St Flannan, Killaloe

Feature Sets (5)


A large aisleless cruciform early gothic church with a central tower over the crossing. The transept is almost central, with the choir slightly longer than the nave. Total length approx. 55 m., w. across transept approx. 39 m. (Nave 18.59m x9.14m; chancel 19.8m x 9.14m; N transept 7.21m x 5.86m; S transept 9.57m x 6.88m - Westropp). The choir has a large three-light E window, and there is a double window in the E wall of the S transept. Tall, narrow, pointed windows in the chancel, the N wall of the N transept, the S and W walls of the S transept and in the nave, with a single recessed exterior order (chamfered in the S transept and nave). The choir and transept contain a series of richly carved transitional or early gothic corbels. The W facade has clasping buttresses with angle rolls. Romanesque sculpture is also found on a number of features: capitals in the aumbries flanking the E window; a richly decorated doorway in the S wall of the nave; two reused grave slabs under the doorway; a font in the nave; a number of reused Romanesque stones incorporated into the fabric of the church, and some loose stones stored in the vestry. There is also a stone cross from Kilfenora in the nave.


First mentioned in the Irish annals in the late 10thc., Killaloe became the principal church of Brian Borumna's Dalcassian kingdom in Clare in the late 10th and early 11thc. It seems likely that a church was built at this time. At the synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 Killaloe was established as a see, with territory covering most of county Clare as well as large areas E of the Shannon, including the territories of Roscrea. Muirchertach mac Toirrdelbaig Ua Briain, a generous benefactor to the cathedral, was buried there in 1119, and there were close connections between the church and the O'Briain dynasty. Donnchad, Bishop of Killaloe 1161-64, was brother of King Toirrdelbaig Ua Briain, King of Thomond (d.1167); Consaidin, Bishop of Killaloe 1164-94, was Donnchad's nephew and Toirrdelbaig's son, and brother of King Domnall Mor O'Briain (d.1194) (O'Corrain). There is no record of ecclesiastical building activity at Killaloe during the 12th or early 13thc. A raid on Killaloe by the men of Connaught in 1185 may have caused damage to the cathedral (Gwynn and Gleeson 1962, 86-67). On the death of the anti-Norman Bishop Conchobair Ua h-Eindi in 1216, the chapter elected the archdeacon of Killaloe, Domnall Ua h-Eindi, but was forced to accept the Englishman Robert Travers, whose election was approved by Henry III in 1217. Robert Travers is said to have built a house in Killaloe 'by force' (AFM, III, 190-1). After an enquiry by the Papal Legate a decision was made in favour of Domnall Ua h-Eindi in 1221, and Robert Travers was formally deposed, although he appears to have remained Bishop of Killaloe until he was excommunicated in 1226. Domnall Ua h-Eindi went to Rome to seek Papal support and died there in 1226. The see remained vacant until the archdeacon Domnall Ua Cinneide succeeded as Bishop from 1231-52.

The cathedral was in disrepair at the end of the 17thc. The Chapter book records work on a choir screen in 1707, and repairs to the S aisle and W wall of the nave in 1707-11. The earliest record of the Romanesque portal is in an engraving of 1738 (Harris 1739, 1764, 1: 589) showing the exterior of the cathedral with a pointed doorway in three orders with chevron on arch and jambs. In the late 18th-19thc. a number of authors record a tradition that the doorway marked the site of the 'royal tomb' of Muirchertach O'Briain (d.1119). The interior of the doorway appears to have been blocked completely before being opened up by Bishop Mant in 1821. In 1934 a blank infill wall was replaced with a low sill wall and window, and a replacement E jamb was made in cement for the first order. The doorway was restored and opened up completely in 1998, and a new stone E jamb was inserted.


