Early Irish Monasticism

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  • Clonmacnoise

Monastic Life

Early Christian monasteries in Ireland, such as Clonmacnoise, were like small towns or villages. All of the houses and other community buildings were made from wood. They have not survived, but archaeologists have found traces of them. The earliest churches were also built from wood, but from the tenth century onwards they were replaced with stone buildings.

Many people lived and worked in Clonmacnoise. Like any community, people had different jobs and responsibilities. Monks worked as blacksmiths, carpenters and stonemasons. Some worked in the fields to produce food for the community.

Certain monks specialised in creating beautiful, valuable objects for the monastery. Monasteries usually had a room known as a scriptorium. There, monks worked on copying important manuscripts by hand. One of the manuscripts produced by the monks of Clonmacnoise was the Book of the Dun Cow. Monks also crafted objects out of precious materials like gold.

But life in the monastery was not always peaceful. The riches of the monastery attracted raids by the Vikings in the ninth century. Over the following centuries, it was plundered a number of times by thieves, who came from far and wide to help themselves to the monastery's precious objects.