St. Flannan's Cathedral & Oratory

St. Flannan's Cathedral & Oratory, Killaloe, County Clare

St. Flannan’s Cathedral & Oratory, often referred to as “Brian Boru’s Vault” was named after the first bishop of Killaloe in 639, Saint Flannan. The Cathedral dating back to the 13th century in the early 1200 was built of yellow and purple sandstone. The first monastery was founded on this site by St. Molua but Donal Mór O’Brien erected the first cathedral, which was destroyed by Cathal Carrach of Connaught in 1185.

In the south-western corner lies the beautiful Romanesque doorway which belonged to the earlier cathedral, dating back to c 1185, it is one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in Ireland. There is an ancient tombstone in the doorway which is believed to be the tomb of Murtagh who was the last High King of the O’Brien Clan. Nearby, there is a unique Viking runic inscription, carved on a Ogham stone (old gaelic form of writing). It was discovered in 1916 and it dates back 1,000 years to the time of Brian Boru (Bryan Boru), carved by a Viking who was converted to Christianity. The Runes read, Thorgrimr carved this cross.

The present building was built in the thirteenth century after Donal Mor O’Briens cathedral was destroyed in 1185. The tower was increased in height and altered in the 18th century.

The Oratory dating back to the early 12th century had a magnificent chancel at its east end but it was destroyed. An Oratory was normally a small church intended for prayer but this actual building may have been envisioned to house the remains of St. Flannan. Containing two stories, a lower floor and above it a round stone vault with an upper floor tucked into the space between the roof and the vault. The only part of the Oratory in significant good condition today is the Nave (where the congregation sat). The Romanesque doorway may be have been a replacement of a less elaborate original. Not common in Ireland is the Stone-roofed buildings, most famous example being Cormac’s chapel in Cashel which was built in the early 12th century. Today the Oratory is used to store some early inscribed stones and slabs.

St Flannan’s Well is located in the garden opposite the Cathedral. Human bones have been exhumed from this ground from time to time so it may have been used as a burial ground. At one time, on the 18th December a pattern was held on St. Flannans day on this site. Today the well is now enclosed.