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Early Architecture in Irreland & Romanesque Architecture in England
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System of Construction: The Corbelled Buidings | Irish Architecture in the Early Middle Ages: c. 500–1200 AD
Professor Roger Stalley

Dry-stone beehive huts or clocháns, used as domestic dwellings by monks, are found predominantly along the south-west coast, where they were used as living accommodation in many of the exposed hermitages and Christian settlements. The corbelled method of construction has a long history, from prehistoric tombs to twentieth century farm buildings. No mortar is used and as each stone is placed in the circular wall, it is made to project slightly inward over the stone below, forming a pointed dome. Such methods are encountered in various parts of Europe and are not unique to Ireland; there are particular concentrations in Provence and Apulia. The best collection of clocháns can be seen on Skellig Michael, perched on terraces almost 200 metres above the Atlantic waves. There were originally six huts, five of which survive. Entered through doorways with stone lintels and inclined jambs, they are surprisingly spacious inside: some are over 5 metres in height, sufficient for an intermediate floor. The clochans at Skellig are difficult to date, but they probably existed in 823 when the rock was plundered by the Vikings.

Ieland, Skellig Michael, Clocháns (beehive huts)

Ireland, Skellig Michael, Clocháns (beehive huts)

Ireland, Gallarus, Oratory, Exterior view

A rectangular version of the clochan, the boat-shaped oratory, was developed to serve as a Christian oratory. There were two such oratories on Skellig Michael, and the remains of at least thirty of them have been identified along the west and south-west coasts. In structural terms the boat-shaped oratory is not as sound as a clochan, for if the building reaches any size there is a tendency for the roof to sag midway along its length. The oratories on Skellig were rather loosely constructed, but the most famous example, Gallarus oratory near Kilmalkedar in County Kerry, has masonry impeccably fitted together. Measuring 4.65 by 3.10 metres (internally), it is entered at the west end through a lintelled doorway. There is a small round-headed window in the opposite wall. The craftsmanship is so accomplished that it is tempting to regard Gallarus as the culmination of a tradition that was already several centuries old.

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