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St Berrihert's Kyle in Co. Tipperary is home to a medieval church site
and seventy-two inscribed stones... but remains unexcavated and poorly understood

St Berrihert’s Kyle is situated in the Glen of Aherlow in the townland of Ardane, parish of Templeneiry, Co. Tipperary. Primarily because of its seventy-two early medieval inscribed stone slabs and crosses it is potentially one of the most interesting sites of that period. Despite this it remains unexcavated and has been subjected only to surface survey.

Sites mentioned in the text

Positioned at the foot of the Galtee Mountains, the Kyle takes the form of a large oval enclosure measuring 36 metres north to south, 27 metres east to west, and delineated by a bank of stones and earth of one to two metres in height. Apparently forgotten for centuries, it was rediscovered in 1907 and first written up in 1909 [JRSAI 39, 1909]. The OPW have since - in 1946 - moved all the slabs and crosses to the edge of the area in order to better protect them. The soil was also levelled to what was seen as the original ground level, based on the positions of the stones. How much damage was done in the process we cannot know.

Inscribed slab

This large collection of slabs and crosses, which date from the 7th century up to the 9th century, are the initial attraction of the site, but there is mystery here too. The Kyle is thought to have also been the site of an early church founded by the Berrihert whose name the site carries. There is no evidence, however, of any buildings here; just an enclosure, slabs and crosses. Further, there is not even a mention of this monastery in the annals. Is this truly the site of a church building or is it an isolated burial site?

It is said that this lack of evidence for settlement may be due to the buildings all being wooden and now totally gone, but even in this case there would most likely be evidence in the form of buried post-holes, areas of cobbling or other anomalies in the soil, even if now discoverable only through excavation or ground-penetrating survey techniques.

It appears that the area encompassing the Glen was continually occupied by the Cleanglais, for many hundreds of years. This sept was probably one of the main groups of the Ui Cuileann, themselves important members of the Eoganacht Aine dynasty during its later years. The Cleanglais territory appears to have stretched from the town of Dromina, right through the Glen and on into the area of Tipperary Town. The occupation of this territory by members of the Eoganachta dates back least to the beginnings of the early medieval period, and perhaps even to the later part of the Iron Age. It remained in Eoganacht or Eoganacht-related hands up to the late 1500’s when the territory was finally lost to the ‘New English’.

Such a wealth of early medieval burials suggests a site of some prestige. Located on land in the posession of members of the ruling Eoganachta further suggests that this may be a final resting place for important members of the Ui Cuileann sept. However, there is another equally intriguing possibility: this may be the burial place for Saxon monks living in this area, of whom St Berrihert was a prominent member.

St Berrihert was a Saxon cleric who is said to have arrived in Ireland, accompanied by his two brothers and his father in the aftermath of the Easter controversy at the Synod of Whitby in 664AD. The Annals of the Four Masters give an obit of 839 for Berrihert under the alternative spelling Berchart. The earlier date does match with the arrival of other Saxon monks in Ireland – notably in Mayo – whose pontiff, Garaalt, died in 732 according to the Annals of Ulster. The 839 date may therefore be a mistake for 739. Our saint is known as St Berrihert of Tullylease as he was also the founder of a monastery at that location in Co. Cork, which itself is referred to as “Tullylease of the Saxons”. Prior to settling at Tullylease, though, Berrihert apparently resided in Cullen and at Kilberrihert (the Kyle). He is also remembered in the name of St. Berechert’s Well which is located to the east of the Kyle.

We know that there were other Saxon monks settled in the general south east Co. Limerick/ south west Co. Tipperary area; Both Oola [alternatively named Hulle, Wlys, Ullene, Ovillin, Ullish, and Ulloe] and Sologhhead [alternatively named Sulgoth, Solethac, Scolgother, and Solloghod], not far to the north-west of the Glen of Aherlow, have been identified as derived from Anglo-Saxon, and a further possible example is Shronell [alternatively named Seronhull, and Strante], adjacent to Tipperary Town. Additional sites associated with St. Berrihert are three townlands named Kilberrihert, which are found in Balincuslane parish, Co. Kerry, and Knocktemple and Aghabulloge parishes, Co. Cork.

In all, these clues strengthen the suggestion that this area, covering parts of counties Cork, Limerick and Tipperary, was one of the main areas of Saxon clerical settlement in Ireland following the Easter controversy in the mid-600s. It therefore seems reasonable to view this collection of grave markers as linked to that Saxon community.

Saxon Cross

We might wonder how so many burial markers of such antiquity have survived. Though located within the still-extant boundary wall of a church, the church itself - -if it was actually uilt of stone - has apparently been pillaged for building materials. It is possible that because the Ui Cuileann were a strong and wealthy sept, and because the Fitzgerald’s took over most of their lands, here in the Glen and at other locations in Munster, these crosses and this site, deep within their territory, may have been very safe from other groups, both Irish and English, over the centuries. This, then, should be a very well-preserved archaeological site, only suffering in the recent centuries, and then mostly from farming on the land. It is also possible that, as the slabs and crosses are inscribed, they were left in situ out of a sense of respect while the plain stones used for the church structure were removed. For that matter, as noted earlier, we cannot even yet determine if the church itself was not of timber, or if it really ever existed at all. Only survey using non-invasive techniques, as used for example by the Discovery Programme at the Hill of Tara to great effect, perhaps followed up by selective excavation, will settle the matter.

And so my modest proposal: Perhaps an archaeologist reading this may be roused to survey the site with a view to locating any subterranean remains of the original monastery and burial ground. We may then finally know why the gravestones are here, know if they truly did mark an extensive early medieval burial site, and perhaps also why the buildings one might expect to accompany them seem to have disappeared.


Further Reading

Padraig Ó hEalaidhe, in Etienne Rynne, ed., "North Munster Studies, Essays in Commemoration of Monsignor Michael Moloney", The Thomond Archaelogical Society, 1967

Crawford, "Some Early Monuments in the Glen of Aherlow", in JRSAI 39, pp.59-69, RSAI, 1909

Peter Harbison, "Guide to the National and Historic Monuments of Ireland", Gill and Macmillan, 1970,

Peter Harbison, "Shell Guide to Ireland", 1995

Eric Newby, "Wonders of Ireland", 1970


 © Janet Crawford MMII

About the Author

Janet Crawford is a retired bank Vice-President and Trust Officer. She is currently an independent scholar researching the Ui Cuileann sept of the Eoganachta, and has published several papers on this theme in the journal "The Other Clare"



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