St Michan’s parish church and crypt is one of Dublin’s best kept secrets. Although not often in “Top 10 things to do in Dublin” lists, St Michan’s is a historical and local goldmine. Tours of the site offer a unique Dublin experience that should be at the top of everyone’s must see list. It is not just for tourists but also for those with either a love of history or who are hoping to get to know their city a little better.
A Church has been on the site since 1095 and for many centuries it was the only parish church on the city’s North Side. The history of the North Side and of Dublin’s expansion is written in the history of St. Michan’s. The church is still in use, as it has been for over 900 years.
However, perhaps the most popular reason for visiting is the crypts. These can only be accessed on guided tours but it is well worth the €5 entrance fee. There are five long burial vaults underneath the church that are thought to date from the late 16th century. The preservation of the vaults and their contents is incredible.
Some of the crypts are technically still in use and cannot be lit, however some are open to view. They contain the mummified remains of many of Dublin’s influential citizens. One of the most exceptional artefacts is the mummified body of a six foot tall crusader who is thought to be around 800 years old. He shares a crypt with a 400 year old nun, whose finger nails and toenails have miraculously been preserved. Further one of the crypts contains the remains of famous Irish rebels and heroes: The Sheares Brothers who were executed after the failed 1798 rebellion.
The guide has an exhaustible knowledge on the church and Irish history associated with it. Impressively he was also able to converse with different members of the groups in their own languages, including Spanish and Italian. Fortunately though this is not a tour that rams dates and facts down your throat, but instead takes a nice leisurely pace and gives the attendees the opportunity to ask questions. This focus on quality of information rather than sheer quantity also leaves you still interested, hoping to learn more and also able to remember most of what you have heard. The guide is particularly special and a great asset to St Michan’s.
The church itself is free to enter for private prayer and contemplation and is well worth visiting alongside the crypts. The church also opens for services as a part of the Church of Ireland and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Further information about their religious service can be found on the website.
One room in the Church is reserved for art and photography exhibitions which are free to enter and the gift shop, the staff of which are very friendly, sell some lovely women’s jewellery and other items.
Although the church grounds and graveyard are a little overgrown and many of the names on the gravestones are hard to read, it makes for a pleasant break from the industrial and apartment buildings which now make up the landscape of Smithfield. There are several benches for the weary traveller to soak in the atmosphere of this historical gem.
Tours of the crypts are conducted Monday to Friday 10 – 12:45 and 2 – 4.45pm and Saturday 10 – 12.45 pm. Check online for winter and holiday opening hours.
Tours cost €5 per adult, various group, student and OAP entry fees are available.
Approximate duration of your visit is 1 hour.
St Michan’s is easily accessible on the red LUAS line or on foot from Smithfield Square – close to the Liffey Quays and Four Courts. The crypts are not wheelchair accessible.