Monastic settlements laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity both in Ireland and abroad. Usually established in the 6th and 7th centuries, these became important centres of the community as no towns existed in that period. They attracted local craftsmen and farmers because they offered some degree of protection against Viking raids which were prevalent at the time. The custom was to build monasteries inside ring forts. They consisted of tiny huts made of either stone or wood and wattle. The most important building was the small church which was built at the centre. This was because the worship of God was central to people’s lives. In other huts were the kitchen, a dining room called the refectory and sometimes a library. The monks lived in individual cells usually called bee-hives because of their shape.
More at http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/schools/4_11/tandy/pdf/early_christian_life.pdf