Offaly Tourism: Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise

The monastery of Clonmacnoise is located in Offaly on the River Shannon south of Athlone.  The monastery was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise.  The monastery became a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship, and trade by the 9th century and together with Clonard it was the most famous in Ireland, visited by scholars from all over Europe.

Shortly after his arrival with eight companions – at the point where the major east-west land route through the bogs of central Ireland along the Eiscir Riada, an esker or moraine left by the receding glaciers of the last ice age crossed the River Shannon – Saint Ciarán met Diarmait mac Cerbaill who helped him build the first church at the site.  This was a small wooden structure and the first of many small churches to be clustered on the site.  Diarmuid was to claim the title of the first Christian High King of Ireland.  Ciaran died around one year later of yellow plague and was buried reputedly in the building known as Temple Ciaran; he was in his early thirties.  Clonmacnoise was frequently attacked by the Vikings, Normans and Irish forces.  All of the early buildings on the site were made of wood and have not survived.  When Clonmacnoise became a bishopric from the tenth century onwards they were replaced with stone structures.  The monastery also produced many fine examples of Celtic gold and silverware which is preserved in Dublin museums.  The monastery fell into decline after the 12th century.  The Normans built a castle next to the monastery in the 13th century and the whole settlement was finally sacked in 1552 by an English garrison from Athlone which reduced it to a ruin.  Clonmacnoise was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979.

The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches (10th-13th centuries), two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian grave slabs in Western Europe.  The original high crosses and a selection of grave slabs are on display in the visitor centre.  The long and varied history of Clonmacnoise is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the visitor centre.  There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna and landscape of the region.  Clonmacnoise is located 13 miles south of Athlone signposted from the N62.

Athlone Town Centre

Athlone is located close to the geographical centre of Ireland, and it acts as the commercial capital of the Irish Midlands.  Athlone is a natural hub for transport, with frequent bus and rail schedules.  Athlone railway station services the Galway to Dublin and the Dublin to Westport lines.  Bus Éireann operates beside the train station and covers most towns and cities in the country, including an hourly service to Dublin and Galway.  Athlone is located on the M6 motorway which connects Galway with Dublin.  The River Shannon runs through Athlone and the town is a popular spot for people passing through in pleasure craft, many of whom stop off at the marinas.  Athlone is the main retail centre in the Midlands, the two notable retail hubs in the town are The Golden Island Shopping Centre and the more recent Athlone Town Centre.

Guided tours facilitate a maximum of 60 people and last for half an hour.  Annual seasonal events include the annual Church of Ireland Open-Air service on the last Sunday in July, and the annual St. Ciarán’s Pattern Day in the third Sunday in September.  Clonmacnoise is open from November to mid March daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm, from mid March to mid May daily from 10 am to 6 pm, from mid May to mid September daily from 9 am to 7 pm, and from mid September to October daily from 10 am to 6 pm.  The admission fee is €6 for an adult, €4 for a senior citizen and/or a group, €2 for a child and/or a student, and €14 for a family.  A restaurant and toilets are also located on site.  For more information visit the website at heritageireland.ie/en/midlandseastcoast/clonmacnoise.

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