Clonmacnoise is located in the center of Ireland in County Offaly, at the crossroads where a principal east-west trade route crosses the principal north-south river, the River Shannon. It is about 12 miles from Athlone town and from Ballinasloe in County Galway. It is 7km N of the nearest village of Shannonbridge, on R444. The Celtic name for Clonmacnoise is "Cluain Mhic Nois" (meadow of the sons of Nos).
In 548 AD, Saint Ciaran, with eight followers, began establishment of his own monastery, known as Clonmacnoise. He built the first church there with help by Prince Diarmuid mac Cerbaill, who was later crowned the first Christian High King of Ireland. St. Ciaran died of yellow plague at age 33, soon after he founded the settlement. Clonmacnoise was situated between the provinces of Meath and Connacht, and at various periods of history was aligned with both provinces. Clonmacnoise benefited from the patronage of powerful provincial kings, and several Irish kings are buried here, including the last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, buried in 1198.
The earliest churches, houses and domestic buildings were made of wood and have not survived. Churches were built of stone from the 10th century. Most of the surviving buildings were founded from 900 to 1200 AD. One church, Temple Connor, built about 1200 AD, is still intact and used by the Church of Ireland, where Mass is served on special occasions, one being a visit by the Pope.
From the 8th through 10th centuries, monks and scribes from all over Europe came to Clonmacnoise to study and pray, and it was referred to as "Island of Saints and scholars". They learned skills which led to world-renowed works, such as the Books of Kells and Durrow and Book of the Dun Cow.
Clonmacnoise was destroyed by fire several times and plundered on several occasions by invaders, including 8 attacks over three centuries by the Vikings. It was attacked over 30 times by various Irish kings and Anglo-Norman kings, and rebuilt each time by the monks. It fell into decline from the 13th century until 1552, when English soldiers from nearby Athlone garrison looted and destroyed Clonmacnoise. By the end of that century the churches were in ruins and it was 300 years before another monastery existed in Ireland.
Clonmacnoise, sometimes called "seven churches", was designated a national monument in 1877 and taken over by the state to maintain. In 1955 the Church of Ireland gave the graveyard and remaining buildings to the state. Clonmacnoise is presently overseen by the Office of Public Works.
A heritage center and museum, located near the Clonmacnoise carpark, contains a reconstruction of a wooden building where crosses were carved. It also houses original High Crosses, including the Cross of the Scriptures, South Cross and the shaft of the North Cross. Replicas of these high crosses were erected in their original positions within Clonmacnoise. Also on display are several early Christian graveslabs from the 8th - 12th centuries, which are carved with crosses and Celtic designs and inscribed with the names of the deceased. The museum also contains an audiovisual timeline of the site.
There is no public transportation to Clonmacnoise. One needs their own car/hire car, or it is possible to arrange a private tour or to join a bus tour to the site. It is also possible, at times, to travel there by boat on the River Shannon.
The memorials recorded here are from both the "old cemetery" and the adjoining "new cemetery" which was opened in the 1950s.
- Added: 24 Oct 2001
- Find A Grave Cemetery: #859699
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