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  • History: The Full Story

From about 500 AD, monasteries were built in Ireland. The first monasteries were usually built in isolated places like Glendalough in Co. Wicklow or on islands such as Skellig Michael off the coast of Co. Kerry.   Some monasteries were also built near the forts of important kings like the monastery of Clonard in Co. Meath. The monks chose these isolated places because it allowed them to pray and work without distraction. In these early monasteries, monks lived in small bedrooms called cells. One of the first monks was St. Enda who set up a monastery in the Aran islands. St. Brigid also founded a number of monasteries.

Irish monasteries became famous for their learning and many students came to study in them from other parts of Europe. Irish monks also spread Christianity across Europe.

Books and Manuscripts

As well as praying and fasting, some monks spent their lives making beautiful copies of the Bible. The Book of Kells, written in the ninth century, about 800 AD, is a famous example of this. It was named after a town called Kells in Co. Meath where it was once kept. This book can now be seen in Trinity College, Dublin. Another famous book which was written by monks in Ireland is the Book of Durrow.

The monks often put valuable covers on their books and manuscripts. Book covers were often made of metal and decorated with valuables such as jewels. The monks also paid silversmiths to make gold and silver chalices. An example of these chalices is the Ardagh Chalice, which you can see in the National Museum in Dublin. The
Ardagh Chalice was made in the eight century AD.