Near to the round tower stands the West or Tall Cross. This cross, that was once called St. Bween's Cross (Weir), stands a massive 6m tall and, although weathered, is quite incredible. The carved panels are of much poorer execution than the best cross here.
In one corner of the graveyard is a cross with the crucifixion on one face and several spirals on the rear. Next to this is a plain cross pillar and a sundial.
Monasterboice's pride and glory has to be Muiredach's Cross. The carving on this is exquisite. The panels include Moses striking the Rock, Adam and Eve & the tree, the Triumph of David, Doubting Thomas (unique in Ireland) and the Flight into Egypt. There is also a fine carving of two mutual beard pullers.
Round Towers are found all over Ireland. They are very tall towers associated with early monastic settlements. Their purpose is one of much debate: were they bell towers, look-out towers or were they defensive structures, built to protect the sites relics and books during Viking raids? Maybe they were all three! The high-set doors certainly give the impression that some element of defense was considered in their construction.
Internally they had four or five floors, each accessed via a ladder from the floor below. Not every floor had a window, but the top floor usually had four windows which aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. The one at Kells (County Meath) unusually has five windows on the top floor which point at the five gates to the town.
Not many of the eighty plus examples left are full height these days. Many crumbled and were taken down for safety purposes. Some, however, are still very impressive inded with Kilmacduagh (County Galway) reaching an incredible 35m tall.
Originally all of them would have had a conical roof and those that still possess this feature give the impression of being ready to blast off into space.
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Instead of rushing around and drving many miles this weekend my wife and I ecided to visit some of the 'slow down and take it easy' sites neaer to home. So, Monasterboice seemed like an obvious choice for a starting position, although we arrived later than I wanted to. Surprisingly there was only one coach load of tourists and one car in the car park when we arrived. More were to turn up later.
We stood and inspected the crosses with the help of Harbison's High cross book (see reviews) and then listened to a German guide explaining the cross to her party. She was extremely knowledgeable regarding the panels.
This spot is such a lovely one. The trees of the graveyard hide the impressiveness of the location from you, so take the time to woander around the edge of the graveyard and look over the walls. The low hills rise up behind you, and although these are not high they do obscure the view sufficiently to make the view to the south even more impressive. You get the impression that the site is a lot older than the Christian establishment that now occupies it.
I've decided to split this page in two, so that the West Cross has its own site page. It's wonderful and it's only fair that it gets recognition.
Muiredach's Cross is, as I've said before, the pride of Monasterboice. The carving is exceptional and the piece of stone it was carved from was very well chosen, because it has not suffered the ravages of time like the West Cross has.
Today my visit was just 30 minutes too late to catch the sun lighting up the east face, but I did get beautiful light on the west face. The window of opportunity for seeing the east face lit up is very slim because of the yew trees that grow very close to the cross.
The cross is believed to be named after a former abbot, Muiredach mac Domhnaill, who died in 923 ce.
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I very nearly didn't bring my guests here as I was feeling a little run down after our other sites, but I am so glad we did bring them. If you travel from Utah to Ireland you simply have to see a good High Cross, and let's face it ... this is a great High Cross!!!
This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.
Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.
Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.
The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.
UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.
ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.