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Set on the banks of the broad majestic River Shannon, virtually at the geographic centre of Ireland, is a very sacred place, Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, a monastery founded by Saint Ciarán (Kieran) in AD 544. It is similar in its history and meaning to Glendalough, which we visited the day before, but its historic role is far more significant: Clonmacnoise was a very major centre for centuries, and it was one of the richest sites in Ireland, and a produced of fine art, for all of that time. Saint Manchan's Shrine, mentioned above, is almost certainly one of its products, as are many other fine pieces of metalwork in Irish museums and abroad.

The monastery features two Round Towers, one of which our image shows, as well as three significant High Crosses, all of them early, meaning that they date to the ninth century AD. They have now been moved into a local museum to protect them from the elements, but replicas are set were they stood for twelve centuries. The most important one (its replica is in our photograph) is the Cross of the Scriptures, with carved scenes from the Old and New Testaments. There is much to be said about these unique objects and their meaning, but for now let it be sufficient to state that they illustrate biblical narrative and thus Christian dogma in a hands-on way: they tell stories.

Our photograph, showing that cross in conjunction with the Round Tower and the great river behind, captures the essence of the place - a significant spot of Ireland where an east-west land route met the north-south river, both of them major conducts if communication and contact, sanctified by the monastery and its physical attributes: crosses, chapels, towers and so on. The medieval visitor to Clonmacnoise would have placed the site and its monuments on a mental map that was based on geographic features, but also on ancient legends, current politics, innumerable stories and impressive monuments. That's how mental maps work.

Fin out more about our expert-led tour of Ireland.

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