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Clonmacnoise, overlooking the River Shannon, houses holy relics

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 30th, 2011
Catholic Online (

Clonmacnoise, which in Gaelic translates to Cluain Mhic Nois, "meadow of the sons of Nos" is a monastic site that overlooks the River Shannon in County Offaly. The ruins, located on sprawling grounds include a cathedral, castle, round tower, numerous churches, two important high crosses, and a large collection of early Christian grave slabs.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Founded in 548 by St. Ciaran, the son of a master craftsman Clonmacnoise soon became a major center of religion, learning, trade, craftsmanship and politics. Its location was a major benefit, lying at the major crossroads of the River Shannon and the gravel ridges of the glacial eskers.

The settlement also benefited from the patronage of powerful provincial kings. Originally associated with Connacht, from the 9th to 11th centuries Clonmacnoise was allied with Meath. In the late 11th and 12th centuries, allegiance reverted once again to Connacht. The last high king of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, was buried in Clonmacnoise's cathedral in 1198.

Clonmacnoise always had a large lay population and looked more like a town than a monastery. The earliest churches at Clonmacnoise were made of wood, in the manner of the out buildings that were once there, but from the 10th century onward they were built of stone.

Clonmacnoise was plundered on several occasions by invaders, including the Vikings and Anglo-Normans, falling into decline from the 13th century onwards until it was destroyed in 1552 by the English garrison from nearby Athlone. Clonmacnoise was designated a national monument in 1877 and is now overseen by the Office of Public Works.

Visitors to the site today will notice a large round tower, built in 1124 by Turlough O'Connor and O'Malone. The tower was struck by lightning in 1135 and the present top is of a later date. The doorway is well above ground level, faced with rectangular limestone blocks.

The largest of the many churches at Clonmacnoise is the Cathedral, originally built in 909 by the King of Tara and the Abbot of Clonmacnoise. The brown sandstone of the original building can be seen in the north wall.

In the 1450s, an elaborate vault was added over the east end which is now ruined. An inscription above the north door attributes these improvements to Odo, dean of Clonmacnoise, who died in 1461. The doorway features fine carvings of Sts. Dominic, Patrick and Francis.

Preserved in the museum and replaced with a replica in its original position is the South Cross, standing about 12 feet high. It is thought to date from the early 9th century and its style is related to the Ahenny group of crosses.

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