Exterior Features


S doorway, at W end of nave

Exterior of two orders. The Romanesque doorway is not in its original setting and has been rebuilt with the original exterior on the interior, and set over two reused tombslabs. The doorway was conserved and opened up in 1998, revealing the exterior faces of the arch and jambs. Much of the carving on the interior at the upper levels is very crisp, and does not appear to have been exposed to weathering for any length of time. It is carved from fine-grained red sandstone. There are no door fittings and no sign of wear on the tombslabs which form the threshhold, so that it appears never to have been used as a doorway in its present location (Ellis and Moss, 1999).

h. of jambs to top of imposts 2.11 m
original d. of portal 1.00 m approx. (allowing for 0.085 m cut away from exterior of plinth)
w. between imposts 0.97 m
w. of opening, below imposts 1.12 m
Exterior, inner order

Bases: The bases on both sides have foliage decoration on a convex surface between torus and plinth, but the torus does not correspond to the square jamb above, and is designed for a cinquefoil jamb, with three shafts or mouldings on the inside face, flanked by one shaft or moulding on each lateral face. The base clearly matches those of the rest of the portal and is thus part of the original portal, while the square jamb above appears to belong to a different Romanesque structure. The exterior (S) faces of both bases appear to have been cut back by approx. 8.5 cm (Ellis and Moss, 1999).

E jamb: modern (inserted in 1998 restoration), to fit original base.

W jamb: six courses, the lowest in a more coarsely grained and paler stone, and more worn than the upper five courses. The lowest course is decorated on three faces, whereas the upper five courses have a plain rebate on the exterior face. Large angle rolls end at the bottom in the bodies of two large beasts facing down and clasping a horizontal moulding with jaws and forelegs. The shoulders of the beasts are decorated with trefoiled foliage. The top of the inner angle roll ends in two addorsed beast heads in profile with open jaws, one on each face of the jamb; the exterior angle roll ends in a single beast head on the inside (E) face, but is plain on the S (exterior) face. The angle rolls are separated by two fillets, which merge in a point below the beast heads at the top of the jamb. The inner angle roll is flanked by a narrower roll moulding on the interior face.

E and W capitals: square multi-scallop capitals, carved on two faces, with asparagus-like stems between cones and S-shaped spirals in the shields. Damaged on NW corner. The exterior (S) face is plain.

Imposts: These are not integral to the capitals and are worked with a simple chamfer and no further carving (possibly modern).

Arch: Both interior (N) and exterior (S) faces are carved with two rows of hyphenated chevron, syncopated. The soffit is worked with two rows of hyphenated chevron arranged hyphen to hyphen to form a row of hyphenated lozenges. The triangular fields outside the chevrons bear foliate decoration; the lozenges contain varied rosettes with foliate decoration and two with a central boss. The chevron mouldings form the bodies of snakes which end in snake heads at the W of the arch and spiral tails at the E. The exterior face is damaged. Only the voussoirs with angle lozenges remain intact: the second voussoir on the W, and the keystone. The surviving carving is in excellent condition, with fine detail.

Exterior, second order

Only a re-set, pointed arch surivives in this order. Damaged voussoirs on arch, with arris broken off. Lateral centripetal chevron arranged point-to-point , with double-palmettes in triangles on soffit and face, well-preserved on soffit. The voussoirs were evidently not designed for a pointed arch, and some appear to have been re-cut to fit the present arrangement.

Interior, fourth order

Bases: The bases on both sides have foliage decoration on a convex surface between torus and plinth.

Jambs: Scalloped jambs, with rolls flanked by beading. The surfaces outside the scallops are decorated with foliage designs.

E jamb: lower section badly damaged but with traces of three scallops on W face. Upper sections better preserved, with curved scalloped mouldings on both faces. All mouldings flanked by beading. N face has traces of foliage motifs outside scallops, with a palmette at the top and scalloped mouldings ending in snake heads. W face has spiral motifs in bottom and top areas outside scallops; foliage motifs in the others.

