Friday 29th April 4.30pm
Clonmacnoise Monastery, Co Offaly, 6th Century
Like Glendalough, the monastery of Clonmacnoise was one of the most significant spiritual centres in Europe for hundreds of years. Founded by St Ciarán in 546 a.d. it is one of Ireland’s most important ecclesiastical centres. This strategic location on the Shannon was where the main east-west road across the country met the north-south one. Ciaran, a young preacher from Roscommon, convinced Diarmait Uí Cerbaill (the first High King of Ireland to practice Christianity) to help him build a church here. Ciarán, however, died the following year of the yellow fever aged only 33, revered because his life and death mirrored that of Jesus. By the 9th century a tiny cluster of monastic buildings grew and eventually stone structures replaced the wooden ones and attracted many pilgrims, craftsmen and scholars from all over Europe. It’s population probably reached 2000 and it became the coveted burial place for the Kings of Meath, Tara and Connacht. Between the 9th and the 12th centuries it was attacked at least 27 times by the Irish, 7 times by Vikings and 6 times by the Anglo-Normans! After the 12th century, Clonmacnoise went into decline. Athlone grew further up stream and an influx of continental religious orders such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, Benedictines and Cluniacs entered Ireland.
There are also two Round Towers and three exquisite High Crosses. Some of Ireland’s most beautiful metal and stone artwork were created here including the Clonmacnoise Crozier (on display in the National Museum of Ireland) and the Cross of the Scriptures. Clonmacnoise was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979.