Archaeology isn’t just something we do…it’s a way of life. So my kids find when we’re on holiday; it’s not just about family time and not sticking to a timetable, or even about finding the best locations for ice creams or hot chocolates (time of year depending)…it’s about finding the archaeology! Lucky then that archaeological sites are as interesting for kids as they are for adults – there’s always a story to tell.
Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, is no exception. Every Irish schoolchild knows about this place – a monastery on the banks of the Shannon; founded by Saint Ciaran in the mid 6th century, it became a centre for the arts. The three high crosses now protected from the elements in an interpretative centre on the site are testament to the quality of sculpture at Clonmacnoise, and several illuminated manuscripts including the Book of the Dun Cow were produced here.
The serenity of the site, almost deserted on a bleak day in February, belies the gory history of most interest to children today, (and which was of most interest to me when I was a child)…Clonmacnoise was plundered six times between 834 and 1012 and burned twenty-six times between 841 and 1204 – first by the Vikings and then by the Normans.
Clonmacnoise’s location at an intersection of the River Shannon with the Esker Riada (an ancient routeway) contributed to both its growth and the ease of which it could be raided.
Nowadays it is accessed down winding boreens and the main traffic on the Shannon are the pleasure boats manned by tourists.