W jamb: scallops better preserved through full height of jamb, but broken at top. All mouldings flanked by beading. Areas outside scallops decorated with foliage motifs, except for uncarved panels at top on both faces. Large scalloped moulding ends in beast head at bottom while beaded moulding ends at bottom in snakes on E face and spiral on N face.

Capitals: E capital badly damaged, with an animal in profile in shield on N face, spirals in shield on W face. W. capital well-preserved square multi-scallop with foliage motifs in the shields and asparagus-like stems between the cones, but lacks necking.

Imposts: As inner order.

Arch: In the arch, point-to-point hyphenated chevron, the hyphens slightly curved and the points touching an angle roll; the chevron mouldings are flanked by beading, and the triangular fields between the chevrons are decorated with varied foliage motifs, except 3rd from W on soffit with inscribed semicircles, and last on W on face with an animal in profile. Some damage on face of arch (fourth, fifth, eighth and twelfth voussoirs from W). Mouldings form the bodies of snakes ending in spiral tails at E and in snake heads at W on soffit and face. The label bears a roll moulding. The E label stop is damaged, the W consists of a small scallop capital of the type used throughout the doorway, with foliage motifs in shields. The capital has no necking.

Interior, inner order

See exterior.

Interior, second order

Bases: The bases on both sides have foliage decoration on a convex surface between torus and plinth.

Jambs: Both E and W jambs are decorated with point-to-point chevron (roll, fillet) on angle roll.

E jamb: Chevron mouldings end in snake heads at the top. Top of angle roll broken, but framed by semicircular mouldings as on W jamb; it probably ended in a similar head. Triangles between chevrons have foliage designs except for interlaced beasts in the third and fourth triangles from the bottom on the N face.

W jamb: Bottom and top of angle roll end in beast heads framed by curved mouldings. Chevron mouldings end in snake heads above curved section at bottom, and spiral tails at top; the third and fourth chevrons from the bottom are irregular. Triangles between chevrons decorated with foliage except for interlaced snakes biting each other and the mouldings on the third and forth triangles from the bottom on the E and N faces; a small panel containing an animal in profile beween the third and fourth chevron and arris on the N face; and a rosette at the top of the jamb on the E face.

Capitals: Very worn. Square multi-scallop capitals, carved on two faces, with asparagus-like stems between cones and S-shaped spirals in the shields.

Imposts: As inner order.

Arch: Hollow-chamfered arch framed by roll mouldings formed by the bodies of snakes. Voussoirs vary considerably in width, and are carved in high relief as follows, from E to W: missing; quadruped seen from above (head missing); human head with hair in two braids and with snakes biting ears; animal in profile facing W (head and legs missing); human head (lower part broken); animal in profile facing E (head missing); traces of human head with snakes biting ears; traces of beast seen from above, with tail remaining at bottom W; W voussoir damaged.

Interior, third order

Bases: The bases on both sides have foliage decoration on a convex surface between torus and plinth.

Jambs: Detached nook shafts decorated with lozenges outlined by a hollow moulding and containing foliage and animals.

E nook shaft: damaged, with much of its front surface lost. Varied foliage motifs and rosettes in remaining lozenges except for one panel with interlaced beasts on third lozenge from bottom on N side.

W nook shaft: better preserved, with lozenges containing varied foliage motifs except for two panels with interlaced beasts in second and fourth lozenges from the bottom on the E side, and one panel with an animal at the bottom on the N.

E capital: damaged at angle but traces of scallops and asparagus-like stems visible at sides, with a spiral of snakes in shield on N face and the body of an animal in profile in shield on W face.

W capital: corner broken off but retains scallops and asparagus-like stems with a spray of foliage in the shield on the E face, and the remains of two beasts in profile in the shield on the N face (the forequarters of one beast emerge from behind the adjacent capital on the W, biting the tail of the other beast, of which only the hindquarters remain).

Imposts: These are not integral to the capitals and are worked with a simple chamfer and no further carving.

