Our next stop was the Ancient Ecclesiastical site of Clonmacnoise which sits by the River Shannon. This Monastery was founded by St. Ciaran in about 548 and was situated at the cross-road of Ireland where north and south artery of communication crossed the major east west route
. The location's pivotal point added to its importance as a centre of religion, trade, learning, craftsmanship and political influence. There are a number of ruins of old churches on the site plus a large cemetery with many interesting grave stones. Also of interest are two Round Towers; McCarthy the smaller of the two, and O'Rourke which was struck by lightning soon after it was completed. There are a number of graves scattered throughout the site but one of the most interesting things here are the ancient Celtic crosses. They've been moved inside the cemetery's museum to keep them out of the weather and replicas have been put outside in their place. The most impressive of these crosses is the Cross of the Scriptures which is one of Ireland's finest surviving High Crosses. It was carved from one single piece of sandstone and stands at four metres high. The remains of a castle, built in 1214 by the chief governor of Ireland, sit to the west of the site by the Shannon. The castle fell into ruin and was abandoned soon after it was constructed due to the instability of the site.
The centre of Ireland is almost useless. It's a sodden bog land and we had the pleasure of crossing it. Level roads can't be built on the bogs as they soon become as twisted and as buckled as the back of an inner city office worker. After crossing through Ireland’s centre we arrived at the city of Galway where we passed the afternoon and evening. This city lies to the west of Ireland and has a population of around 70,000. The city began in 1124 when a fort was constructed and a small settlement followed.
Galway's main shopping street is unimaginatively called 'Shop Street'
. Galway has a large migrant population, many of whom have originated from Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe, and this was evident when walking down the street and hearing all mix of languages spoken
. The city is renowned as a cultural centre and this was evident from its collection of buskers and hippies attempting to bring me to a greater sense of enlightenment by offering me their books etc. We happened to arrive at Galway on its first sunny day in some months and the inhabitants of the city had embraced its arrival by lounging around like reptiles on the grassed areas by the River Corrib. The city has a lively cosmopolitan feel to it, though there are very few buildings of historical or cultural interest in Galway. The cathedral, although only recently completed in 1965, is an impressive temple and features a domed green roof which I expect is actually copper. Also of interest are the Spanish Arches which were built in 1584 as part of the city walls, though there is no actual association between the arches and the Spanish who lived there at this time. That evening we visited a pub called 'Munroe's' for a feed and a couple of drinks. It was ok though there was no real Irish music so we moved on to another pub where we were able to enjoy a bit of traditional Irish fiddle music.
We began our little three day tour with the lovely folk of Paddy Wagon Tours and our group of 32 consisting mainly of Australians and Canadians. The traffic on the way out of Dublin on a Monday morning was chaotic to say the least. Our first stop was the Phoenix Park which I am told is the second largest city park in the world after Gorky Park Moscow. The park has its own zoo and fallow deer have roamed freely within its grounds since the 17th century. The park is located approximately 3 km west of Dublin's centre and has a total size of 712 hectors. A central feature of the Park is a huge steel cross erected for the 1979 Papal visit to Dublin which pulled a crowd of one and a quarter million people, almost a third of Ireland's population at that time.