Clonmacnoise is situated on the banks of the river Shannon, once a strategic point of embarkation for chieftains who would leave their boats and travel inland to Hill of Tara seat of the ancient High Kings of Ireland. Saint Ciaran founded a monastery here in 6th century which then became a place of reverence and excellence in learning that typifies that period in Irish history, when Ireland was known as the Land of Saints and Scholars. Highly skilled, the monks created illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells and intricately elaborate metalwork crosiers and chalices such as the Ardagh Chalice that were inlaid with precious stones. The Vikings targeted these settlements when they arrived at the end of the 9th century which led to the building of the round towers. Notice the doorway is high up, the idea being, that the monks could escape up there with their treasures and pull up the ladder behind them. The site today consists of two round towers, a cathedral, seven ruined churches, three high crosses, and a heli-pad?
Yes, this is a very popular site not just with visiting dignitaries like the pope, similar to Glendalough. So expect big crowds at Clonmacnoise during the summer months, indeed it is busy all year round. And it can be really annoying in what should be a quiet and holy place, to be listening to loud people yacking away on their mobile phones, while you are trying to absorb the spiritual feel of the place. Thankfully, there are dozens of similar less well known sites, complete with round towers, churches, high crosses and all, throughout the country, like Kilmacduagh, County Galway or Kilfenora , County Clare, which you most likely will have to yourself. You can pick up the key from the house opposite and go off and explore it on your own....
10 other things to do and see near Clonmacnoise....
1 Clonfert Cathedral a 30 minute drive in the direction of Banagher was founded by St Brendan the Navigator in the 6th century.
2 The West Doorway is the finest example of Romanesque architecture in Ireland.
3 Follow in the Monks footsteps by strolling through the 1000 year old Yew Walkway.
4 Leave a wish at the Prayer Tree like 1000s of pilgrims before you.
5 Shannon Harbour links the Grand Canal to the River Shannon via a small channel, it used to be a very busy trading hub when the waterways carried the bulk of passenger and cargo traffic. It is now a quiet backwater and safe mooring place for pleasure craft.
6 Bullock Island just a short walk from the 36th lock is part of the Shannon Callows an area of special preservation for endangered species such as the Corncrake. It is a birdwatcher paradise with migratory birds overwintering and otters playing along the riverbank.
7 A cousin of Anne Boylen is buried in nearby Garrycastle, now in ruins.
8 Tissaran, Moystown is the burial site of 1000s of Midlands people who died in the Gorta Mor or Great Famine which started in 1845 due to the failure of the potato crop.
9 Belmont Mill is a privately owned and impeccably restored, by German craftsmen, grain mill which is open to the public during the summer or by special appointment at other times.
10 Lough Boora hire a bike or walk about this beautiful Midlands sculpture park situated in a preserved area of bogland, its rich biodiversity boasts an unrivalled amount of flora and fauna, wonderful day out and highly recommended.