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Reask Monastery

The remains of the Reask Monastic Site can be found 2 km outside of Ballyferriter in County Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula. This 6th-century site is a fine example of an early medieval period Irish monastery. Reask is derived from the Irish An Riasc, meaning "the marsh." The site has been designated an Irish national monument. The location is also scenic -- a good view of Smerwick Harbour can be seen in the distance. 

Features of the Monastery

The site is enclosed by a circular wall or vallum, about two metres wide and one metre tall. A curving interior wall divides about a third of the site. Within the walls are

  • The ruins of a square oratory -- the monks' place of worship
  • Several clochans, or stone huts
  • Two circular enclosures made of dry stone
  • Several ancient paved pathways
  • A graveyard around and beneath the oratory, with 42 graves laid out in two rows
  • 10 Ogham stones -- inscribed slabs -- standing in the centre of the site

A brief tour of the Reask site, showing how quiet and remote it is.

History

Excavated by the Office of Public Works in the 1970s, there had previously been no historical documents citing the monastery at Reask -- so little about the monks is known. Professor Tom Fanning, who led the excavation, discovered that the oratory was once made from wood, and was later replaced with the dry stone (no mortar) method. This dry stone construction is similar to other huts found on the Dingle Peninsula, such as the Beehive Huts on Skellig Michael or nearby Gallarus Oratory

Other Discoveries

  • A kiln, or furnace, used to dry corn -- indicating that cereals were cultivated in the settlement
  • Evidence of
    • iron
    • bronze
    • glass-working
    • and wool-spinning
  • Shards of 7th-century Roman jugs, used to transport wine

Findings such as these led the archaeologists to understand that early monastic settlements in Ireland were not inward-looking and cloistered, but engaged actively with outside communities, even in Europe.

Ogham Stones

The ten cross stones originally found at Reask display Ogham-style inscriptions.

  • One stone is 1.64 metres high and 0.6 metres wide by 0.26 metres thick, and has an engraved Greek cross in the stone from which pendant spiral designs terminate into a pelta.
  • Another stone has a large Latin cross with forked endings and two crosslets in the upper angles
  • Most impressive is the Reask Stone, which has the letters DNE, in Ogham script, inscribed on one side, and DNI on the other
  • Most of the stones have been removed to the nearby West Kerry Museum  in Ballyferriter

More information about Ogham stones and the Ogham alphabet can be found in this article about the Dunloe stones in the Ring of Kerry. 

Children's Graveyard

A sad part of the history of Reask is how, in the 19th century, it had come to be used as a children's burial ground, or ceallurach. This practice was not unique to Reask. Children who were not baptised (perhaps born out of wedlock), or who died as a result of suicide, were refused burial in Christian cemeteries. Their parents, desperate to lay their children in sacred ground, sought out ancient abandoned religious sites such as Reask. 

Gettting There

Reask is 8 miles northwest of Dingle and about a mile east of Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula. There is a signpost for Reask on the R559, but keep your eyes peeled as it can be difficult to find. Look out for Brick's pub as a local landmark, and fine place to stop for a beverage, near the turn-off. Entrance is FREE to Reask and parking is available in a small turn out next to the site.

Useful Links

West Kerry Museum

Image

  • Walls at Reask monastic site. Image by Holly Hayes.
  • Inscription on Ogham Stone at Reask. Image by Holly Hayes.

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