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The Haunting Beauty of Clonmacnoise

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ClonMcnoise, in County Offaly Ireland is a captivating place, at once tragic and inspiring, with a haunting beauty that stays with you long after parting.

Ancient Castle Watches Over the Area

As you approach the site, the first thing you see is the 12th century castle.  Originally a fearsome obstacle to intruders, its bulwarks would have been crowned by sharpened timbers and possibly surrounded by a mote.  Age has since reduced the mighty structure to a ghost of its former self, and the shifting ground under its foundation has left the remaining stones with angles that seem to defy gravity. Nevertheless, the castle clings to the hillside in a geriatric attempt to watch over the area it once defended.

Fairy Tale Setting

You’d be hard put to find a prettier setting. To my left, the River Shannon sparkled in the afternoon sun, and on the right crumbling stone churches and tilting headstones sat, patiently waiting for the end of time. I was drawn to the cemetery, as I always am to suchplaces, and as I approached, felt an odd sense of unease. Goosebumps rising on my arms, I warily eyed the names on the grave markers – half convinced that I’d stumbled onto the burial place of a long lost ancestor.  Perhaps I had more company on this walk than I cared to think about.

But the more I learned about this former monastery, the more I understood the atmosphere here.  Perhaps it was nothing more than a sense of unfinished business, since this was a place where many lives ended before their time.


The Picture of Peace and Harmony

To see it now, Clonmacnoise is the picture of peace and harmony, but its history

belies that impression. Despite the humble aspirations of study and worship, life at the monastery was fraught with peril. The settlement was attacked forty times from the 8th to the 12th century, and was destroyed thirteen times by fire.

St Cirians Monastery

East of the castle is the remains of the monastery. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, eight churches, two round towers and three high crosses.

Another favorite spot is the whispering arch.  Once used as a confessional, it is said you can hear clearly through the stone wall. For centuries courting couples have stood on either side of the arch and whispered words of love.

Restoration Project


In recent years the site has been painstakingly restored and now stands as a monument to its former glory. While the humble ruins we see now, pale in comparison to what once was, in many ways they are even more compelling. 


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Guest Sunday, 15 September 2019
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