This small site is one of the most famous religious sites in the country, it was founded by an obscure disciple of St. Patrick. The ruins of the monastery are enclosed within the walls of a cemetery and very much mixed with the modern graves of the residents of the surrounding villages. The site includes a roofless round tower and two small churches but the treasures are really the 10th century High Crosses, the finest in all Ireland.
High Crosses are found in Celtic Britain and Ireland, but the distinctive ringed crosses have become a symbol of Irish Christianity for all the world. They were carved between the 8th and 12th centuries, the early crosses bore only geometric motifs but the later ones hold Biblical scenes used to educate the illiterate masses. In reality though, the crosses were a status symbol for the individual monasteries or for a local patron who supported the monastery.
The finest High Cross in all of Ireland is Muiredach’s High Cross, so named because of an inscription at its base – “A prayer for Muiredach by whom this cross is made” – he may have been the abbot at Monasterboice. The Tall Cross, standing nearby is one of the largest in Ireland, but its carvings have not weathered as well.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
You would never know that this was such a famous site if you happened upon it by chance. There is parking for only a handful of cars along the narrow lane running between high hedgerows. The small building at the entrance to the cemetery was closed and shuttered, but a sign was posted indicating that donations were welcomed from the faithful for the upkeep of the grounds.
For the longest time we were the only people there that morning, and I couldn’t have wished for a better bit of quiet time with these enchanting crosses. For me, they will always be the symbol of Ireland, not the shamrock, the leprechaun or the Guinness logo. I was almost done taking photographs when another couple arrived by car but we didn’t speak as we moved our separate ways through the rows of tombstones and crosses. Many of the recent gravestones mimic the ancient High Crosses, and that’s just as it should be.