Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s monastic settlements that are scattered about the countryside. It’s one that I had not been all that familiar with until a few months ago. Once I did a bit of research I knew it was a definite stop on this journey to Ireland. If history and ruins are your thing, then you’ll love it. And if you aren’t into this type of experience you still may enjoy it for its peaceful setting.
Clonmacnoise was founded by St Ciarán in 548 to be a place for learning. St Ciarán had studied under St Finian and decided to start up his own place and found the banks of the River Shannon to be the perfect spot. Unfortunately Ciarán succumbed to a plague shortly after the first structure was built in 549. He was just 33 years old. But his pupils continued their learning and teachings and built more structures. By the 11th and 12th centuries it was producing some of the great manuscripts of the time. At its height, Clonmacnoise had 2 towers and 7 churches and 3 high crosses. Two of the crosses are still intact and located in the visitor center.
These poor religious scholars took a beating over the centuries. It seems Clonmacnoise was forever defending itself from the English (no surprise), the Irish, the Vikings (again, no surprise) and the Normans. Each group raided Clonmacnoise multiple times over the years. By the 12th century it began to decline as people moved up the road to Athlone which became a trading town and a crossroads between Dublin to the East and Galway to the West. So the buildings we see today are what is left.
I absolutely loved Clonmacnoise and am so glad I chose to visit it. But if you read this blog you know I’m a fan of ruins as they leave so much to the imagination. And the location is really beautiful — right along the banks of the River Shannon. This is an area of Ireland I hadn’t really explored until this trip — and I can’t wait to go back as there’s much more in this area.