clones St Tiarnach’s Sarcophagus

There are differing Points of view on the sarcophagus that sits at the foot of the round tower. Lets have a look at a few. 

The Sarcophagus

whos grave is it anyway


1. Within the St Tierney’s graveyard, beyond an enormous beech tree—a huge chunk of which had long ago been destroyed—lies the replica of St. Tiarnach’s sarcophagus—a stone version of the ridge-roofed reliquary coffin in which the saint’s bones were placed. A solid block of stone that stood above the grave, one side shows carvings of animals, while the other, mitered heads. Believed to be 8th to 9th century, it pays homage to the founder and bishop of Clones monastery, St. Tiarnach.

2. Saint Tighernach, one of the early Celtic saints that helped to spread Christianity throughout Ireland. A sarcophagus that once held his body is situated in the Round Tower graveyard where chieftains of the McMahon and McDonald/McDonnell clans often disputed their rights of burial under the sarcophagus.

3. This sarcophagus in Clones town, is a representation of an early Christian church and is carved from a single block of sandstone. It was originally made to contain the relics of a saint, possibly Saint Tiernach. The position of the sarcophagus is probably in the area of the high Altar of the Great Church of Clones which was demolished during the ‘Nine Years War’. The carvings are very hard to make out as they are severely weathered.

4. The style of carving suggests a 12th-century date, as does that on a further unique monument, the stone sarcophagus standing in the shadow of the round tower at Clones in County Monaghan . Here, too, we find the figure of a bishop or abbot (St Tighemach, the local patron) but, unlike the other mortuary houses, this is a solid stone 6 feet (1.80 metres) long and 2 feet 10 inches (0.85 metres) high; in this it is akin to the Hedda Stone in Peterborough Cathedral in England, and the two sarcophagi at St Andrews in Scotland. It can also be compared to the hogback stone with cross decoration from Castledermot, County Kildare. Each end of the ridge of the Clones sarcophagus is carved with a small finial, and the juncture of gable and wall on one side appears to bear stone copies of hinges, suggesting that this was the translation into stone of a sarcophagus with a wooden core and decorated with precious metals and gems. While the mortuary houses were presumably designed to stand in the open air, the Clones sarcophagus and the Castledermot hogback probably stood over a saint's tomb in a church now long disappeared, as the model on which the Clones sarcophagus was based must have stood inside a church.

5. In the old monastic graveyard in Clones there’s a strange stone sarcophagus from the 12th century. Beneath it is a small stone-lined crypt, the traditional burial place of the McMahon chieftains. When a chieftain died he was interred in this special and sacred place, close to the high altar of a long-disappeared church. But this wouldn’t have been his final resting place. For his mortal remains only stayed there until his successor’s own death. They were then removed to make way for the new arrival, and so the process was repeated. So … was this ancient rite also practiced by our Neolithic forebears? And could this explain why we find few remains in the massive megalithic structures?