Arch: In the arch, one row of lateral centrifugal chevron on the face and interlocking with a row of lateral chevron on the soffit. Foliage decoration in the triangles and on all faces of the teeth. The mouldings end in snake heads at W of arch (E end of arch is damaged).

W doorway, nave

Pointed, of three orders, no bases. The pavement level has been raised to cover the bases and the lower section of the jambs.

h. of opening 2.9 m approx.
w. of opening 1.4 m approx.
First order

Continous filleted angle roll flanked by hollow then roll. In the arch similar mouldings but with rolls in place of the hollows and a further small then large roll on the soffit.

Second order

Detached nook shafts (en delit) with shaft rings. Very damaged foliate capitals. In the arch a keeled angle roll flanked by a wedge.

Third order

As first order jambs, continuous through arch.Label with hollow chamfered label and unreadable label stop on n. No label stop on s.


E gable

Three-light window, the central lancet taller and round-headed, flanked by two pointed lancets.

approx. w. 0.41 m
h. 0.96 m

Central lancet: at top of S side of arch are two or three voussoirs with free-standing straddling directional chevron (similar to interior decoration of window).

Above the window: two reused blocks with beaded moulding (Westropp, 1893, 200).

Inetrior, second order

Continuous keeled roll flanked by a hollow with on the outside a further fine roll. No capitals, impost with double roll. In the arch straddling, directional chevron pointing from springer to apex above a keeled angle roll.

Interior, first order

With a keeled roll (pseudo-shaft) flanked by a hollow extending round the sills. On the mullions, a roll flanked by a hollow forming pseudo-shafts rising the full height of the arch. The impost profile is filleted throughout.

N capital (1): stiff-leaf type, undercut. Round impost.

Capital (2): stiff leaf type with undercut inverted lilies. Round impost.

Capital (3): very narrow stiff-leaf type. Faceted, almost triangular impost.

S capital (4): straight stems with attached multi-lobed narrow leaves and stiff-leaf type foliage above. Round impost.

The central capitals sit awkwardly in front of the arch, and the impost continues onto the splay and terminates after a 90 degree turn.

In the arch gaping chevron flanked by a roll and supporting frontal chevron.

E Window, S transept


Two lights framed by two continuous orders around sill. Lower one-third of lights blocked.

First order: three-quarter roll flanked by finer three-quarter roll followed by chamfer on outer side.

Second order: chamfered.


Double headed window of one order. Splayed, pointed arch, with continuous three-quarter angle rolls (mostly missing) flanked by a fine roll, not continuous around sills. Capital between the windows with twisted stems below half-palmettes. Damaged. The window is deeply recessed, allowing for a passage in the wall, the entrance visible on N and S. A further order of shafts is found on this opening. Three-quarter detached nook shafts, most missing, flanked by a roll. Bulbous bases, shaft rings (fat keeled rolls) - three survive on S, two on N. only the topmost S piece of detached angle shaft survives. Capitals with necking.

N capital: Twining stems terminating in foliate triskeles.

S capital: upright stems with inverted lilies and furled leaves.

Arch rests directly on N capital, S capital has impost composed of fat roll above a hollow. Plain arch. Label with slender, keeled angle-roll, with short horizontal and vertical extension forming label stop of darker grey stone on S.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Chancel, N wall, E end, above height of sills of windows

Horizontal moulding with crenellations(?)


E facade, angle buttresses

Three-quarter angle roll flanked by smaller rolls. Bases with spurs(?)

E wall of N transept

Reused stone with horizontal mouldings.

N wall of nave, near transept

Reused stone with interlaced knot (Westropp, 1893, 200).

N wall of N transept

In centre at bottom: two slabs of red sandstone from sill of blocked opening.

S wall of nave, near transept

Reused stone with foliage (Westropp, 1893, 200).

W facade, angle buttresses

Filleted angle roll between deep hollows flanked by smaller rolls (missing on N side of S buttress).

