Clonmacnoise is an ancient monastic site located on the eastern bank of the River Shannon, in Shannonbridge, County Offaly. The monastery was originally founded in 544, by St Ciaran. By the 9th century owing to its strategic location the monastery grew to become an important centre of religion, learning, craftsman and trade and was one of the most famous in Ireland and visited by scholars from all over Europe. It even served as the burial site of many of the high kings of Tara and Connaught. A number of historic manuscripts were written here, not least the 11th century Annals of Tighernach and 12th century Book of the Dun Cow.
Today all that remains of the monastery is a preserved ruin. But within the surrounding stone walls there are other edifice’s, visitors can see three high crosses, a cathedral, seven churches, dating from the 10th to 13th century, two round towers and the bigest collection of early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe, all in astonishingly good condition. The beautifully preserved structures of Clonmacnoise Cathedral, Temple Doolin, Temple Hurpan and Temple Melaghlin will astound and impart on those who visit Clonmacnoise a genuine sense of the history of Ireland. The original three high crosses are housed in the interpretive centre behind glass cases, replicas stand in their places in the grounds.
Within the grounds is an interpretive centre where you can delve deeper into the intriguing history of Clonmacnoise, the audio-visual presentation recounts the long and varied history of Clonmacnoise. On display there are a number of cross slabs and the 9th century Cross of the Scriptures. In addition there are exhibits on the flora, fauna and landscapes of the area. The graveyard that surrounds the site is still used. Today there is a modern chapel on the site where regular religious services are held.
Clonmacnoise is open daily throughout the year. It serves as a place of historical significance as well as being a popular tourist attraction, as you walk amongst the peaceful ruins of this famous site you get a sense of how life was for the scholars who came here to learn. There is an air of mystery about the place.