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Galway, Ireland

Seven Churches

While only two of the ancient buildings at this site are actually churches this was one of the earliest Irish pilgrimage sites ever. 

The Seven Churches (“Na Seacht Teampall” in the Gaelic) on the Irish island of Inishmore do not quite live up to the name they have been roughly grouped into, but when the ancient structures were built on this site around the 7th or 8th century CE they were one of the earliest and most popular Christian pilgrimage sites in the country. 

Opinions differ on why the site is called “Seven Churches.” While the most obvious answer is that is an allusion to the number of structures among the ruins at the site, others think that it may be in reference to a Roman pilgrimage trail that incorporated seven churches. Complicating the issue further are what are said to be the graves of seven saints that are marked with ancient Celtic crosses which could also have contributed to the moniker.

Whatever the origin, there are really only two churches on the site, which are surrounded by the footprints of a number of monastic dwellings where the devotees would have lived. The largest and most complete of the ruins, St. Breacan’s Church (“Tempall Bhreacán”), still features ornate stonework and bears the name of a saint that moved to the area in the 5th century. The second church, The Church of the Hollow (“Teampall an Phoill”), was actually added to the site much later, around the 15th century, and is markedly smaller than its larger neighbor, but nonetheless as wondrously intact.

The ancient ruins are open to sightseers and pilgrims, but the site is still an active graveyard holding not only the supposed bones of saints, but also the remains of modern locals.

Know Before You Go

From the ferry landing at Kilronan, follow the main road northwest for 9km. It's straight-forward, but be sure to grab a tour map just in case! Coordinates: 53.14680,-9.775654

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