W wall of S transept, buttress

Section of Romanesque abacus and jamb with floral carving.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arches

The crossing has two orders in the arch, the first square, the second chamfered. The arches are pointed; quadripartite vaulting. The N arch is blocked. There are no jambs or bases, simply corbels supporting the arch, all with necking, some plain, some fine cable and some thick cable, and pointed terminals. The impost is composed of a keeled or filleted three-quarter roll with a finer roll above. On NE and NW angles the impost continues between the crossing capitals, but the NE impost has broken away leaving only a trace.

E arch

N corbel: thick cable necking, entwined stems, also pellets and animal heads. Central part damaged. Terminal with horse in profile, walking with bowed head.

S corbel: plain necking, two tiers of stiff-leaf type foliage above reeding. Human-head terminal, with large, wide-spaced eyes and protruding jaw. Damaged nose.

On the S side of the arch the impost extends to the E, about 0.40 m and has a carved ?head above, too damaged to read. The arch has one short section on the first order of the S and N sides where a triple keeled roll has been cut into the stone (fourth course from S - two courses have been carved). The second order to the E has one course (fourth from S) with a keeled roll cut into the centre of the soffit.

N arch


S arch

E corbel: plain necking, two tiers of deeply undercut inverted lilies on long stems, the upper lilies larger than the lower. Terminal broken away, but with foliage stems emerging.

W corbel: Thick cable necking, two tiers of foliage, large and small inverted lilies above and other foliage below, all above straight stems, some flanked by beading, some plaited. No terminal survives.

W arch

No bases or jambs. Carved half round corbels support the arch. S corbel: fine cable necking, intertwined lilies above straight stems, some stems beaded, some plaited. Terminal too damaged to read. N corbel: cable necking, two tiers of hanging half-palmettes above straight stems. Terminal with beast head. The impost extends to the E about 0.40 m and supports a large animal head corbel on the n. supporting the crossing vault rib.

Vaulting/Roof Supports


N and S walls

Only the supporting corbels survive. All are half-round with necking and have carved terminals. The imposts and string course are half-round, and have a large filleted angle roll with a narrow flat section above a steep chamfer.

N wall, from E

Corbel 1: In the NE angle. Facing multi-lobed narrow leaves and inverted lilies above straight stems. The terminal is composed of a single fat roll with a smaller, recessed roll below, and appears to be unfinished.

Corbel 2: Inverted lilies, undercut, hanging down over reeding. The terminal is a ball of undercut foliage.

Corbel 3: Five standing human figures in short robes, two kissing! The terminal is composed of three units of gaping chevron, balanced on a double roll-moulded half-circle.

Corbel 4: Twined stems with two tiers of half-palmettes above. The terminal looks like a rounded lily, possibly unfinished.

S wall, from E

Corbel 1: In SE angle. Capital has undercut foliage, with some facing multi-lobed narrow leaves, terminal as NE corbel, possibly unfinished.

Corbel 2: Symmetrical facing half-palmettes with furled leaves between them at the top and asparagus-like stems below. Terminal as corbel 2, N wall.

Corbel 3: As corbel 2, but more finely detailed. Terminal as corbel 3, N wall.

Corbel 4: Double row of doughnut shaped forms with vertical pointed forms between. This appears to be an unfinished variation of the S arch E corbel. Terminal a curved abstract form.

Interior Decoration


Carved fragments, N side of choir, entrance to tower

Section of Romanesque abacus and jamb with floral carving.

h. 0.29 m
w. 0.44 m

Graveslabs under S doorway

Two grave slabs have been reused to form the threshhold under the S doorway, with the jambs set on top of the slabs. Both are broken across the middle.

