Case studies of peninsular Kerry and Rathdown are used to illustrate the dense distribution of minor church sites in pre-Viking Ireland. New evidence for settlements with a burial component but without a church is also reviewed. It is suggested that, like many of the minor church sites, these ‘cemetery settlements’ were familial establishments. Both site types are indicative of the convergence of burial and living space that is evident throughout post-Roman Europe. Compared to Anglo-Saxon England, and to a lesser extent Cornwall and Wales, the density of minor ecclesiastical sites in Ireland is exceptionally high. Probably this was because of relatively diffuse power structures which meant that a large number of individuals had the freedom to establish churches. During the Viking Age social, economic and religious changes led to the abandonment of many of these minor churches and cemetery settlements in favour of burial at community church sites which went on to form the basis for the parish system.