Ardfert Cathedral

Ardfert Cathedral

Location: County Kerry Map

Tel. 066 773 4711

Open: May- Sept daily

Official site


The Saint Brendan Cathedral of Ardfert (Irish Ardeaglais Ard Fhearta, English Ardfert Cathedral of St. Brendan) in Ardfert was since the 12th century the Brendan the traveler dedicated episcopal church of the Diocese of Ardfert. Like all of Ireland's historic cathedrals, it has belonged since the 16th century to the Church of Ireland, established by the English Crown, which abolished the bishopric in the 17th century. The cathedral has been in ruins ever since. Extensive restoration work began in 1982. included the roofing of the south transept, which now serves as an information center.



A monastery was founded at Ardfert by Brendan the Traveler in the 6th century, but little is known about it. At this time, Ardfert was not yet a bishopric. It was not until the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 that the Bishopric of Kerry was founded, with its seat at Ratass near Ardfert. However, this was only temporary, as the first bishop Anmchad Ó hAnmchada was buried in Ardfert as early as 1117. It is believed that the back and forth is due to the effects of warfare which led to the destruction of the church at Ardfert in 1089 and that in 1111 no intact church was available at Ardfert or Ardfert seemed unsafe.

The construction history of the cathedral extends over several periods. The north side of the nave still contains the remains of the church that was destroyed in 1089. On the west side, a Romanesque portal with blind arcades from a previous building has been integrated, which took over elements of Cormac's Chapel, built in 1134 on the Rock of Cashel, and can therefore be assigned to the second half of the 12th century. By 1152 the next church may have been largely finished, as the Synod of Kells then in session considered it the finest and largest church in the diocese and therefore the best suited as a cathedral. After that, the church underwent some changes.

Even the pointed arched lancet windows of the choir area are typically early Gothic, especially the three-window group of the choir gable.

The actual nave is unusual in design as it closely follows the architecture of the mendicant orders in Ireland and Leask has therefore suggested that this dates back to the Dominican Christian who was Bishop of Ardfert from 1253 to 1256. The characteristic design of the choir room with a long series of nine choir windows on the south side was then adopted from the nearby Franciscan monastery.

The crenellations, not uncommon for churches in the British Isles, are, together with the nave's mounds, a 14th or 15th century addition. The sacristy at the north-east corner of the choir and the south transept are also from the 15th century. Significantly lower than the nave, this transept is more like a large chapel.

To the west of this, the church had a south aisle, the roof of which probably fell from the edge of the arcade (below the crenellation) to the outer wall like a desk. Such pseudo basilicas with wooden ceilings over the nave and aisle are very common in England and can also be found several times among the medieval churches of Ireland.

Around the mid-16th century Ardfert Cathedral became Anglican as part of Henry VIII's Reformation.

In 1641 the cathedral fell victim to a fire during the rebellion. Excavations in 1989 confirmed this with the discovery of a 0.6 m thick layer of ash. A reconstruction did not take place because Ardfert had served its purpose as a bishopric. But in 1670 the south transept was adapted to serve as an Anglican parish church. The transept retained this function until 1871, after which the roof was removed and it fell into disrepair like the rest of the cathedral. A little later, in the 19th century, two flying buttresses were erected to support the perilously leaning south wall of the nave. Restoration work began in 1982, with the transept restored in 1994 with a new roof and structural improvements allowing the flying buttresses to be removed.