N graveslab
l. 1.66 m
w. 0.52m
S graveslab
l. 1.80 m
max. w. 0.545 m (tapering to 0.496 m)
N graveslab

Double contour ringed cross with stepped armpits and a truncated pyramid base, with the monogram IH on cross shaft. Oriented with cross head facing W, and extends 0.28 m. beneath the E jamb and 0.29 m. beneath the W jamb of the doorway. Coarse-grained sandstone.

S graveslab

Double contour ringed cross with stepped armpits, with running foliage scrolls of different designs flanking the shaft. An interlaced animal is carved on the top R of the cross head, partly covered by the base of the doorjamb; the hindquarters and tail are visible, double-outlined (similar to the animals on the S doorway, but in low relief). The top L area of the cross head is hidden by the door jamb. The slab is oriented with the cross head facing E, and is missing appprox. 0.50 m at the top. More weathered than N grave slab. A series of seven holes cut into in the foliage scroll across the door opening may have been made to hold railings. Coarse-grained sandstone.

Reused stone with foliage interlace, N lancet, E gable window

Set in the N splay of the N lancet, at about two-thirds of the window height, is a reused block decorated with foliage interlace. (This appears to be the same as the carving described and illustrated by Westropp, 1983, p. 199-200, as on the N jamb of the centre light). Dimensions not accessible.



At E end of nave, on S side. Sandstone. Square bowl decorated on one face and resting on a central bulbous column. Lower corners of basin have small conical capitals corresponding to positions of four corner colonnettes, now lost. The three plain faces have diagonal tooling. The front face is carved in shallow relief with a cross surrounded by foliage. The lozenge at the centre of the cross contains a four-petalled rosette; the upper arm has a broad end containing two leaves; the lower arm is shorter than the others and terminates in sprigs of foliage, one trefoil leaf on R and one trefoil and one quatrefoil leaf on L. The cross is placed slightly off-centre to the R and the foliage decoration flanking it is not symmetrical.

Top L: spray of four branches with leaves filling entire surface area surrounding cross.

Top R: fan-shaped pattern of radiating leaves in corner, leaving uncarved area between arms of cross.

The decoration appears to be unfinished.

h. of bowl 0.35 m
l. 0.57 m
w. 0.54 m


Aumbries, E wall of chancel, interior

Two double niched aumbries with pointed arches, to N and S of the E window, with reused Romanesque capitals. Multi-scallop capitals with asparagus-like stems between cones, and plain shields. Chamfered abaci.

N aumbry, central capital
d. 0.28 m
h. 0.19 m
w. 0.28 m
N aumbry, N capital
d. 0.17 m
h. 0.19 m
w. 0.19 m
S aumbry, central capital
d. 0.16 m
h. 0.22 m
w. 0.28 m
S aumbry, S capital
d. 0.39 m
h. 0.18 m
w. 0.21 m
N aumbry

N capital: Angle capital, decorated on front and S faces, with damaged shields.

Central capital: Decorated on three faces, with four scallops on front face. Diagonal break on front face. Smooth block behind scallops on N side, damaged on S side.

S aumbry

Central capital: Decorated on three faces, with four scallops on front face, two and a half on each side.

S capital: Angle capital, decorated on N and front faces, with adjacent part of block on N side cut away. Weathered surface.

Loose Sculpture


Heart-shaped finial, probably from St Flannan's oratory. (Formerly propped against the W wall near the doorway, present location not known.)


d. 0.10 m
h. 0.20 m
w. 0.20 m

Part of cross-head with hollow armpit and roll

The arms are broken off, but one retains a roll flanking a hollow armpit. The face is carved in shallow relief with interlaced animals in Irish Urnes style, and bordered with a thin roll on the face. Only the front face is carved - the reverse is plain and smooth. Creamy yellow limestone (found under vestry floor in 1995, now preserved in the vestry).


d. 0.10 m
h. 0.22 m
w. 0.33 m

Part of cross, probably same as (i)

The face is carved in low relief with animals interlaced with thin strands or snakes. On one side is a roll border, with a straight edge and adjacent curve. The sides are broken and the reverse is uncarved. The stone appears to be the top section of the shaft of (ii). Limestone, as (i). (Found under vestry floor in 1995, now preserved in the vestry.)

