It’s said that every picture tells a story. Those carved in stone on the three high crosses at Clonmacnoise certainly grab the imagination across the centuries: biblical scenes, humans and animals that spoke volumes to a largely illiterate medieval public. Masterpieces of early Irish sculpture, they still reach out with spine-tingling freshness. And they are just the beginning.
The whole of this early Christian site – including ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th–13th century), two round towers, high crosses and the largest collection of early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe – is a vast story in stone that keeps alive the spirit of Ireland as a Land of Saints and Scholars.
Aerial view of Clonmacnoise site
Aerial view of Clonmacnoise site
You’ll come upon Clonmacnoise in green fields beside a lazy meander of the River Shannon.
It's quiet now but when founded by St Ciarán in the mid-6th century, it was at the Ancient Crossroads of the country. Blossoming from a small monastic settlement into Ireland’s original university and possibly first city, it buzzed with religious, literary and artistic activity and drew patronage from kings. 
Celtic Cross at Clonmacnoise
Boat on the River Shannon
Left: Celtic Cross at Clonmacnoise Right: Boat on the River Shannon
Such tales are well told in the visitor centre but nothing beats the frisson of walking amid the remains.
 Illustration of a monk at work
The Ardagh Chalice
Tourists relaxing in front of the Round Tower
Left: Illustration of a monk at work Middle: The Ardagh Chalice Right: Tourists relaxing in front of the Round Tower.
To think that St Ciarán and distant kings of Tara and Connacht are buried here, that Rory O’Connor, last High King of Ireland, rests in the cathedral. Worship continues in Temple Connor in summer, in the open-air in July and on St Ciarán’s Pattern Day in September when pilgrims come to celebrate the saint’s feast day.
Over the centuries this magnificent site suffered much plundering, not least by Vikings (one way to arrive even now is by replica Viking ship along the Shannon from Athlone). Yet its sanctity in green meadows shines through, the picture of enduring spirituality as the sun sets over the river.
The Round Tower at dusk
The Round Tower at dusk
Share

Visit Clonmacnoise - Monastic site

Shannonbridge, Offaly