The monastery of Clonmacnoise was founded by St Ciarán in 546 a.d. and is one of Ireland’s most important ecclesiastical centres. The location was strategic at the time as it was where the main east-west road across the country meets the north-south flowing River Shannon. Ciaran, a young preacher from Roscommon, had met Diarmait Uí Cerbaill (the first High King of Ireland who practiced Christianity), who helped him build his first wooden church here. Ciarán, however, died within a year aged only 33 (this was also said to have mirrored Jesus’s life) of the yellow fever and was reportedly buried under this original wooden church. By the 9th century this cluster of monastic buildings grew larger and larger and became the foremost centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship in the country and was visited by scholars from all over Europe. Stone structures replaced wooden ones and the population grew to perhaps 2,000. It became linked with the Kings of Meath and many of the High Kings of Tara and Connacht were buried here. Between the 9th and the 12th centuries it was attacked frequently, mostly by the Irish (at least 27 times), the Vikings (at least 7 times) and also the Anglo-Normans (at least 6 times)! Some of Ireland’s most beautiful metal and stone artwork was also created here which included The Clonmacnoise Crozier (on display in the National Museum of Ireland) and the Cross of the Scriptures. The monastery went into decline after the 12th century due to the growth of Athlone (further upstream) and also the influx of continental religious orders such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, Benedictines and Cluniacs. Buildings on site include Temple Ciaran, Temple Connor, Temple Kelly, The Cathedral (where Rory O’Conner – Ireland’s last high King is buried), 2 Roundtowers and 3 exquisite High Crosses. Clonmacnoise was also visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979. ‘People of Ireland, This place is cool’.