Chronologically, when we last left off, we had just survived (barely) the Bus Ride From Hell on the way back from Dublin. Just when I thought I couldn't go on much longer, we pulled up to the ruins of Clonmacnoise.
Clonmacnoise is the ruins of a monastery/settlement built at an ancient crossroads in the center of Ireland. Founded in 546, the monastery led to a settlement that was instrumental in trade, craft, and religion in early Ireland. It's been sacked something like 30+ times, but some of original buildings are still standing.
That tower in the background was built as part of the original fortifications after the Vikings figured out their signature longboats and started sailing up the River Shannon to raid Clonmacnoise.
The gravestones here look ancient, but the oldest here dates only to the 18th century. The graves, however, the actual bodies buried centuries ago by the ancient Irish, date back to the founding of the monastery. The ground is considered holy by the Catholic Church, so excavation has been very limited.
The forest of gravestones cover almost the entire grounds, hundreds of them--including a modern section that contains hundreds of graves from the past couple decades. The guide said there could be 50-100 actual graves per gravestone, which means that tens of thousands of people are buried at Clonmacnoise, from pilgrims to Vikings to monks to peasants to kings.
This Celtic Cross stands in front of the entrance to one of the newer monasteries ("newer" meaning only a thousand years old). This is only a replica, because the real one is inside, but the carvings of Biblical scenes are true to the original. On this side, several scenes with Roman centurions are depicted, but in the last, the Roman centurions are mysteriously replaced with warriors that look suspiciously like Vikings.
We spent several hours here in the afternoon, just wandering around and observing, hushed, the ruins of the monastery and the gravestones. The River Shannon was calm and low that day, and a light breeze was blowing in off the water. There were some cows grazing down by the river.
One of the ancient monastery walls has a gate on it with some intricate stonework. If you whisper into one side, the sound travels down the channel and another person on the other side can hear it. You can have whole whisper conversations without anyone, even someone standing a few feet away, hearing it. The guide said there is a legend that the Whisper Gate is a confession box for Catholics that couldn't enter the monastery for various reasons.
The graveyard extend beyond the back of the monastery and all the way down to the edge of the holy grounds. The weather was beautiful that day, and we enjoyed it all the more because we were out of that hellish bus.
This is the original Celtic Cross that was moved inside to keep it safe from the elements. I'm not sure why they decided they needed it, since it stood outside for a thousand years and appears to be fine, but with the light on it and the carvings in sharp relief, it does look pretty majestic.
And that's Clonmacnoise! The ruins felt ancient beyond belief, and it felt good to get off the bus and stretch our legs. Luckily, once we got back on the bus, there was no more accordion--apparently there were some pretty vehement complaints. We got back to Galway that night, exhausted and dirty, but satisfied. We had a good first weekend trip.
Alright, back to the present. Sorry this took so long to put up. Tune in next time to hear about our trips to the Connemara Marble Quarry and the Aran Islands.