Located in the shadow of the Blackstairs Mountains, Ullard church, County Kilkenny contains a fine 12th century doorway, which is well worth visiting. This impressive entrance utilises a series of chevron and dot designs as decorative motifs, while further embellishments included at least three carved human heads. Although it has been somewhat modified over the centuries, the doorway thankfully retains most of its original Romanesque character.
To the rear of the church lies a 9th century high cross that is related to an earlier monastery on the site which was founded by Saint Fiachra in the 7th century AD. Despite being badly weathered, some of the original cross carvings can still be discerned and these include depictions of the Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, David the Psalmist and the Sacrifice of Isaac. The monument is similar to a number of other high crosses in the Barrow valley, especially in its use of a closed rather than open ring, which appears to be a feature of this region.
Built out of locally quarried granite, the church was enlarged in the 15th century when the chancel was widened and a spiral staircase was added, along with a double ogee window. A large crypt under the eastern end of the church may also relate to this phase of construction. These building works suggest that during the late medieval period Ullard was a relatively wealthy foundation that served a prosperous local community.
Further modifications to the site occurred in the late 19th/early 20th century when a handball alley was built against the church’s eastern gable. This is a feature occasionally found at medieval church sites in the southeast of Ireland (Catherine McLoughlin pers comm.) and reflects the popularity of handball during the early 20th century. At least one high wall was necessary to play the game and this saw pre-existing walls at disused historic sites, such as churches and castles, sometimes being reused as handball alleys.