On a tour of Ireland with Ireland Luxury Tours we try and find hidden gems like Clonmacnoise for you to enjoy.
These extensive and impressive monastic remains stand in velvety, emerald water-meadows by a rushy bend in the River Shannon, a place of almost tangible stillness, especially at dawn or dusk. In earlier centuries it was even more isolated by the river and surrounding bogland, and was accessible only by boat, or along the esker ridge known as the Pilgrims’ Causeway.
Founded by St Ciaran (or Kieran) in about AD548, this Celtic site became the most important religious establishment of its time in Ireland and was renowned as a place of art and learning throughout Europe. St Ciaran himself died of plague at the age of only 33, just seven months after the monastery site had been established, but news of his good works eventually spread beyond Irish shores. Several ecclesiastical treasures from here, including the gold and silver Crozier of Clonmacnoise, are now on display at the National Museum in Dublin. The Book of the Dun Cow, one of the earliest and most famous manuscripts in the Irish language, was also produced here.
Clonmacnoise was once a royal city and the burial place of the High Kings of Tara and Connaught, including the last High King, Rory O’Conor. Like most settlements of its type, it suffered constant depredations at the hands of Vikings and Normans and was devastated by English forces in 1552. Still visible within its enclosing walls are the remains of a cathedral, eight churches, two Round Towers, many carved gravestones, and several High Crosses. The most interesting antiquities are displayed in the visitor centre. The splendid Cross of the Scriptures, erected in the 9th or 10th century, depicts, amongst the usual biblical scenes, King Dermot helping St Ciaran erect the first corner-post of the monastery at Clonmacnoise.
The tiny Nuns’ Church stands beside a quiet lane outside the main enclosure and is reached via a path through the modern cemetry and out into the road beyond. It was built by Dervorgilla, Irelands’s equivalent of Helen of Troy, whose abduction by Dermot McMurrough provided the excuse for Strongbow’s Anglo-Norman invasion.