This day last week 31 of our members set off by bus on our summer outing to Clonmacnoise and Athlone. It was an overcast day but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. In fact it was more conducive to travelling by bus. It was a good 2 hour journey there but as they say, “gioraíonn beirt bóthar”, and with the company and chat we didn’t feel the journey drag.

Clonmacnoise was very busy and there were many tourists there from all over the world.   Needless to say, a cuppa was the first thing on our minds, and while the café there was very small we were soon enjoying our tea/coffee and scones.

Clonmacnoise is a wonderful monastic settlement situated on an esker ridge overlooking a large area of bog through which the Shannon flows. It was founded in 548 by St. Ciarán and contains a number of churches, a cathedal, round tower, castle, three stone crosses and a large selection of grave slabs.

The Cross of the Scriptures is one of Ireland’s finest surviving High Crosses, stands 13 feet high, and dates back to 900 AD.  The Cathedral is the largest of the churches in Clonmacnoise was built in 909 AD by Flann Sinna, King of Tara and Colmán, Abbot of Clonmacnoise.

Temple Ciarán is the smallest of the churches and is reputed to be the burial place of St. Ciarán. Temple Finghin is a remarkable Romanesque church, complete with a round tower belfry and is situated at the edge of the graveyard closest to the Shannon. The tower is an integral part of the building and is thought to date to 1160-1170. Temple Connor is a small roofed church and has been used since the 18th Century by the Church of Ireland.

The Round Tower is missing a large part of its top but is a fine example of a round tower or free standing belfry typical of Irish church sites. The annals record in 1142 that it was built by Turlough O’ Connor and O’ Malone, the successor of Ciarán.

After about an hour exploring the monastic site our ship awaited us for the trip down the Shannon to Athlone. We were treated to a very relaxing trip, with commentary by our captain, all the way into Athlone. It was quite chilly at times but blankets were provided and there was a great trade in Irish Coffees. The countryside looked beautiful and lush with cows grazing on the banks of the river.

It was a good hour’s trip and we were soon back on terra firma when we reached Athlone. Our bus was awaiting us here and brought us the short journey to the Hodson Bay Hotel where we were treated to a top class three-course meal with a complimentary pint or glass of wine. After the meal there was time to relax and admire the local scenery.

We had a great day and arrived back in Kilkenny tired but fully satisfied with our outing. Thanks to Marian who made all the arrangements and to Pauline who made sure things ran smoothly on the day and to Andrew, our coach driver.

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