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Feature Sets (2)


Kilmore Cathedral is a 19thc. Gothic building which contains a Romanesque doorway built into the N wall of the vestry (located in the angle of the N transept and chancel).

The Kilmore doorway is said to have come from the church on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter, three miles away, though the evidence for this is not conclusive. Trinity Island was the site of the old monastery of Dair-inis. The original site of the see of Breifne, which was transferred to Kilmore c.1250. A new cathedral was constructed at Kilmore during the 17thc. and this was apparently when the Romanesque doorway was moved from Trinity Island. The existing Gothic building at Kilmore dates from about 1860, so the portal has been reconstructed twice.  There are plenty of signs of misunderstandings. 


Exterior Features


Reset doorway, N wall of vestry

Round-headed of four orders, on a modern plinth.

height of doorway, excluding modern plinth 2.03 m
total width of decorated area 2.38 m
width of opening 0.83 m
1st order

No bases, square chamfered jambs carved with a variety of designs. The decoration is different on the inner and outer faces and it is clear that some of the stones are not in the correct sequence. The blocks are numbered from bottom to top.

E1: plain except for a roll moulding on the angle.

E2 and 3: on the inner face sunken crosses and squares; on the outer face a debased floral motif with curved trangles.

E4: the inner face has sunken chequers; the outer face has circular designs.

E5: the inner face has parallel chevron rolls;  the outer face is very worn, apparently with animal ornament.

E6: the inner face has parallel chevron rolls; the outer face has a large upright animal and a beaded frame across the top.

W1: plain except for a roll moulding on the angle. In contrast to the E side the roll stops a few centimeters above the base.

W2: the inner face has parallel chevron rolls; the outer face has an animal with strongly defined contours. There is a beaded border beside the animal.

W3: the inner face has parallel chevron rolls; the outer face has a very worn animal, which may be continuous with the panel below. 

W4: the inner face has parallel chevron rolls; the outer face has an upright animal, with its head turned toward the door. There is a beaded frame at the top (this stone appears to match E6).

W5: the inner face has recessed crosses; the outer face has a debased floral motif with curved triangles.

W6: the inner face has an animal design with two beasts overlapping diagonally, surrounded by figure-of-eight loops;  the outer face is divided vertically into two panels, the L with double-strand interlace, the R with triple-strand interlace. The latter vanishes behind the next order.

The impost is hollow-chamfered with a row of large, decorated bosses along the chamfer. The decoration is difficult to read owing to the degree of weathering. The upright has a row of fine beading at top and bottom. The impost continues through all orders, although on this first order it only partially survives on the outer N faces.

The arch has a bold, interlacing strap pattern on the soffit and face. 

2nd order

The second, third and fourth order bases take a form simliar to a tall, inverted cushion capital

E base: on each face is a spiral motif flanking a central stem. Above is a broad, beaded circular collar.

W base: each face has a large carved eye, flanked by beaded strapwork. Above, the collar has a double groove.

Each base supports an engaged nook shaft, separated by a double row of beading flanking a wedge. This repeats between second and third, and third and fourth orders and also on the outside of the fourth order. The second and third order jambs appear coursed.

E capital: monster head with open jaws devouring shaft.

W capital: monster head with an eye on each face of the capital and broad strap-like whiskers.

The impost is very weathered.

The arch is carved with point-to-point, centripetal chevrons, each comprising one roll flanked by fine beading.   The design is unusual in that a recessed roll moulding runs through the row of chevrons.

3rd order

E base: on each face, ovoid motifs flank a pair of central stems. The collar is plain with a single groove.

W base: there are three, pointed, ovoid motifs on each face, joined at the top of the base and separated by a large bead at the botom. The collar is plain with a single groove.

E capital: very worn monster head with open jaws.

W capital: very worn monster head.

The impost is very weathered on the E, but more legible on the W.

The arch is carved with frontal chevron. At the apex of the arch and on the second block on each side there are carved human heads in deep relief.

4th order

E base: a large eye on each face is flanked by beaded strapwork (as second order W base). The collar is plain with a single groove.

W base: each face has a triple-spiral motif flanking a central stem. The collar is beaded along the lower edge.

E capital: human head, very decayed.

W capital: a human head on the angle, with beard and moustache extending either side into triple-strand interlace, forming figure-of-eight loops.

The impost is severely weathered on the E and is completely unreadable. It is legible on the W. On both sides the impost continues to the label.

The arch has an erratic mixture of chevron types, including point-to-point and hyphenated.  The chevron is also cut in varying depths of relief.

The label is carved with large beads, very worn, with an animal head above, on the keystone.


The stones of the inner jambs have been incorrently assembled and the capitals and bases may not be in their original sequence.  There appears to be no support for Leask's contention that the doorway originally had inclined jambs, which were 'corrected' during one of the reconstructions.  The appearance of the portal is marred by over-enthusiastic repointing with excessively white mortar. 

The structure of the doorway, with continuous inner jambs, is typical of Irish portals and the style of the carvings has many affinities with works along the river Erne, particularly the sculptural fragments from Devenish (Fermanagh). The monster head capitals are related to those at Clonmacnois (the Nun's Church, 1167) and Boyle Abbey (sedilia, post-1161). The curious floral patttern found on the inner jambs is a debased version of a design found on one of the pre-Romanesque stelae at Carndonagh (Donegal).  The panel of animal interlace on the W jamb (W6) is one of the most outstanding examples of the so-called Irish Urnes style to be found in Romanesque stone carving. 

There is no documented date for building at Trinity Island, but on stylistic grounds the doorway can be assigned to c.1170. The portal was analysed at great length by Oliver Davies, though several of his conclusions are misleading. 


  • O. Davies, 'The churches of County Cavan', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 19 (1948), 99–110.

  • A. Gwynne, and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Ireland, London, 1970, 87–9.

  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, 1, Dundalk, 1955, 146.

General view.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
H 384 035 
now: Cavan
medieval: Cavan
Type of building/monument
Cathedral church  
Report authors
Roger Stalley