Shaft-ring of angle shaft

Rounded bulbous shaft-ring with pear-shaped section to fit into angle for nook-shaft. Stylised curly leaves (?) at top and bottom. (Found under vestry floor in 1995, now preserved in the vestry.)


d. 0.12 m
h. 0.16 m
w. 0.11 m

Stone Cross

Brought from Kilfenora in 1821 by Bishop Mant. Formerly set against the W wall of the nave near the S doorway; now freestanding on N side of nave. Limestone. E face: Tall plain shaft with inserted tablet dated 1821. There is a small panel of fretwork at the top of the shaft. The cross-head has short square arms linked by large circular disc, containing the figure of Christ with outstretched arms and wearing a long tunic. The figure is carved in low relief against a background of interlace and spirals, with trefoiled knots of single-strand interlace above and below Christ's right arm, a knot of double-strand interlace above his left arm, and a spiral whorl ending in four animal heads below his left arm. W face: Low relief interlace, starting near the top of the shaft and extending over the arms and top of the cross. Damaged on lower area of disc.


approx. w. across arms 1.00 m
approx. w. of shaft at base 0.46 m
d. of shaft at base 0.22 m
l. 4.20 m


The Romanesque doorway is not in its original setting and has been rebuilt with the original exterior on the interior, and set over two reused tomb slabs. The 1998 restoration of the doorway has fully revealed the arch and jambs. Much of the carving on the interior at the upper levels is very crisp, and does not appear to have been exposed to weathering for any length of time. There are no door fittings and no sign of wear on the tombslabs, which form the threshhold, so that it appears never to have been used as a doorway in its present location. The doorway must originally have served as the W entrance to the Romanesque church. The crisp condition of the sculpture suggests that it was not exposed to weathering for long, nor left dismantled for any length of time, and must have been preserved in the interior. It has recently been suggested that the W wall and doorway may have been incorporated into the 13thc. cathedral as part of a choir screen at the W end of the chancel. It may have been moved from the choir screen to the S aisle in 1707-11, when work on the choir 'screen and portall' is recorded shortly before major repairs to the S aisle (Ellis and Moss, 1999).

The doorway appears to have been rebuilt accurately apart from some elements which are ill-fitting. The 1st order bases are carved from the same stone as the 2nd order and are evidently part of the original doorway. The surviving square inner jamb does not belong to the original doorway, since the cinquefoil bases provide for a jamb with five shafts or pseudo-shafts. (Could the loose shaft-ring in the vestry have come from these shafts?). The square jamb has no door fittings and is clearly not designed for a doorway. The capital matches those of the doorway but fits the square jamb. The jamb appears to be by the same workshop as the doorway, and must have formed part of another area of sculpture in the Romanesque church, probably a chancel arch. It remains unclear why the lowest jambstone is carved on three sides instead of two, and is more worn and in a different stone than the upper jambstones.

Other irregularities, such as some ill-fitting construction and the lack of a necking on the W jamb cap of 4th order, may be explained by the reconstruction of the doorway in its present position.

The large plain abaci, although of the same red sandstone as the rest of doorway, appear to be later inserts to raise the height of the doorway (Westropp, 1893, 196). The carving of the doorway exhibits a rich variety of motifs and techniques, from low relief foliage and animal ornament to high relief animals and human heads. The ornament incorporates almost the full repertoire of Irish Romanesque, as well as unique elements such as the scalloped jambs. The richness, intricacy and variety of the chevron ornament exceeds any other example of Irish Romanesque, and represents a late and 'baroque' elaboration of the style before it was superseded by early Gothic. The closest comparisons for the chevron designs are at Tuamgraney, Monaincha, and Annaghdown; the animal motifs are similar to sculpture at Corcomroe, Boyle and Ballintober. The sculpture belongs to a regional school and provides evidence of a distinctive western school of late Romanesque, which had a significant influence on the Transitional or early Gothic 'School of the West'.

