St Maolcethair/St Malkedar, Kilmalkedar

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Feature Sets (3)


Nave and chancel church, roofless. Nave 8.28 m x 9.4 m with antae and steeply pitched gables. The nave was originally barrel-vaulted, with a step pitched stone roof over. The barrel vault of the nave was not keyed into the gable walls, which are smoothly finished above the remaining curve of the vault. Some purlin holes in the gables suggest the use of timber supports for the vault. The lower courses of a corbelled stone roof remain. The original narrow barrel vaulted altar recess was replaced by the present chancel probably c.1200. The chancel measures 5.72 x 5.1 m. externally, and also retains evidence of the springing of a corbelled vault. Evidence of the original chancel can be seen in the remains of small splayed windows to N and S and a section of barrel vaulting immediately E of the chancel arch. The nave has a decorated W doorway and chancel arch and internal wall arcades, as well as carved heads on the antae and decorated finials. There is a decorated E window in the chancel.


Little is known of the history of this site. It was reputedly founded in the 7thc. by Maolcethair, whose death is recorded in the martyrology of Donegal in 636 (Cuppage 1986, 308), but also holds strong associations with St Brendan. The site is rich in pre-Romanesque remains including a corbelled building, perhaps a cell, some 50 m from the church; an ogham stone; the sundial stone; a plain stone cross; and some bullaun stones. The use of the site in the later Middle Ages is indicated by a medieval two-storey dwelling located to the NE of the church. The church is included in the 1302-7 Papal Taxation List for the Diocese of Ardfert.


Exterior Features


W doorway, nave

Round headed, of three orders, with slightly inclined jambs. Largely red sandstone with some limestone.

h. of opening 1.90 m
w. of opening 0.90 m
First order

Plain square jambs, N jamb repaired at top, S jamb damaged at top. Arch damaged at top S.


Beast head on tympanum in high relief.

Second order

Slightly bulbous bases. Jambs with 3/4 angle rolls flanked by wedges. The top jamb stone on N and the two top jamb stones on the S are damaged.

Cushion capitals and plain, chamfered impost blocks.

The arch has frontal chevron, formed by two rolls flanked by arrow wedges. Damaged at top S.

Third order

Jambs, capitals and bases similar to second order.

The arch has a single roll of lateral centrifugal chevron on the face and soffit, interlocking at the arris to form a cogwheel edge.

The label is chamfered with bosses along the chamfer. It has a human head at the keystone and beast head label stops. The S label stop is badly worn. Made of a combination of red sandstone and green limestone.


Plain tympanum in grey conglomerate (granite?).


Chancel, E window

Plain apart from a chamfered moulding.

The interior is splayed and has beast heads in the position of label stops, but no trace of label. The N label stop is badly worn, while the S is better preserved and resembles the dog-head label stops at Malmesbury Abbey.

Chancel, S window

Plain with interior splay. The W jamb survives.

Nave, N and S windows

There are plain, round-headed windows in N and S. walls, in the second bay of the colonnade from E end of nave. There is a slight chamfer on the exterior of the N nave window, which is otherwise plain. The S window has two plain, square orders on the exterior and a narrow splay on the interior.

Exterior Decoration



The antae have carved monster heads similar to that on the inside of the W tympanum, facing out from the church. The best preserved example is on the NW anta. That on the NE anta has the chin broken off. Those on the SE. and SW. antae are worn.


The W gable has a heart-shaped finial with volute-like projections. The E gable of the nave has a cross-shaped finial. The E gable of the chancel has a heart-shaped finial (damaged). (Installed recently by the Office of Public Works)

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Of two orders. The arch originally opened into a narrow barrel-vaulted altar recess, with small splayed windows to N and S immediately E of chancel arch. The chancel was extended eastward, probably towards the end of the 12thc., but the W side of these windows and part of the barrel vault remain.

First order

Plain square jambs

The arch has a single roll of lateral centrifugal chevron flanked by a narrow wedge on W and E faces of arch. There are three rows of hyphenated chevron on the soffit, forming lozenges containing rosettes on alternate voussoirs, and with wedges (spurs?) projecting from the hyphens forming cogwheel edge.

Second order, W

Rounded bases with shallow horizontal mouldings and spurs. 3/4 rolls at angles resting on a plinth (h. c. 0.50 m. ). Double scallop capitals.

The arch has angle roll flanked by narrow wedges. The W face has a row of beading flanked by narrow wedges.

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

There is a blind arcade of six bays on each side of the nave, resting on a plinth 1.60 m. above present ground level (the original ground level appears to have been c.0.55 m. lower than at present). In both walls there is a round-headed window with an internal splay in the second bay from the E. On N and S walls the end columns are 3/4 shafts without capitals, while the five intermediate bay divisions are formed by half-colonnettes with triple scallop capitals. All colonnettes have bases with spurs below a moulded horizontal band. Most of the capitals are in red sandstone but the first and second from the W on the N wall are of limestone. The northernmost capital is damaged.


Many of the details at Kilmalkedar, such as the internal wall arcades, chevron and base mouldings tie it closely to Cormac's chapel, and ultimately to the English West Country. Like Cormac's chapel the church at Kilmalkedar blends 'exotic' English elements with the native style, seen here in the obviously coeval antae and steep-pitched stone roof over barrel vault (now collapsed). Given that this must have been a building of some importance when it was constructed, remarkably little is known of its history, although a date of c.1130 can be inferred through its similarity to the Cashel chapel.


  • A. Hill, 'Kilmalkedar', JRSAI, 10, 1869, 560-64.
  • R. R. Brash, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland, Dublin, 1875, 98.
  • E. Dunraven, Notes on Irish Architecture, (ed.M.Stokes), London, 1877, II, 52-3.
  • J. Cuppage (ed.), Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula, Ballyferriter, 1986, 312-17.
  • A. Gwynn and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, Ireland, London, 1970, 39.
  • P. Harbison, Pilgrimage in Ireland: the Monuments and the People, Syracuse/London, 1992, 74-5, 82-3.
  • F. Henry, Irish Art in the Romanesque Period, London, 1970, 176.
  • A. Hill, Kilmalkedar, Co. Kerry, Cork, 1870.
  • L. de Paor, 'Cormac's Chapel: the Beginnings of Irish Romanesque', (ed.) E.Rynne, North Munster Studies, Limerick, 1967, 133-45.
  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, Dundalk,1955, I, 121-4.
  • Macalister, Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum, I, Dublin, 1945, 181.
  • T. J. Westropp, 'Proceedings', JRSAI, 27, 1897, 291-6.
W facade, with cross and ogham stone.
W facade.
View of church from SW.
View of church from NW.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
Q 40 06 
now: Kerry
now: St Maolcethair/St Malkedar
Type of building/monument
Ruined church  
Report authors
Tessa Garton