Located on the north-east corner of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, this is Scully’s Cross – or at least what remains of it. Dating from 1867, the rusticated base of the structure contains a mausoleum to the wealthy Roman Catholic Scully family: above the entrance is a plaque carved with their name in Irish Ó Scolaidhe. A stepped pyramid then leads up to the base of the cross proper, its shaft, each side of which is carved with a series of biblical scenes, rising some 20 feet high. The top of the cross – ringed in the early Irish Christian style – can be found scattered on the ground around the mausoleum, having fallen when the monument was struck by lightning in 1976.
More High Crosses, these ones found in the graveyard of St John’s church in Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare. The first stands to the immediate north of the early 19th century church. Standing 3.4 metres high, it is composed of three elements: head, shaft and pyramidal base. Rather than the usual elaborate carving customary on these crosses, it is relatively plain, perhaps because carved from unyielding granite. The only decoration of note can be seen on the west face which features a central boss with rounded moulding within a solid ring. Possibly dating from the 10th century, the cross’s two arms carry an inscription noting that it was re-erected on the present site by Ambrose Wall in 1689; he would be killed the following year during the Siege of Limerick. What remains of a second cross can be found south of the church; all that survives here is the tapered shaft and, deep in the vegetation, another pyramidal base.
In the graveyard of a church in Boho, County Fermanagh can be found what remains of a High Cross; just the base and shaft. The latter features Adam and Eve on one side, with a serpent curling up between them, and on the other the Virgin between two saints and, above them, the Baptism of Christ. The rest of the much-weathered sandstone is decorated with interlacing spiral patterns. This site also contains the grave of the Rev James McGirr, a local Catholic priest who during his lifetime gained a reputation as a faith healer. Before he died in 1815, McGirr seemingly declared ‘the clay that covers me will cure anything that I was able to cure when I was with you while I was alive.’ Ever since, anyone in the area who has a common ailment will take a spoonful of the grave’s soil, place it inside a pouch and then sleep with this under the pillow. Afterwards, soil must be returned to the graveyard as otherwise it is thought to bring bad luck. A notice inside the adjacent church from the present parish priest points out that a lot of soil from the McGirr grave has been removed of late and requests only a teaspoon-full be taken, and, most importantly, ‘This soil must be returned to the plot on the fourth day.’ Elsewhere in the graveyard, there are some especially handsome old gravestones to be seen (and some shockingly bad modern ones too).
‘Let us now attend to the antiquities of one of their [the Culdees] ancient seats: this in old records is named Inchenemeo, corrupted from Innisnabeo or the “Island of the living” but, from its situation, most commonly called Monaincha, or the “Boggy Isle”…Giraldus Cambrensis, who came here with King John in 1185, thus speaks of it: “In north Munster is a lake containing two Isles; in the greater is a church of the ancient religion, and in the lesser a chapel, wherein a few monks, called Culdees, devoutly serve God. In the greater, no woman or any animal of the feminine gender ever enters but it immediately dies. This has been proved by many experiments. In the lesser isle, no one can die, hence it is called ‘Insula Viventum’ or the island of the living. Often people are afflicted with diseases in it, and are almost always in the agonies of death; when all hopes of life are at an end, and that the rich would rather quit the world than lead longer a life of misery, they are put into a little boat, and wafted over to the larger isle where, as soon as they land, they expire”.’
‘Monaincha is situated almost in the centre of a widely-extended bog, called the Bog of Monela, and seems a continuation of the bog of Allen, which runs from east to west, through the kingdom. Since the age of Cambrensis, and through the operation of natural causes, the lesser Isle is now the greater, and Monaincha, which contains about two acres of dry arable ground, is of greater extent than the women’s island. In the latter is a small chapel, and in the former the Culdean abbey, and an oratory to the east of it. Monaincha is elevated a little above the surrounding bog; the soil gravel and small stones. We may easily understand what Cambrensis means by the church here being of the “old religion.” The Culdees, its possessors, had not even at this period when the Council of Cashel had decreed uniformity of faith and practice, conformed to the reigning superstition; they served God in this wild and dreary retreat, sacrificing all the flattering prospects of the world for their ancient doctrine and discipline. Their bitterest enemies bear testimony to their extraordinary purity and piety.’
