Tuesday, October 4, 2016


 This is postwhich Brad wrote for our academic blog about our trip to Clonmacnoise. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva. 

Be sure to check out his YouTube account in a few days for a video of our trip and its adventures.

Note from Elizabeth: I just wanted to give some backstory with the adventure we had getting to Clonmacnoise. On our way there, we crossed from Galway into County Offaly which also mean we went from the province of Connacht to Leinster. In order to do that we had to cross over the famous River Shannon which separates the eastern and western provinces. We crossed at the town of Shannonbridge where the River Shannon had a island in it.
The left-hand side

The right-hand side
 We went through this neat grove.
 Then we came to an abrupt stop. For the first time since we've been in Ireland animals blocked the road significantly, bringing us to a halt. I snapped this pictures before I videoed the incident. These three cows blocked the road then ran past us so we started moving again when more cows ran out onto the road. This happened once more before we could get by. It was hilarious. Unfortunately, before this delay we were late for our appointment at Clonmacnoise and this only made us later.
Cows on the loose!
 This is an old abandoned building. A common sight in Ireland, especially in the west.
We finally arrived on Clonmacnoise fifteen minutes late, tumbled from the bus and went on our tour. The post below is what Brad summarized what we learned.

Clonmacnoise is one of the most famous monasteries in Ireland, and also one of the best-kept ruins. It was founded in the 6th century by a guy named Saint Ciaran. Clonmacnoise was one of the most important monasteries of its day, but as years went on, it became less and less relevant. One of the main reasons it was so important was because of its location. The monastery is situated right on the border of the ancient provinces of Meath and Connacht. It is because of this placement between these two kingdoms that it gained the support of the kings of both of them. 

Not only is the location good in this aspect, but it is also built right alongside the most popular highway of its day. This is not a highway that we think of today, but it is a river. Clonmacnoise is settled right on the banks of the River Shannon which was the most important north-south trade route of its day. On the other side of the monastery, perpendicular to the river, there is also a large esker that was formed after the last ice age. This was a large hill which provided safe ground amid the surrounding bogs. It acted as a highway from Dublin to Galway. Because Clonmacnoise was located at the intersection of these two main "highways," it was a particularly important monastery.

One odd thing about this monastery is the height of the round tower. Every monastery in Ireland has some kind of tall, round tower in the compound. The round tower at Clonmacnoise is one of the best-kept ruins of all the round towers in Ireland, except that it is missing the pointed cap. The thing about this round tower is that it is not very tall. For most monasteries, the more important it is, the taller the tower will be. All historians agree that Clonmacnoise was a very important monastery, but they do not know why their round tower is not nearly as tall as other monasteries (only about half the height of the tallest round tower in Ireland). One idea of why this one is so short is that in the past, the top half had been broken off in a storm and rebuilt as another small round tower separate from the original. This is only an idea, but would explain why the round tower is very small for how important this monastery was.
The round tower

Many people thought that round towers were used as lookout tower or a place of refuge during attacks, but is not the case. It originally had a bell in the cap point that they used as a bell tower for the community. One thing that is very noticeable on all round towers around Ireland is how the door always a couple of meters off the ground. This is because the round towers did not have a deep base structure underneath and the first couple meters above the ground are the structure that gives the tower strength. The door can not start until above the base or else that would take away from the strength it needed. 

The second, smaller round tower.

Another big part of the Clonmacnoise monastery are the high crosses. The entire grounds of the monastery is filled with stones crosses marking burial places, but three of these stone crosses are much bigger and noticeable than the rest. That is because these high crosses are not tombstones to represent where people are buried. In all of Ireland, there are 70 high crosses left in existence. Three of which are at Clonmacnoise. At one point in time, there was one more high cross at Clonmacnoise, but that one was not preserved. These four high crosses would have made a square around the main cathedral in the monastery and would be the border for the holiest part of the compound. 

The three high crosses that are still intact are now inside the exhibit building at Clonmacnoise the keep them safe from outdoor elements. There are three exact replicas of these high crosses in the place of the originals surrounding the cathedral. When they excavated the original high crosses to bring them indoors, they found deep holes filled with sand underneath the stone base. This lead historians to believe the stone crosses were replacements for wooden crosses that were originally placed in the four corners around that cathedral. Obviously, the wood has disintegrated over the years, but the deep holes give evidence for them. 

The most popular high cross is this pictorial one called the Cross of the Scriptures. It has scenes from the Bible carved into each face. This likely would have been used by the monks as a way to teach the scriptures.
The Cross of the Scriptures
 The South cross was carved with Celtic designs and symbols and is probably older than the Cross of the Scriptures.
The South Cross
 The oldest of them all is the North cross. This one only has the shaft of the cross left.
The North Cross

These stone crosses have no paint on them today, but it is believed that they were painted when they were originally built. There are other similar high crosses around Europe that still have residence of paint on them and historians believe that the high crosses at Clonmacnoise would be the same. The bright colors painted on the cross would make them a main point of the entire monastery. Not only were the painted, but they are also engraved with pictures. These engravings have been worn down a lot over the years, but you can still make out what they originally were. Some of the pictures are quite obvious about what they depict, such as the crucifixion scene, but others are left up to debate as they are not as obvious a scene from the Bible. 

One other cool thing at Clonmacnoise is the whispering arch that leads into the cathedral that one person can whisper into one side of the arch, and someone with their ear to the other side can hear them. Some believe that this is an old version of a confession box used by Catholics today, but this is only a far fetched theory. 
The whispering arch

The cathedral

There is also a cemetery on the outside of the Clonmacnoise monastery. Every plot in it has already been purchased. Many people believed that being burned in the monastery grounds was a free pass to heaven, and they would pay a lot of money to get in there. Once the monastery area was closed to burial, they started another cemetery right outside that people still pay to be buried there in hope to get a free pass into heaven. 
The cemetery on the Clonmacnoise grounds and the new one beyond.


  1. Did the Celtic Christians at Clonmacnoise ever burn their dead?

  2. Did the Celtic Christians at Clonmacnoise ever burn their dead?

  3. The high crosses are beautiful, and the whispering arch is fascinating!