1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clonmacnoise

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CLONMACNOISE, one of the most noteworthy of the numerous early religious settlements in Ireland, on the river Shannon, in King’s county, 9 m. S. of Athlone. An abbey was founded here by St Kieran in 541, which as a seat of learning gained a European fame, receiving offerings, for example, from Charles the Great, whose companion Alcuin the scholar received part of his education from the great teacher Colcu at Conmacnoise. Several books of annals were compiled here, and the foundation became the seat of a bishopric, but it was plundered and wasted by the English in 1552, and in 1568 the diocese was united with that of Meath. The most remarkable literary monument of Clonmacnoise is the Book of the Dun Cow, written about 1100, still preserved (but in an imperfect form) by the Royal Irish Academy, and containing a large number of romances. It is a copy of a much earlier original, which was written on the skin of a favourite cow of St Kieran, whence the name of the work. The full title of the foundation is the “Seven Churches of Clonmacnoise,” and remains of all these are extant. The Great Church, though rebuilt by a chief named McDermot, in the 14th century, retains earlier remains in a fine west doorway; the other churches are those of Fineen, Conor, St Kieran, Kelly, Melaghlin and Dowling. There are two round towers; O’Rourke’s, lacking the roof, but occupying a commanding situation on rising ground, is dated by Petrie from the early 10th century, and stands 62 ft. in height; and McCarthy’s, attached to Fineen’s church, which is more perfect, but rather shorter, and presents the unusual feature of a doorway level with the ground, instead of several feet above it as is customary. There are three crosses, of which the Great Cross, made of a single stone and 15 ft. in height, is splendidly carved, with tracery and inscriptions. It faces the door of the Great Church, and is of the same date. A large number of inscribed stones dating from the 9th century and after are preserved in the churches. There are further remains of the Castle and Episcopal palace, a fortified building of the 14th century, and of a nunnery of the 12th century. In the neighbourhood are seen striking examples of the glacial phenomenon of eskers, or gravel ridges.