The Emerald Isle

Castle (or Dun Masg), in the 15th century. This castle was destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 17th century, despite the presence, according to legend, of a huge mastiff called Bandog, whose flame-throwing jaws were said to be the animal’s means of protecting the treasure reputed to be buried beneath the rock. Perhaps Bandog’s presence had some effect, for the castle was not completely destroyed, and its remains are still as attractive to visitors today. A name closely associated with early Christian history in Ireland is that of Clonmacnoise in west Offaly. Here, one of the largest monasteries to be built in Ireland was founded by St. Ciáran, having sailed down the Shannon from his first monastery on Hare Island in Lough Ree in the mid sixth The Midlands ST. CIARÁN B orn in AD 516, in County Roscommon, Connacht, Ciarán was surnamed Mac an Tsair, or “Son of the Carpenter.” He was a student of St. Finian at Clonard and in time became a teacher himself. Various legends are connected with St. Ciarán, one of the most famous telling of how it was his cow – which he took with him as payment when he went to Clonard and which provided the milk for the entire monastery – which supplied the parchment for the “Book of the Dun Cow” (Leobr na h’Uidre), one of the oldest and most important Irish literary collections, compiled by a Clonmacnoise scribe in 1106. In about 534, Ciarán left Clonard for Aran, where he was ordained a priest and studied under St. Enda of Aran. Here, he received a mystical vision of a tree, laden with fruit and inhabited by birds, standing in the middle of Ireland with its branches spread out to the four corners of the land. Enda knew Ciarán was someone special, someone who would do great things. Therefore he recognized Ciarán’s vision as one of special significance, and interpreted it as a sign of Ciarán’s great potential. Ciarán could be the tree, he could shelter Ireland with his grace, and feed men’s spiritual hunger with his prayers and fastings. These were gifts that belonged in a wider setting, and Enda urged Ciarán to found a church on the banks of the Shannon, in the middle Ireland. Later, in about 541, Ciarán traveled to Senan, on Scattery Island, but in 545 finally settled in Clonmacnoise, where he founded the famous monastery with ten companions. As abbot, he worked on the first buildings of the monastery but died a year later of the yellow plague, while still in his early 30s. His feast day is September 9. 170