Religion has played a huge role in Irish history, often tragically in the centuries long conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The number of monasteries, churches and cemeteries across the country reflect this devotion.
Mostly dating from the 10th to 12th centuries, Clonmacnoise is home to the impressive remains of a former monastic city, one of the most important in Ireland at that time. It’s particularly renowned for these substantial stone crosses, up to 4m high, the originals now kept inside for protection.
Outside are many more crosses, some recent, along with the surprisingly substantial remains of many of the buildings, given that the place was attacked many times by the Normans, Vikings, other Irish, and finally in 1552 pretty much wiped out by the English.
Ross Errilly Friary
Bizarrely missing from the guidebooks (Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, and Eyewitness) but therefore thankfully empty, Ross Errilly Friary is the best preserved Franciscan monastery in Ireland. Founded in 1351 and significantly expanded in 1498, the ruins are hugely evocative of what was once there, just the floors and roofs are really missing.
St Coleman’s Cathedral, Cobh
An unexpectedly large church in what is now a town of 6,500 people, but for decades was the exit point for millions of Irish emigrating to what they hoped would be a better life in the New World. Mainly funded by Irish communities in Australia and America it took fifty years to finally complete in 1915.
One of the largest cemetery in Ireland, Glasnevin is next to the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. It’s filled with endless crosses and unlike many historic city cemeteries it continues to be used. The impressive O’Connell Tower, at over 55m the highest round tower in Ireland, was recently rebuilt 47 years after being bombed by loyalists in 1971.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral
According to Wikipedia is there almost no precedent for a two-cathedral city like Dublin, with Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral having equal status for many years. Now Saint Patrick’s is the National Cathedral, while Christ Church is the cathedral of Dublin and Glendalough. Saint Patrick’s is the largest church in Ireland, Christ Church is the oldest building in Dublin, dating back to the 11th century though much of it dates back to an extensive restoration in the 19th century.
A monastic site of similar age and scale to Clonmacnoise, Glendalough is also home to churches, many crosses and a tower, the later is a thousand years old. Steady rain and many tour groups didn’t really help the experience but it was worth an explore.
An Augustinian abbey founded in 12th century, close to a picturesque river with a wonderful bridge. At one end of which was the monk’s fishing house that originally had a bell in the kitchen that rang when a fish took the bait.
Across the bridge was this modern glass clad stone box.
Within the footprint of the abbey was St Mary of the Rosary Church, home to wonderful stained glass.