Ireland: County Offaly, River Shannon and Clonmacnoise – A Day Away from Dublin.
Guidebook in the car, map pre-marked in yellow our day trip target Clonmacnoise, one of Ireland’s most significant ancient monastic sites not far from Shannon Bridge and the edgy, earth-friendly sculpture park at Lough Boora.
To be efficient with time, I reviewed the route planner from the Discover Ireland website before we left our hotel, making notes on our tourist road map. Our early morning route away from Dublin was direct on the M-6, one round about and no distractions until Moate. Our return through Birr, Kilcormac, and Tullamore was not quite as simple (Road construction who knew?), but it was rewarding so, no matter.
For anyone who enjoys following the threads and anchor points of early Christian efforts this is a rewarding spot. The modern day complex contains a walled area which connects on one side with the River Shannon. Within the gray stone walls the remains of seven churches, three high crosses, two imposing towers and too many grave stones and grave slabs to count. The collage provides a picture of the earliest of Christian communities in Ireland. I am getting ahead of myself.
I addition to the general tourist centre at Clonmacnoise the destination there is an innovative reception centre and museum dedicated to the history of Clonmacnoise – the monastic site. That is where our adventure really beg
an. Arriving just prior to opening we were ahead of the coaches and field trip vans and thus had about an hour before the crowds of the day began to populate the site. Explaining the museum.
Three conical huts create the museum and provide artistic and historic explanations recreating multiple timelines based on ongoing excavations and work. The 20-minute audio visual film offers a useful introduction to the site. There is nothing tedious about the interpretations making it an enjoyable experience for any age. For parents of young children it is easy to make practical connections with reality. It is obvious the earliest residents of Clonmacnoise were sturdy in the strictest sense. Monastic life was not just difficult, it was nearly impossible. The displays inside contain artifacts from excavations made on site and include stoneware, beaded glass, silver, pins, wooden carvings, and a Celtic Ogham stone. Bonus points:
There are also displays explaining the flora, fauna and landscape of the marshy surrounding area known as Shannon Callows which is now a refuge for many of the island’s most endangered plants. Discovery: This is the spot where 2000-year old "Croghan Man" was discovered in 2003. Outside is the real treasure.
This is a beautiful place to spend time imagining and contemplating. We walked the complex reading the grave markers and following the rim walls of the ruins. The most memorable building is the cathedral dating from 900 A.D. with its 15th century Gothic archway and carvings. At this archway visitors try the doorway whisper to verify one of the ancient tales that claims lepers whispered their confessions from a safe distance so as not to harm the priest. The wind made it impossible for us to verify the claim however it makes sense. The Cross of Scriptures is imposing, dramatic, and humbling. Both the North Cross and the South Cross erected before the cathedral have intricate carvings each with unique stories and symbolism - really cool stuff. Over the wall and down the lane.
After sitting for a while near the open-air worship shelter we were compelled to go over the wall and down the lane to the Nun’s Church. We found marvelous Romanesque arches complete with sensitive carvings framed by vines and wild flowers. The view of the River Shannon, bogs, and the Clonmacnoise complex is lovely and worth the ten-minute walk. While there, I met a young family from Glasgow and watched as they produced stone rubbings. Iam, the 10-year-old, had a notebook with more than a dozen from Clonmacnoise proper - an excellent idea to engage kids in history. Need to know: The open-air shelter is the location of concerts and special worship services throughout the year. Make time for Lough Boora Parklands.
Ireland embraces the work of sculptures and allows their work to appear in open spaces, along roadsides, in office park, and town squares but nowhere is art more concentrated that at Lough Boora in the heart of the country. It is the perfect complement to a visit to Clonmacnoise. As if challenging the artists of Kilkenny, this well-juried field exhibition is remarkable. On a scale of one to 10 it is +17. Combing art and earth, the sculptors have been able to successfully create one-of-a-kind “Wows” in harmony with the ever changing environment.
My favorites include Martina Galvin’s series of pools carved into the bog providing a real time macro versus micro view of the world and Naomi Seki’s Douglas fir with birch connecting manmade with nature. Even an hour touring the installation will provide creative inspiration - a bonus for anyone in a funk and the uniqueness will definitely be topics for conversation for days. This sculpture park is meant to been seen and touched by visitors making it heaven for parents with high-energy curious kids. Bonus points:
While our purpose was the art, the general Lough Boora Parklands complex offers miles of hiking and biking trails, fishing spots and picnic areas.
Planning Details and Things to Do with Kids.Clonmacnoise Ruins.
At the site there is a small café serving limited but tasty entrees. Shannonbridge, Athlone, County Offaly. (0)90 967 4195 or Clonmacnoise Heritage Site
Lough Boora Parklands & Sculpture Park.
Located in County Offaly between Tullamore, Birr and Clonmacnoise. It’s best to use Google maps to get directions. Boora West Offaly Ireland. (0)57 9345978 or www.loughbooraparklands.com and www.sculptureintheparklands.com A festival worth the effort.
Each summer Intimate Music Festival is held near Shannonbridge. Set in both indoor and outdoor locations the sponsors offer a series of live concerts at the Old Fort on the banks of the River Shannon, workshops and programs for children, and lively Irish entertainment. Bonus points:
One of the outdoor concert locations is Clonmacnoise. For details call (0)90 967 4205.We missed the bogs.
Our original plan was to combine Clonmacnoise with West Offaly Railway Bog Tour. We missed the train (I have no good excuse.). I am including mention because the family I met from Glasgow loved the trip. Here’s the scoop. From April through September it is possible to take a five-mile, 45-minute, narrow-gauge railway excursion to Blackwater Bog. The narrated trip includes a bog cutting and according to my 10-year old source bog touching. The best part is riding the train. West Offaly Railway & Bog Tour Bord Na Móna, Blackwater near Shannonbridge. ( 0) 90 57 4114, 74172, 74121 or West Offaly Railway & Bog Tour
For area bog information try (0) 90 967 4450 or www.bnm.ie Need to know.
Also in the area, Ireland National Parks and Wildlife Service is developing an interpretive center at Clara Bog. It is scheduled to open sometime in 2011. Tourism Ireland.
For more details go to www.ireland.ie/offaly
or for local community information try www.offaly.ie Content and images provided by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Editor FTF. Based on a recent trip to Ireland with her two daughters. Sculpture image Martina Galvin’s Earth & Sky provided by Lough Boora Sculpture Park. Copyright 2011.