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St Carthage, Rahan, St Carthage

(53°16′29″N, 7°36′39″W)
Rahan, St Carthage
N 26 25
pre-1974 traditional (Republic of Ireland) Offaly
now Offaly
  • Rachel Moss
  • Tessa Garton
16 April 1995 and 14 Feb 1998

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A nave and chancel church, with rebuilt nave. The church originally had northern and southern cells opening off a barrel-vaulted chancel with an upper chamber (of which the curved base of the vault springing remains). There is an entrance to a small staircase in the N wall at the E end of the chancel, with a slab with a Greek cross set over the lintel. There is a round-headed splayed window in the S wall at the E end of the chancel, and two round-headed niches in the N and S walls at the W end of the chancel. The large E window is modern, with reused 13thc. interior mouldings at the edge of the splay. The circular window in the E gable was probably reset in this position during the 1732 rebuilding. Romanesque sculpture is found on the chancel arch, the E window and on a loose scallop capital located on a ledge on the N side of the nave.

When the wall surrounding the church was stripped of its ivy covering in 1995, a small fragment of Romanesque carved stone was revealed (due S of the chancel of the church).


The site was reputedly founded by St Carthach who formed a community of 867 monks. The deaths of three coarbs are mentioned at the site during the 12thc.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Loose Sculpture


The church has suffered at least two major interventions since its original construction. The presence of late medieval windows in the fabric suggests a reworking in this period. It may also have been at this stage that the original stone roof of the chancel was removed as square slabs of stone, comparable to those used on other early stone-roofed churches have been reused in the fabric of the second church at the site, which also incorporates a reset Romanesque portal. The current nave of the church dates to 1732, and it may have been at this point that the circular window was transferred from its original location (possibly in the west façade of the church) to the east gable. Stylistically, the Rahan sculpture, in particular that of the east window, is very close to the Nuns' church Clonmacnoise (Offaly) where an almost identical form of label with pellets is used on the W doorway, and similar chevron with bosses and heads in the notches decorate the third order of the chancel arch. The bulbous bases of the chancel arches at Rahan and Clonmacnoise are also similar. The capitals with angle heads are a common feature in Irish Romanesque; similar examples are found at Killeshin and Timahoe (Laois), St Saviour's Glendalough (Wicklow), Kilteel (Kildare), Duleek (Meath), Kilmore (Cavan), Inisfallen (Kerry), Inchagoill and Annaghdown (Galway). Some details of the capitals at Rahan appear to be unfinished, a feature which may originally have been hidden by paint. The Rahan sculpture is unusual in a Hiberno-Romanesque context in its use of hard carboniferous limestone, a stone which only comes into common usage for sculpture from the early 13thc.

The carved fragment reset into the church boundary wall has identical decoration to that of the outer rim of the circular window in the E gable. As the stones of the window do not fit tightly together, it is possible that it was originally slightly larger and incorporated this piece. An almost identical motif is found on the label of the doorway to the Nun’s Church at Clonmacnoise, suggesting a date in the late 1160s for this piece. The wall was probably constructed at the same time as the reconstruction of the church in 1732 (the date is carved above the door). Some pieces of ashlar are also incorporated into the wall. However, this is the only visible sculpted stone.


E. Fitzpatrick, and C. O'Brien, The Medieval Churches of Offaly, Dublin, 1998, 56–65.

F. Henry, Irish Art in the Romanesque Period, 1020-1170, London, 1970, 150,152, 178–9.

H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, Dundalk, 1955, I, 142–44.

C. O'Brien and D. Sweetman, Archaeological Inventory of Co. Offaly, Dublin, 1997, 209.

B. de Breffny and G. Mott, The Churches and Abbeys of Ireland, Dublin, 1976, 26.