The monastery of Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis in Irish, meaning "Meadow of the Sons of Nós") is situated in County
Offaly, Ireland on the River Shannon south of Athlone.It was visited by the Pope in 1979. The site can be visited for a fee, via an Interpretative Centre.
The modern village of Clonmacnoise is beside the monastery on the R444 regional road 7 km north of Shannonbridge, County Offaly.
Clonmacnoise was founded in 545 by Saint Ciarán in the territory of Ui Maine at the point where the major east-west land route through the bogs of central Ireland along the Eiscir Riada, an esker or moraine left by the receding glaciers of the last ice age crossed the River Shannon. Saint Ciarán had been educated by St. Finnian of Clonard and also by Abbot St. Enda of Aran.
Shortly after his arrival with eight companions, Ciarán met Diarmait mac Cerbaill who helped him build the first church — a small wooden structure and the first of many small churches to be clustered on the site. Diarmuid was to claim the title of the first Christian High King of Ireland. Ciaran died about one year later of the yellow plague and was buried reputedly in the building now known as Temple Ciaran; he was in his early thirties.
The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade by the 9th century and together with Clonard it was the most famous in Ireland, being visited by scholars from all over Europe. Until the 9th century it had close associations with the kings of Connacht and then until the 11th century it was alliance with the kings of Mide. Many of the high kings of Tara and Connacht were buried here. It was attacked frequently, by the Vikings, Anglo-Normans and other Irish forces.
All the early buildings including churches were of wood and have not survived. They were replaced in stone by the tenth century onwards when Clonmacnoise became a bishopric. It also produced many fine examples of Celtic gold and silverware, which is preserved in Dublin museums.
After the 12th century it fell into decline. The English built a castle next to the monastery in the 13th century and the whole settlement was finally sacked in 1552 by an English garrison from Athlone which reduced it to a ruin.
Buildings and High Crosses
- Temple Finghín: Romanesque church with round tower. 12th century. Vandalism of this church in 1864 by a person from Birr on a 'pleasure party' to the Seven Churches (as Clonmacnoise was then often termed), led to a landmark case when a prosecution was brought against the vandal by the Crown, due to the activity of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. The remains of the funds which had been raised for the prosecution were later used by the Society to repair the cap of the church's tower, which was in need of conservation.
- Temple Connor: Church used by the Church of Ireland since the 18th century.
- Round Tower: The Chronicum Scotorum, records that it was finished in 1124 by Turlough O'Connor, king of Connacht, and Gilla Christ Ua Maoileoin, abbot of Clonmacnoise. 11 years later it was struck by lightning, which knocked off the head of the tower. The upper part of the tower is later work, so there is some speculation that the masonry thus toppled in the storm of 1135 may have been reused in the building of Temple Finghín.
- North Cross. Oldest of the four crosses. Created c.800. Only the sandstone shaft and base survive. The base is a former millstone.
- Temple Kelly.
- Temple Ciarán: At 2.8 by 3.8 metres, the smallest church in Clonmacnoise. Believed to contain the grave of the founder St. Ciaran.
- Cross of the Scriptures: This 4-metre high sandstone cross is one of the most skillfully executed of the surviving high crosses in Ireland, and of particular interest for its surviving inscription, which asks a prayer for Flann, King of Ireland, and Colmán who made the cross, both individuals who were also responsible for the building of the Cathedral. The cross was carved from a single piece of sandstone c.900. The surface of the cross has been divided into panels, showing scenes including the Crucifixion, the Last Judgement, and Christ in the Tomb. While the original one has been moved into the visitors centre, a replica stands outdoors in the original place.
- Cathedral: (or daimliag in Irish, meaning literally "stone church", to distinguish it from the earlier wooden buildings). Built in 909 (Chronicum Scotorum) by Flann Sianna, King of Tara and Abbot Colmán, although the west doorway is a later insertion of c.1180, and the north doorway, often called Dean Odo's doorway from its incription dates to the mid-15th century and is Gothic in style. It is the largest of the churches at Clonmacnoise. Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland, was buried near the altar in 1198.
- Temple Melaghlin: Built c.1200.
- Museum Buildings
- South Cross which faces north.
- Temple Dowling: Built in the 11th century, named after Edmund Dowling, who renovated it in 1689.
- Temple Hurpan: Built in the 17th century.
The Fairy's or Horseman's Stone
Near the Chapel of Clonfinlough at Clonmacnoise there are several limestone boulders, one of which is called the Fairy's or Horseman's Stone. It has many cup-shaped hollows, crosses, daggers, and a pair of human feet (an example of a Petrosomatoglyph
) possibly connected with the inauguration of Celtic chieftains. Dunadd
in Scotland has a well-known example of this Celtic tradition.
The Annals of Clonmacnoise
The Annals of Clonmacnoise
chronicle events in Ireland from pre-history to A.D. 1408. The original manuscript or manuscripts are lost, and the names of its compilers are unknown. It is so-called because it was thought to be based on materials gathered at the monastery of Clonmacnoise, though there is some doubt about this.
ReferencesKing, Heather A
(1998). Clonmacnoise Studies Vol.1
. Duchas & Wordwell. ISBN 0-7076-5098-4.
King, Heather A
(2003). Clonmacnoise Studies Vol.2
. Dept of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government
& Wordwell. ISBN 0-7557-1793-7.
Graves, James (1864-66). "Proceedings". Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
8 109–113, 174–9.
Clonmacnoise Visitors' Guide, published by Duchas, The Heritage Service.
Abbey and School of Clonmacnoise. Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2007-02-17..