Celtic Christian Era Notes

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The entry lists details of Irish archaeological sites I've visited from the Celtic Christian era, that is, AD 450 to about AD 1200. In this period, Ireland was Christian, but of its own peculiar brand. After 1200, the Anglo-Normans brought a new type of Christianity controlled from Rome, so the distinctive Irish types of monument died out.

I've divided the sites by county.

County Armagh

Kilnasaggart Pillar Stone

This is a tall narrow stone more than 2m high (6 feet 6 inches) which is engraved on front and back. On the front, the southeast face, there is a legible inscription in Irish. The stone is dedicated to Ternoc the son of Ceran Bic, a person who is mentioned in the Annals as having died in either AD 714 or AD 716, making it possible to date the stone to about AD 700. This is supposedly the earliest inscription in Ireland datable from its content.

The stone also has a large number of crosses engraved on it: there are two obvious ones on the front and six on the back (the northwest face), but there are at least another five revealed by detailed inspection. One on the front is a plain Latin cross, that is having the main shaft longer than the side arms. The others are all Greek crosses (four equal arms) and are all inside circles.

The stone is in a small field surrounded by a hedge - this appears to have been a churchyard and the name 'Kilnasaggart' means the Church of the Priest, but other than a few stones there is no trace of any other ancient remains. To get to the enclosure you have to cross two fields which have horses - as a result the ground is churned up and very muddy. Wellington boots are recommended.

You have permission to cross the field - the site is a State Care Monument. There is a small parking place on the road and there are styles or gates to allow access. Don't be worried by the horses - they will keep away from you.

Location of parking:

Location of monument:

County Meath

Killary High Cross - Shaft

This is the broken shaft of a high cross. There are four panels on one side and three on the other side. The panels have been interpreted as follows:

E Side (top to bottom):

  • ?
  • ?
  • Noah's Ark
  • ?

W Side (top to bottom):

  • Visit of the Magi
  • Baptism of Christ
  • Shepherds

County Monaghan

Clones High Cross

This is a peculiar high cross in the centre of the town of Clones. The shaft is tall and wide but the head is very small. This is thought to be the remains of two separate high crosses combined together. Both crosses are throught to date from the 10th century.

The cross consists of four separate pieces of stone:

  • Base
  • Shaft
  • Head
  • Capstone

The base and shaft are thought to come from one cross, the head from a different cross. The capstone looks very recent in comparison.

County Tyrone

Donaghmore High Cross

This high cross is very nicely positioned at the end of the main street so that it looks down the street. There is a graveyard behind it but it is outside of the graveyard. The top of half of the cross is slightly narrower than the bottom half. There are two possible explanations: the top may be from a different cross, or there may be a missing piece between the two parts, in which the diameter would have tapered.

The panels are heavily worn and the head is damaged, with the top half of the ring missing, but the cross still looks very impressive.

In the graveyard behind the cross is another cross - this is a modern reconstruction of what the cross would originally have looked like. The pictures have all been reconstructed based on examples from other crosses. This was funded by a local historical society and various grants.


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