Our first real excursion out into the Irish countryside as we started traveling west from Dublin came on our second day in the nation. We'd spend tonight in Galway, all the way on the other side of the country. But we had some stops to make in between.
We'd seen an example of the super highways on the loop around Dublin. But what we were traveling today were more typical of the roads we'd see all the rest of our tour. We'd call these quaint lanes back home. But this is one of the National Highways in Ireland.
Our destination today was built at the crossroads of two very ancient travel ways. At the place where glacial eskers, or gravel ridges intersected with the Shannon River, longest river in Ireland. People walked east west on the eskers because they were dry and were lifted up above the surrounding bogs, and boated north and south on the Shannon, and met here where they intersected. And a monastery named Clonmacnoise was begun at this site by St. Ciaran in the mid 500s A.D.
St. Ciaran recognized the logistics of the crossroads and started a church here to take advantage of the masses of people who passed along one way or another at this spot. But monasteries were popular targets for plunder in those ages. And Clonmacnoise had its share, being plundered some 30 times before the 1100's.
And yet the arts and literature flourished here. And Irish royalty came to the rescue. King Flann endowed royal patronage to Clonmacnoise in its halcyon years, the 900s, about the time the Cross of the Scriptures was carved. This Celtic cross wasn't a grave marker, but a teaching tool with illustrations of Bible events: the crucifixion and Roman Soldiers gamboling for Jesus' clothes for example, carved in relief on its faces.
The ruins of the buildings at Clonmacnoise are too numerous and span too great a period of time to go into in any great detail about. But the towers were built in the 1100s and the last structures here was erected in the early 1700s. Now that was the last buildings built at Clonmacnoise. By contrast, the Krebs House in Pascagoula, the oldest house in, not only Mississippi, but the Mississippi valley, was built about 1725. So, in other words, about the time we were just starting, Clonmacnoise was wrapping up.
Later that day, we had tea at a sheep farm and had our pictures taken beside a peat fire burning in the fireplace of an Irish farmhouse with a thatched roof and then ambled on into Galway for the night. But memories of the old monastery we'd seen would flit through our minds as we dozed off that evening, mindful of how old this place is, and how young we felt in comparison.
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