Leinster / Offaly

Death and Divinity at Clonmacnoise

The impressive heritage site of Clonmacnoise is less than an hour from where we live. We’d talked about going many times but as usual with the places closest to you, we never seemed to get around to it. Well last week, we finally got our butts in gear and went to check it out.

Founded in 544, the monastic site of Clonmacnoise includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and a heck of a lot of early Christian graveslabs.  Originally, it was a centre of religion but it soon grew into a major settlement of learning, craftsmanship, trade and politics too, largely due to its prime location on the River Shannon. In this picturesque setting, some of the finest craftsmen laboured and scholars visited from all over Europe to learn.

Clonmacnoise is located on the banks of the River Shannon.

I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture though. It was not all peace and harmony. St Ciaran himself, the founder of Clonmacnoise, died of a plague in 549 and a later plague in the 7th century polished off a large number of the residents. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the site was attacked frequently (we’re talking more than 70 times!) between the 8th and 12th century by the English, the Irish, the Vikings and the Normans. In 1552 the English attacked and looted it for the final time, leaving the place in ruins. So it is pretty amazing that anything remains to this day really.

Thankfully all is in good hands now, with the Office of Public Works managing the site. The three high crosses on the site were removed and taken indoors to the visitor centre for preservation (replicas now stand in their original sites), where they are now on display for our viewing pleasure.  They really are incredible pieces of workmanship, so do check them out if you visit. There is also an audiovisual display which is about 20mins. To be honest, I found it hard to pay attention as I really just wanted to get out and see the ruins themselves but check it out if you want more detail on the incredible history of the site.

Once you’ve paid your admission, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like so we remained after the visitor centre closed, hoping to get a nice sunset. Instead we got quite a bit of rain so we sheltered amongst the ruins but then the sky cleared and we got lucky, very lucky! As crazy as it seems, all these images were taken on the same day. In true Irish style, we had every season in the few short hours we were there. Hope you enjoy the pics and be sure to check out Clonmacnoise yourself on your travels around Ireland.


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