Blog by Gifts of Ireland

The Celtic Crosses of Ireland

The Celtic Crosses of Ireland

Celtic crosses are one of the many historical remnants of Ireland we are fortunate enough to still enjoy to this day. As Christianity spread throughout the island, these ornate crosses appeared in just about every county. Today we're talking about these sacred monuments and having a look at some of the most famous examples in Ireland.

Irish high crosses are internationally recognized icons of early medieval Ireland and had a number of ceremonial and symbolic uses. Their placement could also mark sanctuary around a church, or focal points in a community for markets, which formed around church sites. They are part of a unique early medieval tradition in Ireland and Britain, and a well-known example of Insular art. Celtic crosses are distinct from a typical Christian cross as they are usually decorated with interlace, knotwork and other motifs from Celtic Insular art. Biblical scenes will also be found alongside the Celtic symbols. 

Irish popular legend claims that the Celtic cross was created by St Patrick. It has often been claimed that Patrick combined the Christian symbol of the cross with the pagan symbol of the sun to convince the pagan population of the importance of the cross.  

High Crosses at Monasterboice, County Louth

The tallest of the Irish Celtic crosses is the Tall Cross, or Muiredach's High Cross,  one of three surviving high crosses located Monasterboice. The monastic site is said to have been founded in the 6th century by St Buithe.  The cross stands at 5.8 metres, or 19 feet high. It bears 124 figures depicting scenes from both the Old and New Testaments as well as 17 different patterns, a mixture of spiral, interlace and key patterns. 

High cross

Clonmacnoise High Crosses, County Offaly

Clonmacnoise monastary was founded by St Ciar√°n in the 6th century on the left bank of River Shannon, and is one of Europe's oldest early Christian settlements. The Cross of the Scriptures, also known as King Flann's Cross, is the more well-known and ornate of the two surviving High Crosses at Clonmacnoise. It depicts soldiers guarding Christ's tomb along with his arrest and flagellation. The Crucifixion is shown in the centre of the circle.



High crosses at Ahenny, County Tipperary

The small village of Ahenny in County Tipperary is home to two of the country's most well-known High Crosses. Both feature extensive and elaborate interlace design covering both sides of the cross.  The North cross features key and spiral patterns with figures in a procession at the base. On the South cross a Triskele, or Triple Spiral, is carved towards the bottom of the cross, with a carving of David bringing a defeated Goliath to Jerusalem on one side of its base.


Durrow High Cross, County Offaly

The Durrow High Cross stands at 3.6 metres on the monastic site in Durrow, County Offaly. A monastery was founded here by St Colomba some time around 580. The cross features the Christian iconography of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and the Last Judgement, along with interlaced serpents. The cross also bears the Celtic interlaced and spiral bossed/rounded knob motifs.

Durrow High Cross

With so many crosses across Ireland, it's impossible to cover them all here. They are such an awe-inspiring part of Irish history and have such variety, we strongly recommend seeking them out if you ever take a trip to the Emerald Isle. No matter where you go, you're bound to find at least one!


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