Ardmore today
Árd Mór: Great Height. It was to this part of the Waterford coast that St Declan was miraculously guided, on a return voyage from Wales some time during the 5th century. Today, a number of sites remain from his monastic city, pointing to a devotion that stood the test of time.

Several monuments pertaining to Declan are to be found at Ardmore, within and without the medieval monastic city. Also, there are buildings from after his time, from the monastery, which grew up in his memory. So what is the story of this place?

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The legend goes as follows: St Declan returned form Rome via Britain, and left behind him in Wales his bell. He was sea borne when he realized this, and was much grieved by his absent-mindedness - the bell had been gifted to him from Heaven as he celebrated Mass, and was therefore very precious. Declan's prayers for the bell's safe return were answered, when a boulder carrying the bell came sailing over the water to his boat! From there, it sailed before the craft, navigating the way across the channel.
Declan vowed before his crew to establish his city and bishopric wherever the bell led him, and so it came to be that he came ashore on an island by the west Waterford coast. A member of his party ascended the hill, and queried the wisdom of setting up on what he called 'this little height'. Declan is said to have replied: "Do not call it little hill, but Great Height."


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The land was granted by the king of the Déisí, and was named 'Ardmore Declan'. Following Declan's prayers, the generosity of the king was echoed and enhanced by God, when the sea retreated from between the island and the mainland, leaving a more substantial swathe of land to the nascent community. After this, "many persons came to Declan, drawn from the uttermost parts of Ireland, by the fame of his holy living". Thus the monastery grew.


The 'travelling boulder', which bore the bell and guided Declan to Ardmore, is known today as 'St Declan's Stone', and lies on a rocky ledge of beach beneath the village of Ardmore. It is of a different geology to the rocks around it, and wonderful virtues are attributed to it. O the feast day of St Declan, 24 July, devotees crawl between the stone and the underlying rocks to invoke the healing powers of the monument.

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Another popular site for pilgrims is 'St Declan's Well', a shallow basin where people bathe their hands and feet.

It's set beside the remains of a twelfth century church on the cliff, and has been embellished over the years with a carved crucifix and medieval characters on the masonry above it. The area of the church and well is popularly held to have been the site of Declan's hermitage, and is referred to by some as 'Díseart Decláin'.

The primary monument to Declan within the bounds of the later monastery is a primitive 6th century church known as 'The Oratory' or 'Declan's House'. Although somewhat later than his time, this building enjoys an intimate association with Declan, as it is supposed to be his place of burial. Bishop Mills furnished it with a slate roof in 1716.

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As we move further beyond Declan's time, we find monuments, which testify to the strength of the tradition he inspired. Principal among these is the round tower, which stands at 100 feet high. It's in an excellent state of preservation, and its conical stone cap is fully intact.

This is all the more remarkable, considering that it withstood a regular siege in 1642, when ordnance was brought to bear on it. The tower was stoutly defended by forty confederates against the English, under Lords Dungarvan and Broghil.

A few yards to the north of this tower stand the cathedral, which dates from the 10th century. It contains features from almost every phase of ecclesiastical architecture, which flourished in Ireland, and its chancel arch is regarded as one of the most beautiful examples of the Transitional period in the country. The whole external face of the west gable is filled with celtic panels depicting scenes from scripture.

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The tower and the cathedral are signs of major expansion, and indicate the extent of the wealth and prestige, which Ardmore enjoyed in the centuries after Declan's death. The Ardmore Pattern had a great following traditionally, and 14,000 people were reckoned to have attended in 1847
The route from Ardmore to Cashel is among those medieval pilgrim trails to receive restoration as part of the Millennium project - valuable work on a priceless part of out heritage. Ardmore has been described by some as one of the most fascinating ecclesiastical sites in Ireland.
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