Clonmacnoise Monastery is a ruined church site in County Offaly, Ireland that is blanketed in local folklore and supernatural legends. Built in the 600’s and overlooking the River Shannon, Clonmacnoise is a gorgeous place to visit if you plan to go to Ireland this year. And, if you’re like me and you enjoy the weird and paranormal aspects of history, you might be surprised to learn Clonmacnoise Monastery is likely haunted by ghosts, UFOs, and even a sea monster called the Oillipheist. Come with me on another wild adventure to Clonmacnoise Monastery, and Clonmacnoise Castle, and view the gorgeous photos I snapped while there this Summer.
Let’s start with the basics…Clonmacnoise’s mysterious origins. Or perhaps that’s not so basic, now is it? Clonmacnoise is a ruined monastery, graveyard, and castle in County Offaly, Ireland. There is a visitor’s center, gift shop, cafe, and a parking lot for you to park, if you choose to visit this amazing, beautiful place. It’s believed to have been built in the 500’s CE, when a young Saint Ciarán met the High King of Ireland and converted him. They decided to built a monastery at this site together and the first building, wooden in structure, was built overlooking the River Shannon.
There is some debate whether Saint Ciaran actually built the monastery or if he had died and one was built for him. Either way, his body is supposedly buried under Saint Ciaran’s temple on site and, for many years, the soil in this temple was believed to have supernatural powers. It could heal illness and protect crops from disease.
The name Clonmacnoise means Meadow of the sons of Nos, which refers to its ancient pagan past. Some claim the name translates to Meadow of the pigs of the sons of Nos. Nos was likely a pagan king who ruled those lands before Christianization. According to Tuatha, this site was a bustling center in ancient times because of its prime location at the crossroads between the River Shannon and The Great Way (a roadway that crossed the island from East to West over boglands). This means Clonmacnoise was built at a liminal place, which opens it up for paranormal occurrences. When you visit Clonmacnoise, you will get a sense that its origins run deeper than even the stone crosses that remain.
So, we know Clonmacnoise was founded sometime in the sixth century CE, and we also know it was a Christian site honoring Saint Ciaran. But isn’t it odd how history shows us this monastic site was at war with other monastic sites? Apparently there were bloody battles between Clonmacnoise and the Monastery Durrow, resulting in at least two hundred men losing their lives. Over the following centuries and into the Viking Age, the monastery would be raided over two dozen times by various local peoples, at least eight times by Vikings, and at least six times by the Normans. After these raids became prevalent, the wooden structures were replaced with stone structures to withstand the turmoil. With so much destruction and bloodshed over the years, Clonmacnoise is bound to be haunted…don’t you think?
When visiting the Clonmacnoise Monastery and Castle sites, you get a sense that something supernatural is present. Be it the gods, ghosts of Vikings and monks long past, or something else entirely. What’s intriguing is that when I researched Clonmacnoise, I discovered two recorded incidents that seem similar in nature…and yet different.
First, it’s part of the folklore of Clonmacnoise that angels have visited the site…at least one time during Saint Columba’s visit to the monastery. The second incident occurred during the 700’s CE, during which the various parts of Ireland encountered an “airship”, as it’s called in Medieval renderings. This airship was originally multiple airships, or unidentified flying objects as we’d call them today, of which hovered over various regions in the country. One, notably, was the monastery of Clonmacnoise. But just seeing the airship with its mysterious “crew” and their fishing-spears wasn’t odd enough. This sighting took on a new twist at Clonmacnoise Monastery when a man from the airship above set down an anchor of which snagged on one of the temples. A man comes down to retrieve the anchor.
This isn’t the only mysterious airship phenomenon on the books. These flying ships are mentioned in the Irish Annals, in Clonmacnoise lore, as well as in documents in Medieval Britain. The similarities are evident: flying ships with anchors manned by crews. In some tales, a man comes to retrieve an anchor or a fishing spear, and when he reaches said object, he yells out “I am being drowned”. So the people believed the air that we breathe might have been too thick for these mysterious sailors.
