The Bottom Line
- Most important early Christian site in the Midlands.
- Situated in a beautiful landscape next to the Shannon.
- Two round towers and high crosses.
- Seriously out of the way.
- Ancient crossroads of the River Shannon and the Esker Way.
- The monastery was established in 545 by Saint Ciarán himself, supported by King Dermot.
- Clonmacnoise was one of the most important Irish monasteries and burial place of kings.
- Saint Ciarán's feast day is still celebrated by a pilgrimage on September 9th.
Guide Review - Clonmacnoise (County Offaly)
Getting to Clonmacnoise can be a problem - you will need a good road map and then follow quite small and winding country lanes. As the site is next to the Shannon and quite low you will only spot the towers in the last minute.
The ancient crossroads were chosen by St. Ciarán to build his monastery in 545 with the support of King Dermot. Unfortunately Ciarán died soon after, but Clonmacnoise became one of the most important seats of Christian learning in Europe. In addition it was an important pilgrimage site and the burial place for the High Kings of Tara.
Today the visitor will find a splendid interpretive center, two round towers, medieval high crosses, impressive churches (albeit mostly in ruins) and the remains of the old pilgrim's route. Unfortunately you will also see the pavilion build for John Paul II's visit - which, frankly speaking, should be razed, papal connection or not. Apart from this eyesore the position of Clonmacnoise directly on the banks of the Shannon provides for magnificent views and peaceful tranquility.
Outside the main enclosure you will find the Nun's Church, erected by Dervorgilla. This medieval femme fatale basically caused Strongbow's conquest and 800 years of Irish misery.
When leaving the site and heading for the car park, admire the evocative woodcarving of the "Pilgrim" and then walk out towards the main road. The delicately balanced ruins of a Norman castle are worth a longer look. And look out for the tiny Victorian postbox in the wall - this is still in use!