King’s County: with an appendix on the materials for a history of the monastery. With numerous plates, some folding. Dublin: Printed at the University Press, 1909. Royal octavo. pp. xxxii, 159, 50 (plates). Green ribbed cloth, title in gilt on spine. A superb trimmed copy.
The Memorial Slabs Of Clonmacnoise by R.A. Stewart MacAlister published in 1909 on behalf of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland describes the hundreds of memorial slabs and grave stones surrounding the ruins of the monastery of Clonmacnoise. The monastery also features two round towers, chapels and churches, high crosses and other archaeological features such as the famous Whispering Arch.
Beginning in the 8th century and for almost half a millennium Clonmacnoise grew to become a large monastic city and surrounded by a large population of the laity. It became a major centre of religious learning during the Middle Ages after Roman civilisation collapsed in Europe and along with other Irish monasteries earn Ireland the reputation of ‘the land of saints and scholars’.
The Gaelic royalty were the patrons of Clonmacnoise and its powerful abbot. The monastery became known for its literature, art and the beautiful Christian artefacts made from precious metals attracting Viking and Gaelic Irish raiders.
Gaelic Irish aristocrats were buried there including at least two High Kings of Ireland. Monks from the monastery also fought at one time with their rivals at St. Columba’s monastery in Durrow.
After the Norman conquest in the 12th century, the Burke dynasty established a castle nearby and curtailed the rights of the Gaelic Irish and authorities of Clonmacnoise. The town of Athlone grew at the expense of Clonmacnoise while the Celtic monks faced competition new religious orders such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, Benedictines and Cistercians.
In time Clonmacnoise declined and following the English Reformation which witnessed the dissolution of monasteries across the realm, medieval monasticism in Ireland came to an end.
Robert Alexander Stewart MacAlister (1870-1950) was an important Irish archaeologist who studied at Cambridge University in England. He was especially interested in biblical archaeology and worked with Frederick J. Bliss on excavations in Palestine where he discovered the Gezer Calender and was a director of excavations for the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1901.
MacAlister became professor of Celtic archaeology at UCD, Dublin in 1909 and taught there until 1943. He worked at the Hill of Tara and compiled a complete record of all known ogham stones in the British Isles and published translated collections of Irish mythology. He was elected to the prestigious Royal Irish Academy in 1910 and was president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland from 1924 to 1928.