Uncovering Ireland’s Medieval Art: High Crosses

Browsing through my photos of cache locations in Ireland, I noticed recurring patterns of where caches are hidden: ruined churches and abbeys, dolmen portal tombs and High Crosses all featured repeatedly and it’s little wonder why. These historical settings are ideal to place caches at, leading people to interesting locations they might not otherwise have known about.

I decided to dig a little deeper and write about some of these cache themes that seem to occur all over Ireland and I’ll start with Irish High Crosses.

High Crosses

High, or Celtic, Crosses usually have a ring (or nimbus) surrounding intersecting horizontal and vertical branches (though some examples do not have a ring), they are always carved from stone, often decorated with Celtic designs, and are free-standing. The crosses can be found mainly in Ireland, Britain, France and Spain.

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
The restored Doorty Cross in Kilfenora, County Clare

Irish Celtic Crosses

Many more examples of High Crosses survived in Ireland than in Britain, where a large number were destroyed following the Reformation and the resultant destruction of religious iconography.

Legend has it that Ireland’s patron Saint, Patrick, first created the Celtic Cross, as a way of combining the cross of the Christian faith with a large circular stone worshipped by the pagan Druids. How exactly the Celtic Cross got its design is the subject of much debate, with various theories put forward, including a possible link to the Roman sun god, sol invictus, or the simple idea that the ring was added by stonemasons to add stability to the structure.

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
The Market Cross, probably the most famous of the Celtic Crosses in Kells, County Meath, now sits outside the Heritage Centre in the town.
tully-0035
An example of a high cross without a nimbus, at Lehaunstown, County Dublin

When is a High Cross not a High Cross? 

Irish High Crosses are believed to date from between the 8th and 12th centuries. Outside of this time period, the cross cannot be considered a High Cross, so historians must use inscriptions on the cross (which is often absent or no longer decipherable due to weathering), or analysis of the iconography used on the cross to decipher a date. If the cross is clearly legible as a gravestone, this is not a true High Cross, but rather a replica. The revival of the Celtic Cross as a grave stones occurred in the 19th century, but original High Crosses were not used as grave markers, but were found near churches, abbeys or boundary lines.

Very often, Celtic Crosses will be replaced with replica crosses and the originals brought inside to museums or other buildings to conserve them.

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
A replica cross in the monastery grounds at Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

There are more than 250 High Crosses still to be found in Ireland, some partially missing and others fully intact. Many more would have existed at the height of their popularity but the Irish weather is unforgiving when it comes to sandstone structures and many decayed away.

Where can I find High Crosses?

Below is a list of some of Ireland’s Celtic Crosses, but it’s by no means exhaustive. I have only chosen crosses with caches very near to them. For a more complete list of Celtic Crosses, check out the Megalithic Ireland website. If you discover a cross near you without a cache, let me know if you decide to hide one!

Ahenny, County Tipperary

High Crosses of the South East – Ahenny, GC1A8XQ  

Ardboe, County Tyrone

Ardboe Abbey, GCHV96

Armagh, County Armagh 

Church Micro IE 177 St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, GC6D88J

Carndonagh, County Donegal

Carndonagh High Cross, GC5353G 

Castledermot, County Kildare

Fairy (Tale) Tower, GC57A0X

Clonca, County Donegal

Clonca Cross, GC534XP

Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

Clonmacnoise, GC589Z6

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
One of three original Celtic Crosses at Clonmacnoise. The exterior crosses are all replicas. 

Downpatrick, County Down

Church Micro IE 68 Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, GC50P9A

Geocaching at Irish Celtic Crosses
The original High Cross at Downpatrick Cathedral was removed in 2013 for conservation and is now on display at the Down County Museum. The cross now outside the cathedral is an exact replica.

Dromiskin, County Louth

Peace of Dromiskin, GC69T6W

Duleek, County Meath

Daimh Liag, GC1305B

Eglish, County Tyrone

Dont be two cross, GC2F6DA

Fahan, County Donegal 

Saint Mura’s Cross, GC4Z36T

Glendalough, County Wicklow

Glendalough, GC5TX21

Inis Cealtra, County Clare

Inis Cealtra, GC6KAM2

Kells, County Meath

Ceanannas Mór, GC1R913

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
The Cross of St Patrick and St Columba, or the South Cross, in Kells. There are four Celtic Crosses in the town.

Kilfenora, County Clare

Celtic Cross, GC63XYX

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
Kilfenora was once known as The City of the Crosses, as it was home to seven Celtic Crosses, of which six remain in Kilfenora. Three of these are still in tact, including the famous Doorty Cross (pictured).

Kilgobbin, County Dublin

Kilgobbin, GC5WA3Y

Geocaches at Irish Celtic Crosses
Kilgobbin Cross in South Dublin dates from the 10th century.

Kilkieran, County Tipperary

High Crosses of the Southeast – Kilkieran, GC1KJFFN

Killamery, County Tipperary

High Crosses of the South East – Killamery, GC1A90M

Kilree, County Kilkenny

High Crosses of the Southeast – Kilree, GC1MKPW

Kinnitty, County Offaly 

Kinnitty Castle, GC535X9

Laughanstown, County Dublin 

Tully, GCVNXM

I Never Knew That: Geocaching brought me to Tully Church and Lehaunstown Crosses in Dublin
This roadside Celtic Cross in South Dublin is on a raised stone platform so it sits at the same height it was before the road was built

Monasterboice, County Louth

Monasterboice High Crosses and Round Tower, GCYQ42

Moone, County Kildare

Mooneshadow, GC11AK8

Old Kilcullen, County Kildare

Old Kilcullen Hill, GC1QR17

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

This Is Near, But The One Out The Road Is Far Away, GC52GET

Ardane, County Tipperary

St Beriherts, GC425V4

Saint Mullins

Mullins Multi, GC1EKFR

Have you found caches near High Crosses? Let me know in the comments!

Happy caching

Sarah

© 2016 | Sarah Murphy | All Rights Reserved

Further Reading

Barney McLaughlin’s blog Irish High Crosses is a great resource with immeasurable detail on High Crosses around Ireland.


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