Hello and welcome to to the first virtual walk of the new year .Unfortunately Ireland is back under strict lockdown again but I was lucky enough to get out and about over the last week or so , and managed to take in a few walks . It’s funny …..as I write them up before posting I’m transported back to the places that I visit and by retracing my steps I’m getting to visit for the second time around . So for me these walks are keeping me going and lifting my spirits as we head into the latest wave of the pandemic. I hope you will enjoy walking with me as much as I do !
I can’t believe how lucky we have been with the weather .. So, for today’s walk leads head to County Offaly , in the midlands and visit the famous monastic site of Clonmacnoise.
We have to take a drive west from Dublin for about an hour and a half, right into the midlands, and your patience will be rewarded when we reach our destination.
Having arrives safely and parked in the deserted car park we can see that the visitor complex is closed due to the pandemic ; but the gate is open and we are going to have the place to ourselves; so pull on your sweater and put on your boots, let’s have a look at this beautiful and historic place.
As always, before we head in, let’s talk about the history : The name Clonmacnoise is from the Irish -Cluain Mhic Nóis and was settled as a monastery in 544 by St. Ciarán, and is located in the banks of Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon. Until the 9th century it had close associations with the kings of Connacht. The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade. It was the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe.
In 544, shortly after his arrival with seven companions Saint Ciarán met Diarmait Uí Cerbaill who helped him build the first church at the site. It was a small wooden structure and the first of many small churches to be clustered on the site. Diarmuid was to be the first Christian crowned High King of Ireland. In September 549, not yet thirty-three years of age, Ciarán died of a plague, and was reportedly buried under the original wooden church, now the site of the 9th-century stone oratory, Temple Ciarán.
St Columba of Iona visited the monastery at Clonmacnoise during the time when he was founding the monastery at Durrow. A story tell that while he was there was a young monk named Ernéne mac Craséni tried to touch Columba’s clothes while Columba was not looking, but the saint immediately noticed and grabbed the boy by the neck, and then told him to open his mouth and he blessed him, saying that he would teach the doctrine of salvation.
It was attacked frequently , by the Irish the Vikings and Normans . The early wooden buildings began to be replaced by more durable stone structures in the 9th century, and more buildings were added over the centuries to form a complex of churches, crosses, graves and ecclesiastical dwellings and workshops. Artisans associated with the site created some of the most beautiful and enduring artworks in metal and stone ever seen in Ireland, with the Clonmacnoise Crozier on display in the National Museum of Ireland and the Cross of the Scriptures representing the apex of their efforts.
By the 12th century Clonmacnoise began to decline and in 1552 the English garrison at Athlone destroyed and looted Clonmacnoise for the final time, leaving it in ruins. Thankfully these ruins have survived and restored, and we can get a real understanding how this important settlement was laid out during its golden era.
As we head through the gate the first thing we will see Is the shortened O Rourke’s tower , named after 10th-century Connacht king Fergal O’Rourke. The Chronicum Scotorum records that it was finished in 1124 by Turlough O’Connor, king of Connacht. Eleven years later it was struck by lightning which knocked off the head of the tower. As we head down to the banks of the Shannon the next building we will see is Temple Finghín & McCarthy’s Tower. This Romanesque church and round tower dates from the12th century. The structure is possibly the earliest example of a church and round tower being part of a single structure in Ireland, and I just love how it is situated overlooking the river.. amazing, don’t you think ?
As we make our way up the hill we will pass Temple Connor: This Church was used by the Church of Ireland since the 18th century. The church is maintained under the auspices of the Athlone Union of Parishes, and each Sunday during the summer a service is held at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Now, one of the high crosses – the North Cross: This is the oldest of the three extant crosses, that was Created around 800 AD . Only the limestone shaft and sandstone base survive. I love how a blackbird perched on the top of the broken shaft just as I took the photo ..
Next , let’s look at Temple Kelly: All that remains of this church are the low-lying perimeter stones, which still give a good indication of the church’s original size. And beside it Temple Ciarán: At 2.8 by 3.8 metres, the smallest church in Clonmacnoise. Traditionally presented as the grave site of St. Ciarán, excavations of the church unearthed the Clonmacnoise Crozier, but no saintly remains.
Let me show you one of the highlights of our visit , The Cross of the Scriptures. This 4-metre-high sandstone cross is one of the most skilfully executed of the surviving high crosses in Ireland, and of particular interest for its surviving inscription, which asks a prayer for Flann Sinna, King of Ireland, and Abbot Colmán who commissioned the cross. Both men were also responsible for the building of the Cathedral. The cross was carved from Clare sandstone around 900 AD . The surface of the cross is divided into panels, showing scenes including the Crucifixion, the Last Judgement, and Christ in the Tomb. The original was moved into the visitors’ centre in 1991 to preserve it from the elements; What we are looking at is actually a really well made replica .
Temple Rí , The King’s Church stands nearby and this building started around 909 . The west doorway has been recently restored with the Gothic-style north doorway, often called the Whispering Arch, dating to the mid-15th century. The Cathedral is the largest of the churches at Clonmacnoise. Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, was buried near the altar in 1198, joining his father Turlough.
Not far away stands Temple Melaghlin: This church was built around 1200. Also called the King’s Church, due to the fact that at least seven generations of Melaghlin Kings are said to be buried underneath the structure. The church is also believed to have housed the scriptorium, the room where the manuscripts were designed and decorated.
When we step outside we see the South Cross: A 9th-century piece originally situated at the southern end of the site’s central hub. It has one Christian scene on its west face, a rough carving of the Crucifixion of Christ. Many believe that the Cross may have been part inspiration for the later Cross of the Scriptures. Again, the original is in the interpretative centre, and what we are seeing is in fact a replica .
If you are beginning to get fatigued , don’t worry there are just a few more churches to see : Temple Dowling was originally built in the 10th century and this tiny church is named after Edmund Dowling, who renovated it in 1689, placing a stone carving of his family crest above the door. Beside it is Temple Hurpan. Built in the 17th century at the east end of Temple Dowling, this annexe had no religious function outside of being a burial ground for some members of the local parish.
I hope that you agree that we have been blessed with a clear day, little wind and blue skies!…. This place can be quite miserable when its wet . As the Visitor centre and cafe are closed we had better hit the road, and get home before darkness. I do hope that you enjoyed coming with me today and take care until the next time , Stephen