Clonmacnoise stands along the River Shannon near Shannonbridge in Offaly.  Use of the site dates from 545AD at the latest.  There are still extensive remains of a cathedral, a round tower, high crosses and no fewer than seven churches, not to mention the castle.  By the eleventh century there were up to 2,000 people living and working at this religious centre.   Such a population demanded Norman control and this possibly led to the founding of the first motte and bailey castle at Clonmacnoise.  The castle is thought to have been destroyed by fire and replaced by a stone keep built in 1214 by Justiciar Henry London (d.1228).  Apparently this new military intervention marked the turning point in Clonmacnoise's use as a monastic centre, with the castle lands being forceably taken from the abbot.  In 1216 Henry London was ordered to compensate the abbot for the land taken for his fortifications as well as for any others items that had been lost ot the abbot like animals or fruit trees.
 The castle was subsequently destroyed during the  late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.  The castle was apparently reused and was only finally destroyed by gunpowder in the seventeenth century.

The castle consists of a large bank and a deep ditch surrounding the D shaped motte and its attached bailey.  On the height of the motte was a rectangular tower of three storeys.  This apparently suvived until about 1650 when it is said to have been blown up.  Its dimensions were some 62' by 38', it being set on a fine plinth.  Most of the 4 clasping corner turrets have disappeared, although the one with a stairway within survives leaning at a dangerous angle.  To the west of the keep at a lower level nearer the Shannon lies the ruins of a rectangular bailey.  This has a square turret in the W corner and a hole in the wall gateway to the north-west.


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