TEMPLE OF BENAN
If you are looking for a unique and fascinating destination to visit in Ireland, you might want to consider Teampall Bheanáin, or Temple of Benan, on the Aran Islands in Galway. This tiny oratory, dating from the 11th century, is believed by some to be the smallest church in Ireland, and has a rich history and a stunning location.
Teampall Bheanáin is situated on a hilltop near the village of Killeany, on Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the three Aran Islands. The islands are known for their rugged beauty, their ancient monuments, and their strong Irish culture and language. Teampall Bheanáin is one of the many attractions that make the islands worth exploring.
The oratory measures only 15 feet by 11 feet (3.2 by 2.1 meters), and has thick stone walls, a narrow keyhole-shaped entrance, and one small window facing the Irish mainland. It has 15-foot-tall gables that give it a prominent appearance despite its size. The roofless structure is made of limestone blocks that fit together without mortar, a technique known as dry-stone construction.
The church is dedicated to Saint Benan (Benignus of Armagh), who was a disciple and successor of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. According to tradition, Saint Benan came to Inis Mór in the sixth century and founded a monastery there. He also built a small cell for himself on the hill where Teampall Bheanáin now stands. The oratory was probably his tomb shrine, where pilgrims came to venerate his relics.
Teampall Bheanáin is part of a larger Early Christian site that includes remnants of a cashel wall (a circular stone enclosure) and foundations of clochán-style dwellings (beehive huts). Down the hill are further remains of a round tower and a Celtic cross. The site was likely abandoned after the Viking raids in the ninth and tenth centuries.
One of the most intriguing features of Teampall Bheanáin is its unusual orientation. Unlike most churches, which are aligned east-west, Teampall Bheanáin is aligned north-south. This may be due to the location being very exposed and windy, making it difficult to build a longer structure along the east-west axis. Alternatively, it may have some symbolic or astronomical significance that is not fully understood.
Teampall Bheanáin can be reached on foot via a 1.25-mile (2-km) trail that starts from the main road linking Killeany to the rest of the island. The trail is somewhat nondescript and passes through cow pastures, so it may be helpful to have a map or a guide. The trailhead is marked by a signpost that says “Temple Benan”. The walk takes about 30 minutes and offers scenic views of the island and the bay.
Teampall Bheanáin is a remarkable example of Celtic church architecture and an important part of Ireland’s religious heritage. It is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history, culture, or nature. If you are planning to go to Teampall Bheanáin, make sure to respect the site and its surroundings, as it is still considered sacred by some locals. Teampall Bheanáin is more than just a small church; it is a testament to the faith and resilience of the people who built it and lived there centuries ago.
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