Monasterboice, County Louth

This former monastery is one of Ireland’s best-known and oldest religious sites, with the ruins of two churches, a Round Tower, a pre-Gothic sundial, a decorated grave slab and three High Crosses all packed into a cemetery. Founded in the 6th century by St Buite, or Boyce, the monastery became a great seat of learning, wealthy enough to acquire a good library and support fine artists.

The 95ft Round Tower dates from the 10th or 11th century, when monks needed quickly accessible places of refuge from marauding Vikings and Irish warlords, Once the inhabitants had locked themselves in and hauled up the access ladder, the smooth, round surface offered no niches or footholds to attackers. It was, however, vulnerable to fire, perhaps delivered by flaming arrows. Once its interior was ablaze, it would have acted like a factory chimney. Possibly that was the way monastic life at Monasterboice ended. A sign directs visitors to the holder of the key.

Pride of place among the site’s remains is held by the High Crosses, towering stone sculptures carved with beautifully intricate decorations and panels illustrating Biblical themes, intended as reminders of the Christian message in a largely illiterate society.

The best of the three is the South Cross, known as the Cross of Muiredach, a massive 17ft 8in monolith which is remarkably well preserved despite more than 1000 years of weathering. Among its dozens of facets and panels, the more easily identifiable scenes include Cain slaying Abel, the Adoration of the Magi, Adam and Eve, and David and Goliath. The whole west face of the cross depicts the Ascent of Christ to the Cross.

Nearby is the more slender West Cross, or Tall Cross, almost 4ft taller than Muiredaeh’s, making it the tallest High Cross in Ireland. Unlike Muiredach’s Cross, the West Cross was made in separate sections and its panels have suffered more severe erosion. At some time in its recent history, people seem to have removed parts of the shaft. Of the third cross, only the top section remains, with several unfinished panels.

Monasterboice is a real must see attraction, contact us now to book your visit on your Ireland tour.