Yeats still wasn’t finished with me. Twenty minutes after leaving Carrowkeel and already into Roscommon I passed this sculpture by Maurice Harron, The Gaelic Chieftain. This time I was passing by the horse, rather than the horse passing me. I took it as a good omen and saluted.
I was on the road home, all the way down to Waterford. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t want my little holiday to be over. I slapped my OS Road Atlas up onto the steering wheel(no GPS for me) and considered my route. Just below Athlone was the old monastery of Clonmacnoise, right in the centre of the country. I have always loved stone carvings, High Crosses and the like, probably the result of having a couple of great-uncles who carved gravestones in for the people of Roscrea many moons ago so though it was a little out of the way I thought I’d give it a go.
It was a couple of hours off my route and I arrived after some manic driving only 45 minutes before closing. I wasn’t charged as it was the first Wednesday of the month which is a free day for Office of Public Works(OPW) sites. Normally it’s €5. There was a coffee shop and a souvenir shop both of which I hadn’t enough time for which was a pity as I was gasping for a tea and to buy some useless geegaws. The dark interpretive centre was open but I skipped it and went straight out into the light.
Irish centres of learning were held in high regard across Europe and Clonmacnoise was one of the major ones. Founded in 550AD it reached its zenith in the years between 900 and 1200 when it began to decline. Ireland has been sometimes credited with saving much of European knowledge at a time when the Roman Empire had collapsed. This was due to its strong independent church and far-reaching peripatetic monks like Columcille and Columbanus and their like, monks who copied manuscripts or carried them home. Thomas Cahill has written about his in his book How The Irish Saved Civilisation. It was our finest hour and all has been down hill since.
I had just jumped out of a car and torn into the place at a mad gallop but the feeling of peace and openness slowed my gallop to a trot then to a walk. The air was warm and windless around the widely spaced crosses and grave stones that dotted the grass that sloped gently down to the silky water, the wide river Shannon reflected the diffuse light of the low grey sky.
There was a High Cross dead ahead of the entrance that was immediately recognisable from an old school book. The Cross of The Scriptures. A couple of years ago at the High Crosses of Ahenny in rural Tipperary, I stood in the rain with my hand resting on the wet carved stone and thought I could hear the clink of hammer on chisel, the calls and laughs of the workmen, gossiping and cat calling passing girls. I wondered what they had for lunch or even if lunch had been invented. Were they were monks or jobbing stone carvers? Was it just another job or was their work an act of homage to an all-powerful God?
It is amazing that a piece of art can survive its creator by thousands of year acting as a wormhole in time and space. To put my hand on stone that was carved and fashioned with great focus by someone else at some other point in time is like touching that person.
I leaned up against the Cross of the Scriptures and though the feeling was not strong like it had been at Ahenny I thought I could feel something in the sunwarmed surface of the stone. More fool me. I found out later the cross was a replica, the original being inside the interpretive centre.
I was wandering around again feeling a great sense of relaxation and thinking I would love to come back with my sketch pad and a picnic and spend a lot more time when I neared a bench by the wall furthest from the gates and down near the water. On it were carved the words of my old friend Mr. Yeats from his poem the Lake Isle of Innisfree. It seemed he had followed me here after all.
Rest here a while it said for
“…peace comes dropping slow.”
It can take a while for peace to catch up but at Clonmacnoise I found it there waiting for me. And I was finally ready to go home.
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I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.