When we were in Ireland, one of our stops was the monastery of Clonmacnoise, founded in 548 by St. Kieran on the banks of the River Shannon. Some 71 miles west of Dublin, the settlement became a major center of religion, learning, trade, and craftsmanship, as well as the focus of intense political and military competition for its control. It survived 1,000 years of raids and invasions but finally ceased functioning in 1522 after yet another attack. Today, there are extensive ruins on the site, including some beautiful celtic crosses dating from 800 A.D.
Clonmacnoise is also the setting for one of the most beloved poems by 1995 Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heany, “Lightenings VIII”:
“The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.
The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,
A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’
The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.”
Which is truly the miraculous: above or below? Or is it in the eye of the beholder?
This stunning animation by Eoghan Kidney helps you visualize this dual conception of the miraculous: