When you close your eyes and picture Ireland, what do you see? If the answer includes round towers and high crosses, then you'll want to be sure Clonmacnoise in County Offaly is part of your Ireland itinerary.
Located in the heart of Ireland at what once was a major crossroads where the north/south route of the River Shannon crossed the east/west route through Ireland's bogs, Clonmacnoise was a mojor center of religion, learning and trade. Today you'll find extensive remains of churches and temples, three high crosses, two round towers and even castle ruins just outside the grounds. It's a wonderful place to stop during your Ireland family vacation as the grounds are extensive and open and the interpretive center is interesting for children as young as 5.
Clonmacnoise is under the care of the Office of Public Works (OPW) and does carry an entry fee. If you plan to visit a few sites under the care of the OPW, you may want to consider purchasing an OPW Heritage Pass, as it can really save you money.
As it was a major pilgrimage site and continues to be visited to this day by pilgrims and tour buses alike, you'll find Clonmacnoise easily. If you take the N6 between Dublin and Limerick or Galway, you'll be very near by.
The visitor's center offers plenty of history on the site, including a short film, paintings and interesting tidbits to help even young kids understand the importance of the area.
The high crosses now stand indoors, out of the elements, and you can get very near to them to really study their carvings. The Cross of the Scriptures is 13 feet tall and absolutely magnificent. You'll also see grave slabs dating back to the 8th century, many of which are still legible.
Round Towers and High Crosses
While you can explore the grounds and visitor's center in whichever order you would like, I find it helpful to learn a bit in the visitor's center before wandering the site.
The immediate settlement of Clonmacnoise is surrounded by a stone wall. As you approach from the visitor's center, you see two of the high crosses standing before the cathedral with one round tower at the left. Further exploration reveals the small temples, including the Temple Ciarán where Saint Ciarán, founder of Clonmacnoise, is reportedly laid to rest, as well as a more complete round tower at the edge of the River Shannon. The Nuns' Church is outside the walled site but well worth the stroll for its beautiful Romanesque ruins.
If you are exploring the heart of Ireland and County Offaly, I recommend Ardmore House B&B in Kinnitty.