CLONMACNOIS, or CLUANMACNOIS, a parish, in the barony of GARRYCASTLE, KING'S county, and province of LEINSTER, 8 miles (S. by W.) from Athlone; containing, with the town of Shannon-Bridge, 4446 inhabitants. This place, also called "Seven Churches," is conspicuously distinguished in the earlier periods of Irish ecclesiastical history for the number and opulence of its religious establishments, its schools for instruction in the liberal arts, and the veneration in which it was held as a place of sepulture for the royal families of Ireland. It was originally called Druim Tlpraid, but from its schools, which were attended by the children of the neighbouring princes, it obtained the appellation of Cluain-Mac-Nois, signifying in the Irish language the "Retreat of the Sons of the Noble." St. Keiran, or Kiaran, the younger, founded an abbey here, in 548, on ground given by Dermod Mac Cervail, King of Ireland, which obtained the episcopal authority usually attached to such establishments. In 1199, this place was attacked by the forces of William de Burgo, Fitz-Andelm, and several of the Irish chieftains; in 1200, it was plundered by the English under Miler Fitz- Henry, and in 1201 was completely sacked by the same assailants. The churches, the town, and the cathedral suffered the greatest violence and depredation; the vestments of the priests, the books, the chalices, the plate, and the provisions and cattle of the monks, were carried off and their grounds laid waste. The abbey was again plundered by William de Burgo, in 1204, and in the year following the town was partly destroyed by an accidental fire. A castle was erected here by the English in 1214, and in 1227 the town was three times set on fire by the son of Donnell Bregagh O'Melaghlin. The see continued to flourish under a regular succession of prelates till the time of Elizabeth, when the English garrison of Athlone plundered the cathedral, destroyed the altars, and mutilated and defaced the ornaments with which it was decorated. On the death of Peter Wall, the last bishop, in 1568, the see was united to that of Meath by act of parliament, and at present this place ranks only as a parish, the very name of the ancient diocese having merged in that of Meath.
The parish formed part of the county of Westmeath until 1688, when, through the influence of the bishop of Meath, it was separated from the barony of Clonlonan, in that county. It is situated on the east bank of the river Shannon; nearly two-thirds of the surface are bog, part of it being a continuation of the bog of Allen; there are many hills, the upper portions of which afford tolerable pasture; on the banks of the river is some good meadow land; and the valleys, which are mostly in tillage, afford excellent crops of corn, although the soil is rather light, and in some parts sandy. Nearly in the centre is a lake of about 90 acres, called Clonfanlagh, encompassed on the north and east by hills, and on the opposite sides by an extensive bog, and abounding with pike and perch. The substratum is limestone, which is quarried both for building and for agricultural purposes.
The river Shannon is navigable hence to Limerick and Athlone. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Meath, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £264. 2. 2., payable to the incumbent. The present income of the deanery arises solely from the lands of Kilgarvin, comprising three cartrons, in this parish, let on lease at an annual rent of £36. 18. 5½., and an annual renewal fine of equal amount. The church is one of the ancient structures that were built around the cathedral, and contains some very singular and interesting old monuments; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £220 towards its repair. In the R. C. divisions the parish is in the diocese of Ardagh, and is partly a distinct benefice, called Seven Churches, and partly united to Lemanaghan, There are two chapels, one at Shannon-Bridge and one at Clonfanlagh. The parochial school is aided by an annual donation from the vicar; there is also a school at Shannon- Bridge, under the patronage of the parish priest, and one at Clonlyon supported by subscription. In these schools about 80 boys and 50 girls are instructed; and there are about 200 children in the several pay schools. The ecclesiastical ruins are very extensive: the most conspicuous objects are the ruined gables of the numerous small churches that surround the cathedral, and two of those round towers that are found almost exclusively near the sites of the earliest religious establishments.
The cathedral is said to have been built by the O'Melaghlins, princes of Meath; and within the cemetery, comprising about two Irish acres, were ten dependent churches, built by the kings and petty princes of the circumjacent territories, one of which, Temple- Doulin, has been restored, and is now the parish church. A nunnery was founded here at a very early period, but was destroyed by fire in 1180, and one circular arch is all that remains of it. About a furlong from the ruins of the cathedral are the remains of the episcopal palace, a, strong but rude castle surrounded by a moat and counterscarp. The cemetery was a favourite place of sepulture with the neighbouring chieftains, many of whom were buried here, and many ancient inscriptions in Irish, Hebrew, and Latin, have been discovered among the ruins. It is still venerated as a place of interment throughout the neighbouring country; and the 9th of September is kept as a patron day, in honour of St. Kieran, when from 3000 to 4000 persons annually assemble here and remain for two days; huts and booths are erected for their accommodation, and such is the veneration in which the place is held, that many persons come from distant parts of the country, and even from the county of Donegal. See SHANNONBRIDGJE.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.