October 16, 2018

From Ennis to Athlone, via Clonmacnoise

ruins at Clonmacnoise

I originally wrote the date as the 15th but had to change it to the 16th because that is today’s date. But, if today is the 16th, then tomorrow is our last day in Ireland on this trip.

We had another good travel day. When we woke in Ennis the rain was just starting. We finished our packing—we are getting pretty good at it—and went out for breakfast. When we got back, it was time to leave for Clonmacnoise and Athlone.

Only the last part of the drive was on the smaller “R” roads, which was a good thing as we had rain on and off the whole way. We were on M and N roads (Motorways and National Roads) most of the time, but the last stretch to Clonmacnoise was on R roads (Regional or “risky”, or “requires repair”). “R” roads vary a lot in quality but they can all be characterized as narrow and twisty. They often have little in the way of shoulders and the hedges often reach the road surface. Cars are obligated to get out of the way of buses, which often fill 3/4ths of the road. Don’t even ask about the “L” (local) roads; those are the ones with grass growing in the middle.

Our history stop for today was at Clonmacnoise. It was begun in 544; for once they are pretty sure of the date. It was started by St. Ciarán (not to be confused with the other St. Ciarán). It sits at a “natural crossroads” where the River Shannon (Ireland’s longest river) intersects the glacial ridges called eskers. This is good news if you want a lot of people passing by that you can educate or trade with. On the other hand, the Vikings found the River Shannon to be a fine way to find rich places like Clonmacnoise to raid.

One of the Stone Towers at Clonmacnoise. This one, and the trees next to it, is occupied by a murder of crows. Boy, are they noisy.

Like so many other places with long histories, Clonmacnoise had to be rebuilt several times after fires and wars and raids. By the 13th century, it was declining and finally, in 1552, the English garrisoned at Athlone (less than 20 miles away) reduced it to a ruin.

Today there are the ruins of several churches/buildings of stone that remain standing. There is a tall stone tower that is now inhabited by a murder of crows. The burial ground is extensive. There are no visible traces of the buildings that would have surrounded the central site. There would have been many of these because Clonmacnoise would have been like a medium sized prosperous city.

[Part of the} burial ground at Clonmacnoise

The Office of Publics Works (OPW) is now responsible for the site. They built an exhibit facility and moved three of the most visible and important stone cross relics inside to preserve them and left “modern” copies outside. [At a casual look, I could not tell which were the originals and which were the copies.]

We watched a video which gave us some context and background and then we wandered about the grounds, looking and taking pictures. During the course of the visit the weather went from a soft drizzle to clearing skies to patches of bright sunlight. In the background, we could hear the shouts of many children from the nearby school. It added an element of life to the site and made it easier to imagine Clonmacnoise as an active community hundreds of years ago. Clonmacnoise is one of the most interesting sites we have visited in Ireland. We remarked to each other this afternoon that we say that about everything we have seen on the trip and it is true every single time. How can that be?

Here is a link to a Wikipedia article about Clonmacnoise: Article about Clonmacnoise and here is a link to a short YouTube video: Drone flyover of Clonmacnoise.

I have posted lots of pictures.

We are spending the night in nearby Athlone at a Sheraton Hotel, of all things. The hotel is modern and seems out of place in the town of Athlone. Patricia and I were surprised to find that the population is more than 21,000, because it has the feel of a much smaller place. Why, it is almost as large as Belvidere, IL, where I grew up.

The polygonal keep (the original Athlone “castle.” It is now within the curtain walls.

The town has been important for a very long time because it is possible to ford the River Shannon here. The ford was so important that a bridge was built and then a fort/castle was built in the 12th century to protect the bridge. That original bridge is now gone, but the castle remains. Athlone Castle has been modified over the years, but it still looks out over the river. Its courtyard still has cannons “guarding” the river.

Saints Peter and Paul church in Athlone

We walked from the Sheraton to the Castle, looking at the shops along the way. For the most part, the shops did not convey a sense of prosperity, but we were only out for an hour-and-a-half, so we can’t have seen even a small part of the city. Just north of the castle, and near the banks of the River Shannon, is an 80-year old church. It is called Peter and Paul, just like the Cathedral in Ennis. The church in Athlone is quite large inside and has some of the finest stained glass we have seen in any church we have visited.

Stained glass in Peter and Paul church in Athlone

Our walk in Athlone did not offer any restaurants that tempted us for dinner, but it turns out the restaurant in the Sheraton was better than OK. We ate there. Tomorrow we will drive to Brú na Bóinne to visits some megalithic tombs and on to the Dublin airport. We’ll turn in the car tomorrow afternoon and leave for Boston Thursday morning.

Here is today’s track…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.