‘The length of our Culdean abbey in Monaincha is thirty-three feet, the breadth eighteen. The nave is lighted by two windows to the south, and the chancel by one at its east end. The former are contracted arches, the latter fallen down. The height of the portal, or western entrance, is seven feet three inches to the fillet, by four feet six inches wide. The arch of this, and that of the choir, are semi-circular. Sculpture here seems to have exhausted her treasures. A nebule moulding adorns the outward semicircle of the portal, a double nebule with beads the second, a chevron the third, interspersed with triangular frette roses, and other ornaments. It is also decorated with chalices, artfully made at every section of the stone, so as to conceal the joint. The stones are of a whitish grit, brought from the neighbouring hills of Ballaghmore; being porous, they have suffered much from the weather; but the columns of the choir are of a harder texture (though grits); close grained and receiving a good polish. Being of a reddish colour, they must have been handsome objects…It will readily occur, how great must have been the labour and expense of transporting the materials of this and other structures in cots of excavated wood to Monaincha, and before this was done, the carrying them a great distance over a deep, miry and shaking bog, before they reached the margin of the water. It appears by the tradition of the old inhabitants, that about a century ago the island was not accessible but in boats; every drain for the springs, and every passage for the river Nore being choked up with mud and fallen trees; the surface, in consequence, to a vast extent, was covered with water. Present appearances fully confirm this account.’
Text taken from The Irish Culdees, and their Abbey of Monaincha, published in the ‘Dublin University Magazine: A Literary and Philosophical Review’, Vol.LXXVI, December 1870. The Culdees, their name derived from the Irish Céilí Dé (meaning Companion of God) were early Christian hermits who lived on the same site but in separate cells, only gathering for certain communal activities such as worship in church, and sharing obedience to the same leader.
At a minor junction on a minor road in County Meath stands this rather fine stone cross, notable for being rather later in date than the many others found around the country. The monument was erected c.1675 by Cecilia Dowdall to mark the occasion of her marriage to Sir Luke Bathe who lived nearby at Athcarne Castle (of which more shortly). Standing some eight feet high, the cross’s east face features a high relief carving of the crucifixion, Christ’s arms raised above his head, and his feet resting on a skull. The west side has a shield containing the arms of the Dowdall and Bathe families and the instruments of Christ’s Passion, below which is a tender carving of the Virgin and Child which displays the influence of Renaissance art not previously seen in such work here in Ireland (Raphael’s Sistine Madonna immediately comes to mind).
Johnstown, County Kildare derives its name from a now-ruined church dedicated to St John and believed to have been built in late-Medieval period by the Knights Hospitallers (now otherwise known as the Knights of Malta). The centre of the building is now dominated by a large High Cross commemorating Richard Bourke, sixth Earl of Mayo who was assassinated in 1872 while serving as Viceroy of India; his home was at nearby Palmerstown. An earlier owner of this property was the Flatesbury family, and set into the north wall of the church is a grave slab featuring their coat of arms and those of the Wogans, below an eight-armed cross. This carries the date 1289 although the slab is thought to date from the 15th century.
Another week, another cross, this one found in Killamery, County Kilkenny. A monastery was founded here in the 7th century by St Gobhan, and the High Cross is thought to date from the late 8th/early 9th century. Although there are scenes with figures (now well-worn) around the cross itself, the shaft is decorated with abstract patterns, those of the western front featuring a floral motif; seemingly a much-weathered inscription on the base reads OR DO MAELSECHNAILL, ‘A Prayer for Máel Sechnaill’ who was High King of Ireland 846-862. The capstone, which takes the form of a gabled roof, used to be touched by visitors as a cure for headaches.
The High Cross stands in the grounds of a graveyard close to the ruins of a former Church of Ireland place of worship dedicated to St Nicholas. Dating from 1815, it was constructed with assistance from the Board of First Fruits but services ceased to be held here less than 90 years later, and it has since fallen into its present state.
