Clonmacnoise Highlights (7)
The monastic site of Clonmacnoise lies in an idyllic location on the banks of the River Shannon. It was a strategic spot where the river, which was the main North-South route way, converged with the Eischir Riada, the major East–West land route through central Ireland. Soak up the atmosphere of this most peaceful of places as you learn more about the unique biodiversity of the Shannon Callows landscape. A visit to Clonmacnoise is a chance to experience a major hub of religion, learning, trade, craftsmanship and art at the island’s heart.
There are three beautifully decorated high crosses onsite. The North Cross, created c. AD 800 with iconography similar to that on the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow and bearing an image of the Celtic god Cernunnos, is the oldest of these. The South Cross depicts the crucifixion with the remainder of the cross covered in Celtic interlace. The spectacular Cross of the Scriptures, dating to 914 AD depicts scenes including the last day of Judgement and Christ in the Tomb; this cross is considered one of the most spectacular scripture crosses on the Island of Ireland. Experts suggest the crosses were originally painted. The original crosses are now on display in a purpose-built museum on site which you can view as part of your visit with replica crosses in the original locations outside.
Clonmacnoise is burial place to many of the high kings from East and West, kings from Tara and Connaught, and is also the burial place of Rory O’ Connor the last high king of Ireland, who is buried on the 10th Century Cathedral.
Include Temple Melaghlin (built c. 1200), one of the nine churches onsite, in your visit. This building is also known as Temple Rí or the Kings Church as it is the burial place of the Melaglin family, kings of Meath.
For centuries Clonmacnoise has inspired Ireland greatest literature from the Táin to Seamus Heaney. It is believed that Temple Melaghlin housed the scriptorium, where some of Ireland’s finest illuminated manuscripts were produced such as the Leabhair na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow) which contains the oldest version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
Clonmacnoise is home to the largest collection of early Christian grave slabs in western Europe. Those on display range in date from the early eighth century to the twelfth century and represent only a small proportion of those found here. Rectangular framed cross and ringed cross inscriptions are of a style unique to Clonmacnoise and provide a crucial link to the ordinary people who lived and worked here.
The Nun’s Church ranks amongst the finest examples of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture in Ireland. Admire the beautiful chancel arch and doorway. Another outstanding feature to look out for is the female exhibitionist carving on a voussoir of the chancel arch. Many people believe this is a Sheela-na-gig.
The Nuns Church is a short walk away from the main site and, as the name suggests, was the location of the nunnery of Clonmacnoise.
The kids will love to spill their secrets at the Whispering Arch, a 15th Century confessional on the exterior of the Cathedral.