St Mary, Ferns

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Feature Sets (3)


A ruined nave (16.4 m x 8.1 m) and chancel (6.35 m x 6.67 m) church with a W tower and a sacristy on the N side of the church. Built of rubble masonry. The remains comprise the N walls of the chancel and most of the nave, the walls of the sacristy, and the W tower. Only the foundations remain of the S walls. The springing of a barrel vault with transverse arches remains on the N side of chancel, which evidently had an upper chamber. The sacristy to the N of the chancel is reached by a doorway from the E end of the nave and this also has the remains of the springing of a barrel vault on the S side. Stairs to the upper chambers of the chancel and sacristy rise from the SE corner of the sacristy. The W tower is square at the bottom and round at the top and is set at the N side of the W front and entered by a doorway from the W end of the nave.


A monastery was founded at Ferns in the 7thc. by St Mogue. The diocese of Ferns was established in 1111 at the synod of Rathbreasail. The Augustinian abbey of St Mary was founded c.1158 (or by 1162?) by Diarmait Mac Murchada Uí Chennselaig, King of Leinster. Ferns was the capital of Diarmait's territory. He was buried in St Mary's following his death in 1171.


Exterior Features


W doorway

Only the base of the N jamb remains, in the angle of the W tower and W facade, and c.0.54 m away from the present opening in the W wall.

First order

The bulbous base is flanked by a roll moulding ending in a spiral on the W face.

Second order



Chancel, N window

The window is flanked by two smaller niches in the N wall of the chancel below the springing of the barrel vault (see below, IV, 5, (i)).

w. of interior opening 0.55 m

A small round-headed opening with a recessed square moulding on arch and jambs.


A splayed round-headed opening, with a slight chamfer on the jambs.

Sacristy, E window

A small round-headed opening with a recessed square moulding on the arch and jambs. The interior is plain and splayed.

Sacristy E window (upper level)

The window has a round-headed exterior with a recessed square moulding on the arch and jambs. The interior is splayed and flat-headed.

Tower, W window

The window has angle rolls on the jambs.

Interior Features

Interior Decoration


Niche in W wall of sacristy.

A round-headed niche with a recessed square moulding.

Niches in E wall of sacristy.

There are two plain unmoulded round-headed niches on the N and S of the E wall, below the level of the E window.  

Niches in N wall of chancel

Two round-headed niches flank the N window of the chancel. The jambs have shallowly incised three-quarter angle shafts. The E jamb of the E niche has a well-preserved reversed cushion base. There are chamfered imposts on the inner face of the jambs. Varying sizes and colours of stone are used, some creamy yellow, some grey. The jambs of the W niche and the W jamb of the E niche are monolithic; the E jamb of the E niche has three courses.

w. of E niche 0.56 m
w. of W niche 0.51 m


The barrel vaulted chancel with an upper chamber is similar to the chancel of St Saviour's, Glendalough, and the nave of Cormac's Chapel, Cashel. Henry dates the building 1140-58, and O'Keeffe also suggests a date in the 1140's or early 1150's based on the parallels with St Saviour's, Glendalough.


  • R. Cochrane, 'Ferns Co. Wexford', 78th annual report of commissioners of public works, 1909-10, 11.

  • A. Gwynn and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, Ireland, London 1970, 175.

  • P. Harbison, Guide to the National & Historic Monuments of Ireland, Dublin, 1970, 246-7; 1992, 335-6.

  • F. Henry, Irish Art in the Romanesque Period, London, 1970, 151-2.

  • P. Hore, History of the County and Town of Wexford, London, 1911, VI, 172-3.

  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches & Monastic Buildings, Dundalk 1955, I, 163.

  • M. Moore, Archaeological Inventory of County Wexford, Dublin, 1996, 156.

  • T. O'Keeffe, 'Diarmait MacMurcada and Romanesque Leinster: four twelfth century churches in context', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 127, 1997, 52-79.

General view.
General view from NW
General view.
General view.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
T 01 50 
now: Wexford
now: St Mary
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Ruined church  
Report authors
Tessa Garton