What remains of one of Ireland’s last surviving market crosses stands in the centre of Athenry, County Galway. Believed to date from c.1475, originally it would have been part of a much larger, and taller, monument; it was placed on the present plinth at the start of the 19th century. The south face carries a depiction of the Crucifixion, while on the other side can be seen (just about) a crowned Madonna and Child. The cross is badly weathered, its condition not helped by being in the middle of a busy traffic junction. Although this is now the only market cross in Ireland still in situ, perhaps the time has come to move it to another, less environmentally damaging location?
*New post on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2cvPCjwXwU&t=11s
The name of Moone, County Kildare is said to derive from the Irish Maen Colmcille, meaning ‘Colmcille’s property’. This is because although the place was converted to Christianity in the fifth century by Palladius (who preceded St Patrick in Ireland), a monastery was founded here 100 years later by St Colmcille. No trace of that establishment remains, the ruins on site being those of a Franciscan friary of c.1300 (although parts of the structure may be earlier). A late 18th century image shows that considerably more then survived, including a Lady Chapel on the north side and a tall, square tower but these were then demolished. The remains of the church are remarkable for holding one of the finest High Crosses in Ireland, of local granite and rising some seven metres. It was only discovered in 1837, buried in ground near the south-east wall of the building; a further missing portion of the base was found in 1875 and restored in 1893. Dating from the ninth century, it is extremely well-preserved, all four sides carved with human and animal figures, many of them representing stories from both the Old and New Testament. The cross sits beneath what was apparently meant to be a temporary cover, but the plastic roof has been there for so long it has probably acquired protected structure status.
Not far away from the remains of the Franciscan friary rises another ancient structure: a 15th century tower house. The original owners are unknown, perhaps the Eustace family who came into possession of this part of the country through inheritance in 1447. They remained in occupation until at least the mid-17th century, but then lost the property during that era’s upheavals. As so often, there is only one point of access, a door on the east side to the south of which are stone steps leading all the way to the top. While the ground floor features the customary high, vaulted space, much of the interior was converted, probably in the 18th century, into a brick-lined dovecote. However the upper storey still holds an old stone chamber with a chimney and windows.
Between monastic ruins and tower house stands the third significant building on this site: a mid-18th century Palladian building known as Moone Abbey House. In the aftermath of the Williamite Wars, the land around here was bought by Thomas Ashe, a Dublin alderman. He died in 1741 and seven years later, Moone was acquired on a 999-year lease by Samuel Yates of Colganstown, County Dublin: he is believed to have commissioned the new house. Colganstown has been attributed to Nathaniel Clements, and his name has also been mentioned in association with Moone Abbey House along with that of Dublin-based architect John Ensor. The building was intended to make a good impression but is less substantial than initially appears to be the case, since the central block is only one-room deep. Among its quirkier features are the convex quadrant walls that in turn lead to rather unusual two-storey, two-bay wings with Dutch gables. An engraving of 1792 by Daniel Grose (see bottom of page) shows that originally the main house was of two storeys and with a Diocletian window at the top. The third storey – and porch – are 19th century additions. Like its immediate neighbours, Moone Abbey House has undergone various vicissitudes over the course of several centuries but thankfully survives. The course of Ireland’s history can be discovered in these three adjacent buildings, all still standing and, in the case of the house, still happily serving as a family home.
Rising some twenty-one feet, the tallest high cross in Ireland can be found, along with a couple of others, at Monasterboice, County Louth. The place name derives from Mainistir Bhuithe meaning ‘Monastery of Buithe’: the latter was an early Christian saint said to have founded a religious settlement here in the late 5th century. Three high crosses survive here, this one which dates from the 9th century, standing closest to the round tower. Panels on one side feature, among others scenes of the Sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the Lion’s Denand David with the head of Goliath. The opposite side is devoted to scenes from the Life of Christ, such as his baptism, the Kiss of Judas, his arrest and crucifixion.