The earliest church sites in Ireland AD 400 – 550: landscape archaeology and the process of conversion

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Talbot, Thomas
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University College Cork
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By adopting a multi-scalar landscape archaeology approach, this study seeks to provide a new perspective on the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. A corpus of the earliest churches in Ireland (c.110 sites) is compiled and mapped. This shows a distinctive island-wide pattern of early church foundations (c. AD 400-550), which differs significantly from the pattern of later monastic foundations. A recurring association between conversion period church sites and sites of royal significance and assembly is demonstrated. This is confirmed by a more detailed ‘middle-scale’ analysis of the best-documented thirty sites. The location of many of these church sites on prominent positions within these landscapes suggests that regional and local kings were active participants in the process of conversion and that some, at least, were well-disposed towards, or at least tolerant of, the new religion. At the same time, this analysis identified clear evidence for variation between these landscapes. Differences in the number and positioning of church sites within a polity suggests they varied in character and function, and that trajectories and strategies of conversion varied significantly also, due to factors such as local political circumstances. This variety is explored further through three in-depth case studies: the landscape of Domnach Mór Maige Áine, Co. Limerick, which is characterised by a single substantial church embedded within a royal landscape; Uí Thuirtre, Co. Tyrone, which features a cluster of early churches of varying character (the densest identified to date) within another royal landscape; and Domnach Mór Mittíne, Co. Cork, where the inter-relationships of early churches and other indicators of literacy, namely ogham stones, is explored.
Early Christian , GIS , Archaeology , Landscape , Church , Placename , Conversion
Talbot, T. 2018. The earliest church sites in Ireland AD 400 – 550: landscape archaeology and the process of conversion. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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