Corlea Trackway & Clonmacnoise
2 May 2013
|I didn’t leave until about 10:30 this morning because I stayed in bed & finished my famine book. I’m still thinking about it & don’t entirely agree with some of the conclusions.
I’ve been enjoying the OPW sites I’ve been to so tried a couple more today. The first site was called Corlea Trackway & is the site of an Iron Age bog road, the largest of its kind to be uncovered in Europe. Sounded intriguing.
It was very difficult to find – my GPS left me in the middle of nowhere & announced “You have reached your destination”. Fortunately I came across a sign just down the road so eventually found the place which, naturally was in the middle of a large area of bog. I’d been driving past fields with this beautiful rich dark soil that I thought was being cultivated then finally realized that they were harvesting peat which is being used in a power station not far away.
I was the only visitor so got a personal guided tour, which was great. This is a wooden road about 2 metres wide & a kilometre long built across the bog from massive oak trees which have been so cleverly split that some planks look like they’ve been machined.
There’s lots of questions about this road. First, using tree ring analysis, all the trees have been dated at 148 BC so they were all cut down at the same time. This means the road was a massive project involving many people, not just something that developed over hundreds of years. Secondly, it isn’t known why it was built. This was Early Iron Age in Ireland & it’s too big to merely serve the needs of the local people so maybe it was ceremonial in some way. It’s not far from Lough Ree (Lake of the King), which could be a clue. Thirdly, it doesn’t show any wear from wheel tracks, etc so it wasn’t in use for very long. Maybe it was too heavy & sank into the bog, who knows?
They’ve left most of the road in place under the bog but in the 1990’s they dug up an 18 metre section & have preserved it & laid it back exactly in place in an area which is now part of the Visitor Centre. There was a very good film showing the retrieval & preservation & I was most interested when I heard that they sent the planks to Portsmouth to be preserved. That’s where they’ve done all the work preserving the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship, but they learned how to do it from the scientists in Western Australia who preserved the Batavia in Fremantle.
My guide hadn’t heard of the Batavia so I told him some of the story & he was going off to look it up. The only problem is that we got so busy talking that I forgot to take a photo of the road, which was silly.
I also wanted to go to Clonmacnoise today which was a bit further south & again, according to my OPW map is a monastic site with 3 high crosses, a cathedral, 7 churches & 2 round towers. They left out the ruins of the castle next door & that it’s all built on the banks of the beautiful Shannon River.
This was much easier to find & there were several tour buses with French & German tourists but it’s a big site so it was easy enough to have a good look around. Again, there was an excellent movie telling you about the history of the place which was originally founded by St Kieran in about 548 so I’m gradually moving though history into more modern times.
In those times, the Shannon River was the main north-south artery & Clonmacnoise stood on its junction with the main east-west road from Dublin to Galway which follows the glacial gravel ridges to avoid the bogs. It became a major centre of religion, learning, trade & political influence, then as the burial site of St Kieran, it has attracted pilgrims for nearly 1,500 years. And, again, I’ve never heard of it.
Clonmacnoise was raided frequently by the Vikings from their newly established strongholds in Dublin & Limerick but the native Irish rivalled them, not only in the frequency of their raids but as Christians proved to be no great respecters of the sanctity of the monastery. In one raid in 834, the Irish leader drowned the Prior in the Shannon. The Munstermen plundered Clonmacnoise 11 times in a 250 year period & on one occasion even joined forces with their greatest enemy, the Vikings from Limerick.
But there’s more! After that, the Normans came in 1178. After almost annual raids they eventually recognised its central strategic position & built a castle there. Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries probably prompted the final sacking of the monastery in 1552. Records show that the English garrison at Athlone carried away everything of value & left the monastery totally devastated.
After all that, it’s surprising that there’s anything left to see, but there is. The 3 High crosses are in remarkable shape with the originals all displayed in the Visitors Centre & replicas in place on the site. The tiny St Kieran’s church (3.8m x 2.8m) is the oldest church here probably built in the early 10th century to replace an earlier wooden church. It’s a lovely little lopsided building & you can still see the flagstones of the pilgrims path leading to it.
It took me about 1½ hours to get home & because of my late start it was after 6:00 when I finally got back here. I didn’t have time for lunch so cooked a quick dinner from one of the meals I had in the freezer & now I’ve finished this, it’s time to see if I can find something on TV.