Monasterboice Monastic Site, Louth, Ireland

I had been meaning to revisit Monasterboice for ages but wanted to pick a time of year when it would be quieter, and a grey Wednesday afternoon in early January couldn’t have served a better purpose. Monasterboice is a rich site, containing a round tower, the ruins of two medieval churches and some of the finest examples of High Crosses in Ireland.

Monasterboice was founded by a saint named Buite who died in 521. There is a school of thought that believes after his death St Buite somehow was converted to Boyne leading to the name of the river nearby. The monastery that once stood here was taken over by vikings in 968 before being quickly recaptured by Domhnall, King of Tara, slaughtering 300 Vikings in the process, Irish casualties unlisted or so it seems! The Round Tower was built around the 10th century and stands an impressive 35 metres in height, originally it would have contained four floors. The entrance to the tower would have stood a few metres above the ground that surrounded it, however later layers of earth over laid down the centuries have brought the height of the doorway  to almost present-day ground level. This original Monastery was burned in 1097 but remained an important religious centre until the foundation of Mellifont Abbey in 1122. The two church ruins that stand in the grounds are 13th century reconstructions of parts of the original monastery.

At Monasterboice stands one of the finest examples of a High Cross I have ever seen, standing 5.5 metres in height Muirdach’s Cross dates from 900-923 AD. The carvings that cover the cross are immaculate and feature scenes from the bible. Images of Cain slaying Abel, the fall of Adam and Eve, the archangel Gabriel weighing the souls of the damned, and the Crucifixion to name but a few.

The West Cross stands in the shadow of the Round Tower and measures a staggering 6.5 metres in height. It is far more weathered and only a quarter of its 50 panels are visible, these include images of the Sacrifice of Isaac, The Mocking of Christ and the Kiss of Judas.

The northeastern corner of the cemetery houses the North Cross, it is fragmented due to being smashed by Cromwell’s forces, an image of the crucifixion is one of its few remaining carvings.

The craftsmanship and dedication that went into making these beautiful crosses at Monasterboice is captivating and to visit them with not another soul in sight was a pleasure even on the Wintriest of days.

GPS: 53.77767, -6.41789

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