The site of Ardmore Cathedral and Round Tower is one of the earliest, and in my opinion most magnificent of Ireland’s ecclesiastical ruins. As one walks around the grounds at Ardmore the 12th century 30 metre round tower is a constant marvel, set against the beautiful backdrop of Ardmore bay. In the 5th century St Declan founded a monastery here amongst the local Déisi Muman Sept of Munster in the 5th century, possibly pre-dating St Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland. The cathedral at Ardmore contains some features of an earlier 9th century church, including the the fantastic stone carvings on the outer west side wall. These carvings depict Adam and Eve and the Judgement of Solomon. The cathedral also contains two Ogham stones dating from the 6th century. The nave and chancel of the cathedral was built in the 12th century by Moelettrim O Duibh Rathra. The other small building that occupies this site may in fact be the earliest and is known as St Declan’s Oratory. This building dates from the 8th century, tradition states that it is home to the grave of St Declan.
The Round Tower at Ardmore must certainly rank as one of the finest in Ireland, standing on such a perfectly chosen site. The tower may actually date to the 10th century but this cannot be proven. There would have originally been four floors to the tower with the entrance door 4.5 metres above ground level. Inside the tower many corbels project from the walls bearing depictions of human and animal heads as well as designs. In 1841 the base of the tower was excavated and two human skeletons were found which may date from the earlier period of the monastery. The conical top of the tower was destroyed in the 1860s but was rebuilt ten years later.
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