Clonmacnoise - Cathedral Church




N 53° 19' 34.8"   W 007° 59' 10.38"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

N 00918 30676

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Wednesday 20 June 2018

GPS Accuracy (m)

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The Cathedral seen from the west. The building on the far right of the photo is Temple Dowling.
The doorway is off-centre in the wall because in the 13th century the south wall was moved inwards by a couple of metres. The west wall has also been restored and remodeled, as the strange shape on the top reveals.

Clonmacnoise lies in a meander on the left bank of River Shannon, and it is one of the oldest early Christian settlements in Europe.

St. Ciarán along with Diarmait Uí Cerbaill founded it around 544 and he chose a central site in Ireland, at the crossroads of the main Irish river and the Esker Riada, the geological gravel and sand formation that stretches east-west across Ireland, so that the new monastery could be accessed from everywhere.
It soon became an important centre for studying religion and it attracted scholars and pupils from all over Europe, and grew into a large monastic city. It was also an important centre for craftmanship and trade.

In its best period it had up to 17 churches, but today only 7 of them survive in ruins. Along with these ruins, there are also three crosses and two round towers, one of which attached to a church.

The Cathedral is the main building at Clonmacnoise and, among the churches, is possibly the best one. It is also one of the oldest churches of the monastic settlement.

It's a huge building, with massive and important elements, like the two multi-order doorways, the antae on the west gable, and the wonderful columns and other architectural details within the church.
It was built in 909 by Flanna Sinna, King of Tara, and Abbot Colmán mac Ailella.
The oldest part of this church dates from 909.
The main four-orders doorway is in the west wall and has been recently restored. The Gothic arches and the capitals are visibly newer. This doorway looks like it was built off-centre in the wall, but this effect is due to the fact that towards the end of the 13th century the south wall had to be demolished and rebuilt two metres inwards because of structural issues.
The other doorway is in the north wall and was added in the 15th century. It's a three-order pointed arch doorway, with beautiful carvings on the outside of the outer order. The doorway is flanked by two tall and richly carved finials linked on the tops by a linear moulding. Within the frame formed by this moulding, the finials and the outer arch of the doorway, three effigies have been set into the wall. They represent three saints, St. Dominic, St. Patrick and St. Francis. This doorway is also known with the name of Whispering Arch, because a whispered confession made at one side of the arch can be heard by placing one's ear against the opposite jamb.

Within the church there are several burials and two cross slabs are set vertically against the north wall.
One of the most prominent burials is the one of Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland.
At the east end of the church there are traces of columns which formed a rib vaulting above the altar area. The stumps of some piers pair with the remains of pillars inserted into the side and east walls.
Under a twin-light pointed arch window in the southeast corner there are two recesses, one is an ambry, the other one is a piscina.

A sacristy, with a locked gate on the day of our visit, is on the south side of the church. This wing of the church was built in the 13th century. Two centuries later it was elevated by one floor, that had a fireplace of which today we can see the chimney stack.

A plaque in the north wall inside the church reads that this church was restored in 1647.

The building is aligned to the east (85°).

We came to Clonmacnoise for the first time on July 4th, 1994, and again on May 18th, 2002.

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