which may relate to St Brendan, the other is now sadly missing. The bullaun stone is found outside the church and may have been used originally as a quern-stone, in time it became a holy water font, local folklore suggests rainwater that fell into it had healing properties.
Chiefly Aghadoe is associated with St Finian the Leper in the 6th or 7th century. The church that currently occupies the site dates from the 11th and 12th century, and with its elegant Romanesque doorway arch is a very welcoming sight. The first written records of Aghadoe comes from the Annals of Innisfallen, where it is referred to as the ‘Old Abbey’. Its believed that Aghadoe was linked to Innisfallen by a causeway across Lough Leane, Maelsuthain O’ Carroll – one of Innisfallen’s finest scholars was buried at Aghadoe in 1010AD. The first stone structures on the site are recorded in 1027, this was the same year the round tower was constructed. In 1061, an Cathail, heir to the local dynasty of Eóganacht Locha Léin was captured at the church and murdered. A hundred years later the new rulers of the dynasty set about restructuring the church, incorporating part of the old stone building, this work was completed by 1158.
Aghadoe is named as a cathedral as it is believed to have been the seat of a bishop before it was amalgamated into the Bishopric of Ardfert. One of the finest artefacts that was found which relate to Aghadoe was a 12th century crosier found in 1848 (now at the National Museum in Dublin). The crosier was carved out of walrus ivory and decorated in the Urnes style, most associated with Vikings, it depicts a foliage motif that develops and curves into the shape of a monster with a man in his open jaws.
It appears that the church at Aghadoe was in use until the 17th century when it fell into ruin. Lewis’ ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ mentions at the time of writing, 1837, that another church was being ‘contemplated’ to stand beside the old cathedral ruins, however this was never constructed.
There are many folklore and ghost tales relating to Aghadoe which were documented in the early 1800s century by folklorist T Crofton Croker, fully available in the public domain, please find the link below, the section on Aghadoe is chapter seven.
T Crofton Croker – Killarney Legends
GPS: 52.07679, -9.55451