Leask considered the doorway to be part of a cathedral built by Domnall Mór O Briain and attributed it toc.1180 (Leask 1955, 1: 151-2). Henry (1970, 167) also ascribed the doorway to the time of Domnall Mor, shortly after his accession in 1168. There is, however, no documentary evidence for the rebuilding of the cathedral by Domnall Mór, and the style of the doorway suggests a date ofc.1200. The monsters on the jambs, the mouldings ending in snakes and beast heads and the animals on the archivolt are closely related to sculptures at Corcomroe dated c.1205-10 and at Ballintober dated 1216-25. The absence of keel mouldings at Killaloe may indicate a slightly earlier date than the related sculpture with keel mouldings at Annaghdown (Garton 1981, 31-57).

The Romanesque cathedral appears to have been richly decorated, possibly with a chancel arch and windows in addition to the doorway. The reused capitals in the aumbries appear to belong to the same campaign of decoration. The loose sculpture in St Flannan's oratory is evidently by the same workshop, and there are other sculptures by the same workshop at Tuamgraney.

The tomb slabs appear to be contemporary with the doorway. The animal on the S tomb slab, although in shallow relief, is similar to those on the doorway, and the foliage scrolls are similar to those on the W doorjambs at Monaincha. Ringed crosses with stepped armpits are also found in the 12thc. at Monaincha and Roscrea.

The influence of this late Romanesque style at Killaloe can be seen in the transitional sculpture of the 13thc. cathedral, of which the chancel and S transept remain largely intact. The N transept has been rebuilt and closed off, but retains a 13thc. window in the N wall, and the W parts of the nave wall have been rebuilt. The sculpture and mouldings of the chancel and transept are characteristic of the 'School of the West', and comparisons can be made with other examples at Boyle (W end of the nave), Ballintober, Corcomroe, Inishmaine, Abbeyknockmoy, Drumacoo and Kilmacduagh.

The richly undercut chevron of the E window is found in the E windows at Killone and Temple Jarlaith, Tuam, the chancel vaults at Corcomroe, and the doorways at Drumacoo, Cong, and Noughaval. The foliage decoration of the capitals and corbels includes both low relief ornament similar to that found at Boyle, Ballintober and Cong (and Corcomroe), and some in higher relief similar to Drumacoo and Kilmacduagh (where the capitals of the chancel arch include undercut inverted lilies similar to those on some of the Killaloe capitals and corbels). The animal and figurative sculpture also has parallels at Boyle and Ballintober. One of the capitals at Boyle has a row of figures with short tunics similar to those on corbel 3 on the N wall of the chancel at Killaloe.

Leask considered Killaloe to be an early work of the 'School of the West', possibly begun c.1200 and the W end c.1225. He suggested that the E window could be by the same mason as that at Kilfenora, possibly with subsequent influence from Christ Church Dublin. Gleeson suggested that the cathedral was rebuilt during the episcopate of Conchobair Ua hEindi (c.1195-1216), and the S transept under Robert Travers (1216-21) or c.1225.

If the proposed date of c.1200 is accepted for the late Romanesque doorway, a date in the 1220s seems likely for the transitional work at Killaloe. There is however, no record of ecclesiastical building activity at this time, and the relationship between bishops and chapter was not conducive to a major building campaign.

The high cross from Kilfenora is one of a group of six or seven limestone crosses set up in Kilfenora. The decoration with the crucified Christ combined with geometric ornament and interlace is similar to that of the West cross at Kilfenora, although less finely carved. (For further discussion, see Kilfenora.)


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Site Location
National Grid Reference
R 70 73 
now: Clare
now: St Flannan
Type of building/monument
Cathedral church  
Report authors
Tessa Garton