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Irish Architecture

( Originally Published 1921 )



Celtic Architecture.—Early Christian buildings in Ireland are archaic, and existing remains indicate that the building monks largely followed types of pre-Christian times. The chief interest lies in Celtic Architecture from the sixth century to the English Conquest, A.D. 1169. The Celtic or " Runic " cross is a combination of the Greek and Latin Cross and is often capped with a sloping roof to throw off the rain, as in the crosses of Durrow aud Monasterboice (A.D. 923). They are divided into panels containing carved representations of Biblical episodes, the nnending knot, and much other symbolism. Early churches were extremely small and appear to have been principally used as oratories for priests, with small square chancels attached. The naves have barrel vaults surmounted by an " overcroft " covered by a steep roof of stone, as at Cormac's Chapel, Cashel (A.D. 1127–34) (p. 432), probably the finest in Ireland, and S. Kevin's Kitchen, Glendalough. Windows appear to have been unglazed in these primitive churches. There were also monastic establishments, and Prof. Stokes points out that there is a group of seven small churches at Inchleraun similar to some in Asia Minor. The monastic cells at the Skelligs are of beehive form, with domed stone roofs in horizontal courses, as in the Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae (p. 70 A). Round towers, which are generally detached, have been a subject of much controversy, but it is now generally considered that they were ecclesiastical in origin and were built between A.D. 890 and 1238. They were used as treasure-houses, refuges, or bell towers, and for displaying lamps at night. The entrance doorway was several feet from the ground, and the towers taper slightly towards the summit and are crowned, either with a conical (p. 432 G) or battlemented roof (p. 432 J).

Mediaeval Architecture. — Within the English domain in Ireland the influence of Continental art was felt during the Middle Ages, but few monuments of importance were erected. The Cathedrals of Dublin (p. 335 A), Kildare, and Cashel are the most important. The absence of parish churches is remarkable, while those of monasteries and friaries (principally Franciscan) are small and usually have a nave and choir—probably once divided by a wooden screen—transept and southern aisle, cloisters, and a tower, often added in the fifteenth century. The best known are those at Cashel, Kilconnel, and Muckross.

The earlier castles of the Irish chieftains are an interesting study, but owing to the disturbances in Elizabethan times there is little domestic architecture left of this period. Irish architecture of the Renaissance period is included with English architecture of that period.



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