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Photographer's Note

Pictured here are some of the buildings and gravestones of Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly.

Clonmacnoise is a ruined monastic site on the banks of the River Shannon. It is of great importance in Irelands history. Its name stems from Cluain Mhic Nóis, meaning The Meadow of the Sons of Nós. It was founded in the year 543 by St Ciaran.

Ciaran was born in 516 in Roscommon, son of a chariot maker and he is known as one of the 12 apostles of Ireland. He studied in Clonard in Co Meath, and after his studies he went on to become a teacher himself. When he left Clonard in 534 he travelled to Inismor, the largest of the Aran islands off Irelands west coast. It was here that he was ordained a priest under St Enda.

St Enda was the one who told Ciaran to found a church and a monastery in the centre of Ireland.

Ciaran initially settled slightly further north, but in 543 founded Clonmacnoise. While it is known today for its variety of stone churches and towers, Ciaran never saw these built as one year later, he died of yellow plague which had already claimed almost half the population of Europe.

This area was considered to be a cross roads in Ireland. From east to west, visitors would cross the river Shannon here as they travelled from Dublin to the west of the country. Its strategic location saw it become a major centre of religious learning and craftsmanship as well as trade. By the 9th century it was among the most well known places in Ireland. Scholars from all across Europe travelled to Clonmacnoise to study.

Perhaps one of this places most notable students was Alcuin of York. He went on to become the private tutor of Charlemagne, generally considered to be the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Clonmacnoise saw its main growth from the 8th to the 12th centuries during which the wooden structures came to be replaced with stone buildings. Its population soared to almost 2000 people and it began to create fine treasures in bronze and gold as well as elaborate art works and stone carvings. As is always the way though, such art and treasure brought bloodshed and murder. During these four centuries, the site was attacked 27 times by the Irish, 7 times by Vikings and 6 times by Normans. Each time brought massive desctruction, but each time the men who lived here rebuilt and continued.

In the 12th century, its fortunes changed and the site began a steady decline. The nearby town of Athlone had began to grow considerably, and became the main centre of trading in the midlands. People began to relocate in Athlone from Clonmacnoise and the importance in the site fell rapidly. Important alliances with local lords and kings began to fail as the influence of Clonmacnoise waned. IN addition to this, many new religious orders had arrived from Europe including the Franciscans, Augustinians and Benedictines and more and more competing religious sites began to appear around the country.

In 1552 it was utterly destroyed by the English troops garrisoned in Athlone and lay as a ruin for many hundreds of years.

In Victorian times, local wealthy families enjoyed the site as a place to picnic, leaning against the ancient graves while enjoying their dainty delicacies. Finally, it was handed over to the Office of Public works who carried out carried considerable conservation works to restore the site and make it the place we know today. In 1979 Pope John Paul II made Clonmacnoise a stop on his visit to Ireland and held mass here.

The site is known for its cathedral, many churches and round towers, as well as the impressive array of detailed grave slabs and high crosses.

The most celebrated crosses here are Cross of the Scriptures, a 4 metre high sandstone cross and which dates from the 9th century as well as the North Cross, the oldest on this site and dating to the 8th century. These are considered among the most important high crosses in Ireland. Interestingly, the decoration of the North Cross is not Christian, but instead depicts an image of Cernunnos, the Celtic god of hunting.

The most prominent building we can see in this picture is Temple Rí (the Kings Church) and behind that we can see some of the main Cathedral.

The many gravestones scattered around here feature a fascinating insight into Irish history, and many feature the names of Irelands great warrior families.

Some of the greatest and most beautiful artifacts of early Irish art and of irish stone and metal work are associated with the site, including the Cross of the Scriptures and the Clonmacnoise Crozier which is on display at the National Museum of Ireland.

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Additional Photos by Noel Byrne (Noel_Byrne) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2507 W: 12 N: 5950] (20694)
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