Ireland Travel and Culture

Travel in Ireland - A Monastic Settlement Like no Other - Clonmacnoise

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Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland's most spectacular and valuable heritage sites. Located on the bank of the river Shannon in Co. Offaly, the choice of this site was no accident. In 545 AD St. Ciaran founded this monastic settlement at the junction of river and road travel and today it borders the three provinces of Connaught, Munster and Leinster.

Even though you are faced with 1,500 years of history at Clonmacnoise, no evidence of the original Churches remains - they would have been wooden structures. That doesn't mean there is nothing to see though. Some impressive ruins remain today from the many rebuilt Churches and other buildings of the 11th to the 15th Centuries. There are towers almost completely intact and the Celtic Crosses are particularly prized. The ones you see on the site are replicas, as the originals are being preserved in the beautifully constructed heritage center. Both the North and South Crosses date back to the 9th Century and the Cross of the Scriptures is probably from the 9th or 10th Century. It remains the most beautiful and well-preserved of the Irish High Crosses.

One building of note is the Cathedral. It would have originally dated back to 904 AD but what you see today are the remains of the rebuilt sections from the 11th, 14th and 15th Centuries. However, there is no evidence of any one large, single structure - instead the site contained a cluster of smaller, simple-plan buildings.

In its day Clonmacnoise was a famous monastic center. It attracted the best scholars from Ireland and Europe and was a center for Scripture writing. Students would have learned the skills that are evident in the famous Book of Kells. Unfortunately, St. Ciaran never lived to see its fame. He died just 7 months after he built the first Church here. He was just 33 years of age.

Despite its religious background, Clonmacnoise has seen many violent and destructive times in its long history. The site was destroyed by fire a total of 13 times and attacked no less than 40 times over the centuries. Each time the monks rebuilt, until its final attack in 1552. It was then that an English garrison, stationed in Athlone, reduced the site to ruins.

The site remained in decay until the Office of Public Works began to turn it into the important attraction it is today, with a great visitor's center. Once more, Clonmacnoise is enjoying the renown it has always deserved.
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