The Midlands Travel Guide

The Midlands Sights


  • 5 km (3 miles) north of Shannonbridge Map It
  • Clonmacnoise
  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 01/20/2010

Fodor's Review

Thanks to its location, this legendary monastery survived almost everything thrown at it, including raids by feuding Irish tribes, Vikings, and Normans. But when the English garrison arrived from Athlone in 1552, they ruthlessly reduced the site to ruin. Still, with a little imagination, you can picture life here in medieval times, when the nobles of Europe sent their sons to be educated by the local monks. The monastery was founded on an esker (natural gravel ridge) overlooking the Shannon and a marshy area known as the Callows, a distinctive landscape of shallow waters and grassy meadowland on the river's floodplains, which overflows heavily during wet winters.

Numerous buildings and ruins remain. The small cathedral dates as far back as the 10th century but has additions from the 15th century. It was the burial place of kings of Connaught and of Tara, and of Rory O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland, who was buried here in 1198. The two Round Towers include O'Rourke's Tower,

which was struck by lightning and subsequently rebuilt in the 12th century. There are eight smaller churches, the littlest of which is thought to be the burial place of St. Ciaran. The Nun's Church's chancel arch and doorway is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. Set in a field on its own, a 10-minute walk from the main site, this serene church is the quietest place to experience some peace. The High Crosses have been moved into the visitor center to protect them from the elements (copies stand in their original places); the best preserved of these is the Cross of the Scriptures, also known as Flann's Cross. Some of the treasures and manuscripts originating from Clonmacnoise are now housed in Dublin, most at the National Museum. A 20-minute audiovisual presentation tells the history of the settlement in English, German, Italian, and French.

Clonmacnoise has always been a prestigious burial place. Among the ancient stones are many other graves dating from the 17th to the mid-20th century. The whole place is time-burnished, though in midsummer it can be difficult to avoid the throngs of tourists. There are 30-minute tours every hour during the summer season. The Shop at Clonmacnoise sells books, pottery, crafts, tweeds, and perfumes, and stocks tourist information.

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Sight Information


5 km (3 miles) north of Shannonbridge, 21 km (13 miles) south of Athlone, Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Ireland

Map It


090-967–4195; 090-967–4134 -for Shop at Clonmacnoise

Sight Details:

  • €8 (under 12 free)

Published 01/20/2010


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