Built in the shape of an inverted ship during the 7th or 8th century, the structure now known as Gallarus Oratory is the best preserved early Christian church in Ireland. The building has weathered the centuries and inhospitable climate impressively well, due in part to its simple, sturdy design and dry-stone corbelling. It has only two openings: a door and, on the opposite side, a small window. Neither are now covered, although there is evidence that the doorway once was.
Buffeted by wind and waves, Ireland’s Western coast tends to be surprisingly stark and inhospitable compared to the lush mildness of the island’s interior. The contrast perhaps goes some way towards explaining why, in a country surrounded by water, beef and mutton are far more popular than fish.
This is not to say that the coastal regions are any less beautiful than the inland counties. Dingle is particularly spectacular, and having to rush through it was one the few regrets of our trip. However, we had hoped to take a boat from Iveragh Peninsula to Skellig Michael—the island’s third and final World Heritage site—the next morning, and our main goal was to see the Gallarus Oratory and Fahan Beehive Huts before settling-in near the port before nightfall.
Aside from the occasionally terrifying and stomach-churning blind turns on narrow coastal roads, the only negative memories we have of Dingle stem from the peninsula’s particular relationship with the many foreigners who drive the region’s economy and clog its traffic. Unlike the town of Adare or sites like Brú na Bóinne, Dingle’s tourist industry seems unusually decentralized and a little ad hoc. Many of the archaeological sites are on private land, and owners charge (a reasonable) admission after drawing tourists in with handmade signs. The brown landmark posts seen elsewhere in the country are mostly absent. The downside of this system is that it can be difficult to tell what is legitimate and what is a trap for gullible outsiders.
Unfortunately, we got burned early on, during our visit to the Gallarus Oratory. (For anyone going, be aware that this is a nationally owned site which is free to visit, but the neighboring visitor center is privately owned and will try to charge you). Feeling taken advantage of is of course a souring experience, and as a result we were more suspicious in our subsequent interactions than we had felt the need to be almost anywhere else on the trip. It also caused us to bypass some of the unverified sites on private land, which we soon realized was our second mistake.
Photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, May 27, 2013, unless otherwise stated.
With its thatched roofs, heavily restored churches, lush golf course, and bus loads of grey haired tourists, contemporary Adare seems more like a Disneyland for senior citizens than an Irish village. However, one of the benefits of going to a place that targets this particular demographic is that most of its attractions are fairly accessible (aside from the ruined Franciscan friary, chapel, and church located on the grounds of the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort). The centrally-located Heritage Center includes a large parking lot, and quite a bit of helpful signage has been sprinkled around the town. The downside, as with most touristy spots, is that everything feels a bit over polished and unreal.
Unsurprisingly, Adare owes much of its current appearance to 19th century renovations. Undertaken by the Earls of Dunraven in the 1820s and ’30s, the village’s refurbishment included the over-restoration of the Trinitarian Priory (founded by the Fitzgeralds in 1230 and now a Catholic church and convent located next to the Heritage Center). Further down the main road on the outskirts of town is the “Black Abbey,” an Augustinian friary founded by the Fitzgeralds in 1316. Now an Anglican parish church and school, the Black Abbey sits across from the grounds of Adare Manor and near the 13th century Desmond Castle.