On an island off Ireland’s western coast, perched high atop a hill, sits an 11th-century church not much larger than a car parking space.
Teampall Bheanáin (Benan’s Temple) is a tiny oratory in the village of Killeany, on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay, Ireland. Measuring 15 feet by 11 feet (3.2 by 2.1 meters), it is considered by some to be the smallest church in Ireland. A Google search for the “smallest church in Ireland” will likely explain that Costello Chapel in County Leitrim holds the title, but that church measures 16 feet by 12 feet — 27 square feet larger than Teampall Bheanáin.
Roofless with 15-foot-tall gables, Teampall Bheanáin has a unique prominence for its size, enhanced by elevation and a lack of trees or tall vegetation on the island. It has thick stone walls, a short and narrow keyhole-shaped entrance, and one small window facing the Irish mainland.
Though the church dates to the 11th century, it is part of a larger Early Christian monastery founded by St. Enda in the sixth century. Near Teampall Bheanáin are remnants of a cashel wall and foundations of clochán-style (beehive hut) dwellings. Down the hill are further remains of a round tower and Celtic cross.
Too small to have been a congregational church, it is assumed to be a tomb shrine of St. Benan (Benignus of Armagh), a favorite disciple of St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. A placard on the church notes its unusual north-south orientation, which strays from the common east-west axis of most religious structures.
Teampall Bheanáin can be reached on foot via a 1.25-mile (2-km) trail, which is somewhat nondescript and passes through cow pastures. The trailhead is marked by a signpost just off “The Cottages,” which is the main road linking Killeany to the rest of the island.
Know Before You Go
Unfortunately, due to the rugged trail/terrain leading to Teampall Bheanáin and the church's small entrance, it may not be accessible to all.