Situated a few miles outside Athlone, is one of the oldest ecclesiastical settlements in Ireland: Clonmacnoise, which means Meadow of the Sons. Strategically based on the banks of the River Shannon, the monastery dates back to c.548AD. It’s a place I have been meaning to go for some considerable time and, as all sites managed by the Office of Public Works are FREE at the moment, thanks to Covid, I booked a trip. On entering there is a modern statue dedicated to The Pilgrim, Aedh, who died in 606AD and I suppose this is still a place of pilgrimage.
In any other year in the height of the tourist season Clonmacnoise would be inundated with tourists, but I had the place pretty much to myself the afternoon I made my visit, thus was able to take an abundance of photographs free of people!
There was a beautiful smell of freshly cut grass in the air as I wandered around, the round towers, the churches and the many gravestones, many being Celtic Crosses. Unfortunately the Irish weather has done its worst and eroded away names, dates and carvings in the masonry and some of the gravestones are in the process of falling forwards almost touching the hallowed ground.
The most notable sculptures are above what was once the main door of the central church or cathedral decorated with lace-like filigree around the arches. This large roofless church was built c.909 by the King of Tara and the Abbot of Clonmacnoise at the time.
The smallest of the churches is believed to be the burial place of St Ciaran who is said to have founded the settlement.
The round towers, once used for communication, protection and storage of valuables, majestically stand overlooking the ruins and the nearby waters, where cruisers and other craft can be spotted at intervals. One of the towers was hit by lightning in 1135, thus is missing a section at the top.
The scenery across the river is spectacular, boasting Ireland’s fifty shades of green and one can see for miles.
Although modernity encroaches on the ancient site, there is a sense of reverence and peace in Clonmacnoise, it still being an active site for burials and services.
The Visitor Centre was closed, due to the pandemic, therefore I have a reason to return and learn more about this ancient site.