Lemanaghan Ecclesiastical Site, Offaly, Ireland

A monastic site was established at Lemanaghan in the 7th century after King Diarmaid granted the land to the monastery at Clonmacnoise following his victory against Guaire, King of Connaught, in 645AD. A monk named Manchan from Clonmacnoise founded a sister monastery here, Liath-Manchain – ‘the grey place of Manchan’. When it was originally established Lemanaghan (its anglicised name) would have stood on an island of dry ground surrounded by raised bogs. The site was linked by a series of Togher, these were roads of timber and earth built over the bogs. Excavations have found many of these dated to the 6th and 7th centuries, and the pathway that leads to St. Mella’s Cell follows the path of one of these early byways.

Little remains of the early monastery that St Manchan founded, the exception being a number of cross slabs, a bullaun stone and a holy well. St Manchan died in 665AD from yellow plague but the site lived on long after his death. The names of abbots of the monastery are listed in the annals, ranging from 717AD up to 1205 AD. After this date it appears the monastery fell into decline and instead became the parochial church. The west end of St Manchan’s church, with its fine large Romanesque doorway and rounded headed window, dates from the 12th century, while the eastern end was reconstructed during the 15th century. It seems the church fell out of use by 1682 as the church was recorded as being in a ruinous condition.

Beside the church stands the scant corner of what is known as St Manchan’s House, which is probably another church dating from the 15th century, now almost totally erased. An attractive overgrown pathway leads to St Manchan’s Well and bullaun stone. St Manchan’s Well may pre-date the Christianisation of the site, one story says that this pre-existing well was blessed by St Manchan another legend states that Manchan struck a rock with his staff and water began to flow. The well is still visited on St Manchan’s feast day, January 24th, and was said to hold curative powers for those with chronic illness and in particular neuralgia, cancer and warts. Local folklore suggests that for a person to be cured they must apply the water to the affected body part and walk three times around the well. Standing beside the well is a holy tree, covered in offerings, folklore suggests that pilgrims took a small piece of wood from the tree home to protect their houses.

Further down the causeway that runs alongside the well leads to the captivating St. Mella’s Cell or Kell/Kyle. Legend states that St Manchan built this small house for his mother St. Mella, so that he could meet her daily at a flagstone along the Togher. This rectangular single cell oratory probably dates from later than the legend and has been estimated as having a 10th century origin. This beautiful ruin, standing on raised ground and surrounded by four tall trees really is the perfect conclusion to a visit to the wonderful Lemanaghan.

GPS: 53.29291, -7.74361

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