There are a few theories as to what these supernatural incidents at Clonmacnoise can be attributed to. One, a mirage that causes actual ships on the water to appear as if they are floating in the air above them. Two, unusual cloud formations or a mistaken Aurora borealis. And three, actual written evidence that Clonmacnoise monastery and other sites were visited by aliens. I propose one theory not yet explored – the fae folk. In other places, like at Knockma Hill in Galway, the fairies were seen fighting in the heavens above. What do you think?
Ireland is well known for its beliefs in the good folk, commonly called fairies. Interestingly, if you visit Ireland today and ask the elderly population their thoughts on fairies, most of them clam up. It’s not a topic they prefer to speak on…perhaps because they believe speaking of the fairies summons them? Anyway, at Clonmacnoise, or rather nearby at Clonfinlough, is a stone covered in primal markings. Crosses of various shapes and sizes and other symbols that look like swords and footprints cover a large limestone in the middle of a field. In addition to its name the Clonfinlough Stone, some also call it the Fairy Stone and the Horseman’s stone.
There are various theories as to who made the markings in the stone and why. Some say it denotes a battle between the “loop men” and the “cross men”, with some of the markings representing individuals killed in battle. I find the little cup-shaped markings fascinating – they remind me of the elven stone offering-cups in Sweden that author Linda Raedisch details in her book The Lore of Old Elfland. The Horseman’s Stone is a story about a phantom on horseback that arises from the area and gallops around the stone on certain nights. And yet another tale tells of a boy who meets another otherworldly boy at the stone. The otherworldly boy gifts the human child a silver knife of which his mother tells him to promptly return it and never to talk to the little boy again…for he is one of the fae folk trying to trick him!
Who doesn’t love a good sea monster story? Ireland has its fair share of these including one about a sea “worm” or snake called the Oillipheist. The Oillipheist was one of many sea monsters that were believed to haunt the rivers and lakes throughout Ireland in older times. This particular sea worm, or Great Worm, originated as a female demon or “Mother of demons” named Caoránach, sometimes called Coal. This demoness was banished to Lough Dearg in Donegal by the famous Saint Patrick. You’ve heard the story that Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland? There are people who believe this is a euphemism that actually means Saint Patrick converted or killed the pagans of Ireland. Not necessarily the snakes.
The fact that this hag named Caoránach becomes a sea snake after she’s driven off the land by Saint Patrick has me wondering if she wasn’t a powerful Queen who wouldn’t convert to Christianity when prompted. If you can’t convert them, exile or kill them…at least that seemed to be the way of conversion back then. Especially because of the fact she is referred to as a “hag” in Christian lore. Caoránach, the sea snake, cuts through the River Shannon in one story to avoid Saint Patrick and swallows a musician named O’Rourke whole. She becomes annoyed with his music, spits him out, and this legend becomes a precursor to the Loch Ness monster’s.
The first thing I was drawn to when visiting Clonmacnoise was the ruined castle just outside the monastery gates. It will likely draw your attention too, if you decide to visit, as it sits on a small hill surounded by what appears to have been a moat at one point. The ruined castle itself is misshapen, crooked almost, and looks as though an earthquake hit it. It’s falling down or collapsing in, I couldn’t tell which. I got the feeling there is a lot of history and hauntings attached to this place.
If you’re looking for a beautiful, historical site to visit in County Offaly, Ireland, I highly recommend Clonmacnoise. Not only are the natural features of the site gorgeous, wind-whipped fields and green forests right on the River Shannon, but the ruins themselves are worth the trip. There is a visitor’s center, in which you’ll have to visit and pay the fee to enter, as well as bathrooms, a cafe, and gift shop. Parking is easy…park right in the lot and walk right in.
My recommendation is to ensure you take your time touring each ruined temple on site, including the entire graveyard. As well as the newer graveyard to the far right. Take lots of pictures of the Celtic crosses, graves decorated with Celtic symbols, Jesus, and Angels, and stop by the building where the Pope visited in recent years. Stand and face the water and try to imagine what it must have been like to stand there centuries ago. When the monastery was bustling. And then again, visualize what it was like before the monastery was ever built. Do you feel the energy of the land? Do you feel the presence of elementals and pagan warriors? I know I did.
It’s midnight. Someone calls your name from down the hall. You peak from your bedroom …September 23, 2023