Mafia connections, the Emerald Isle and a Highland Fling travel blog

Clonmacnoise monastic site founded in 544

Four metre Cross of the Scriptures, whose sandstone is carved with intricate...

Temple Finghín & McCarthy's Tower: Romanesque church and round tower – 12th...


Detail of carved entrance

First ever car fatality happened at Birr in 1869

On the way up to the Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel

View inside Cathedral with Round tower behind

View from Rock of Cashel across the green fields

Rock of Cashel by night

Feels just like home - same name!

Our Ryanair flight from East Midlands Airport to Knock, Ireland took 55 mins. At one stage we had misplaced our boarding passes but luckily found them (could have made the flight more expensive otherwise). After getting our passports stamped in Ireland we picked up our hire car, a fairly rundown Puegeot and headed for Clonmacnoise. The weather is greyer and chillier here than the UK which was expecting a heatwave as we left.

At our first Irish B&B we were advised we could visit Clonmacnoise after the visitor centre shut and the coaches had left. What a great tip as we had it all to ourselves and didn't have to pay the entrance fee of 8 Euro each. The grey and very gloomy weather added to the otherworldlyness of the site. It certainly is ancient, having been founded as a monastic site way back in the sixth century. It is located on the banks of the River Shannon and is home to three high crosses, a cathedral, seven churches and two round towers.

Its strategic location at a crossroads between the major east-west land route through the bogs of central Ireland and the River Shannon helped it become a major centre of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade by the 9th century. It flourished for 600 years as a centre of learning and religious instruction as well as providing much of Ireland’s finest Celtic art and illuminated manuscripts. In our solitude we try to imagine how life was here all those hundreds of years ago...... almost a thousand years before Australia was even discovered.

The next day we stopped in Birr, County Offaly and found out that the first fatal car accident in the world occurred here. Grae took my picture beside the notice board detailing the 1869 fatality. Apart from the accident Birr is a very pictureque town full of elegant georgian style houses. I can imagine a heritage drama being filmed here.

Driving to Cashel we can see the Rock of Cashel takes a commanding presence over the landscape as it should considering it was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. We joined a tour and learned its origins as a centre of power go back to 5th century. However most of the buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries when the rock was gifted to the Church. The oldest and tallest of the buildings is the well preserved round tower (28 metres) dating from 1100 The buildings are great examples of both Celtic art and medieval architecture. Queen Elizabeth II visited the Rock of Cashel during her 2011 visit to Ireland. We hope the wind wasn't as bad when she visited!

We have attempted to hear traditional Irish music every night but only managed very loud contemporary music to date. The Irish are all very friendly and we certainly have been drinking lots of tea, neither of us are keen on Guinness.

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