Down Crosses

This page features the High Crosses of County Down.  The crosses considered are listed and highlighted in red just below.  The location of County Down is indicated by the red star on the map to the right.  There is a heavy concentration of ancient high crosses in County Down, 12 in total.  They are:  

     Bangor, Clandeboy,  a.k.a. Ballyleidy or Helensbridge:  Part of the shaft of the Bangor cross is built into a wall of a private chapel at Clandeboy.

     Clonlea, North Cross:  The north cross is ringless and stands about 7 feet high.  

     Clonlea, South Cross:  The south cross may or may not be ancient.  The base of the cross is.  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 47-48)

     Donaghmore, a.k.a. Glebe or Newry:  A 10 foot high cross with pierced ring.  Located in a churchyard north of Newry.

     Downpatrick Cathedral Cross:  (now in the County Down Museum)  The cross is 11 feet high with a solid ring.  

     Downpatrick North Cross:  A cross only 56 cm high built into the wall of the south transept of the Cathedral.

     Downpatrick South Cross:  A fragmentary head of a cross only 18 cm high also built into the wall of the south transept of the Cathedral.

     Downpatrick Two Fragments of one cross:  Two fragments displayed together in the entry porch of the Cathedral.

     Downpatrick Fragment of another cross:  One fragment displayed in the entry porch of the Cathedral.

     Dromore, a.k.a. Ballymaganlis:  A plain 15 foot high cross.  Located in a churchyard in town.

     Drumgooland, a.k.a. Drummadonnell or Ballyroney:  A 13 foot high cross with solid ring.  Stands in the grounds of Castlewellan Forest Park

      Kilbroney, a.k.a. Warrenpoint:  An 8 foot six inch high cross with no ring.  Located in a graveyard north of Rostrevor.  (Crawford, p. 196)   

Bangor Abbey and Cross  

The foundation of the Bangor Abbey is credited to Saint Comgall.  He was born in 517  and founded the Abbey in about 555.  The early name of the place was Inver-Beg, meaning “the river mouth.”  The name later became Bean-Choir, meaning “white Church.”

The photo to the left is from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig. 69.

The Danes and Norsemen attacked, plundered and destroyed the Abbey in the period of 810-822.  It is recorded that the Abbot and 900 of the monks were killed.  

In the year 1120, the great saint and Irishman, Saint Malachv, became Abbot of Bangor.  St. Malachy rebuilt the church, which flourished for the next 300 years.  He resided there until called to the See of Down and Connor, and later to the Primacy of Armagh.  

In the year 1469 the Abbey passed from the possession of the Regular Canons and was transferred by Pope Paul II. to the Franciscans, and from them, at a later period, to the Augustinians.  It remained with them until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.  (Brennan, 509-512)

The remaining fragment of what was likely a high cross is a section of a shaft that may have come from the Abbey at Bangor.  The only carving visible consists of two strand interlace.  It is built into the wall of the private chapel of Clandeboye House, Bangor.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 26)

Getting There:  Located on the southwest edge of Bangor on the grounds of the Clandeboye Estate.  Access by permission only.

Clonlea Crosses:

The Clonlea Crosses General

In the Clonlea graveyard there are three crosses.  The North cross is ancient, the middle cross is modern and the South cross seems to be a post 1200 cross in an ancient base.  Dorothy Kelly pointed out to locals that where such an ancient cross and cross base are found, there was probably a monastic settlement with a church.  Kelly suggested a date between 800 and 900 for the cross.  (E Hughes, 2015)

  Clonlea, North

County Down, Northern Ireland, Clonlea North Cross west face.

County Down, Northern Ireland, Clonlea North Cross east face. A ringless cross in the small graveyard of Clonlea.  OS 29:12/22.

The North cross stands about seven feet high. In the center of the east face (pictured left) there appears to be a ringed cross or an image of Christ on the cross.  The shaft seems to be divided into panels which contain figural sculpture too worn to clearly identify. Harbison suggests the second panel up may represent Noah’s Ark.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 48) 

The photo left is the east face of the cross.  

The west face is pictured above right. It also seems to have panels too worn to identify. 

The South Cross may or may not be ancient. It bears an inscription “P Mc M 1842” suggesting it was either erected that year, or reworked then from an older cross.  The initials refer to a Patrick McMullan.  (E Hughes, 2015) 

County Down, Northern Ireland, Clonlea South Cross, base.

The Base is ancient.  The carving is described by Harbison.  “It bears spiral decoration on the north and south ends of the top.  On the west there are C-shaped spirals and, on the east, what seem like two sets of interlace forming four squares.”  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 47-48)

The photo above right is from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig. 131.  The photo to the left was taken in 2015.  The carving on the base is barely visible. 

Getting There:  Located to the northeast of the A2 between Newry and Warrenpoint.  At the south end of the village of Burren, take the Greenan Road, going northwest for about 1 mile. A road signposted as Greenan Lough Road will take off to the right.  Take this right for about .5 miles.  A small field and then a graveyard will be on your left.

Donaghmore Cross:

This is a composite cross south of the church in the Donaghmore churchyard.  The base and shaft are from one cross, the head from another.  The cross was erected in 1891.  

The name Donaghmore is derived from the Irish Domhnach Mor and means the Big Church.  Catherine Brooks has written:  “The title ‘Donagh’ or ‘Domhnach’ was applied to all churches founded by the Saint (Patrick).”  (Brooks)  J. Davison Cowan offers a different explanation for the name.  

“The Irish language afforded St. Patrick and the other early Christian missionaries few terms which could be used for ecclesiastical purposes.  Consequently, they had to borrow from the Latin, and sometimes from Greek through Latin  — while the words thus appropriated became changed in form to suit the Irish laws of pronunciation.  One of these was Domnach, which is derived from the Latin, (Dies) Dominica, and signifies in Irish ‘Sunday,’ or ‘the Lord’s Day,’ and also a ‘church.;” and, according to the best authorities, all the churches in Ireland which bear the name Domnach, . . . were so called because their foundations were marked out on Sunday.”  (Cowan, Chapter 1)

The photo below right is from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figures 182.

Early on the church was known as “Donaghmore of Moy Cova to make the name specific to the site..

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross east face.

Saint Patrick is seen as the founder of the church.  He was certainly active in the area and may well have converted the chief and his family, then founded a church for them.  A community was later founded and St. Mac Erc (son of the red-haired one) was an early, if not the first, bishop.  (Brooks)

The Cross East Face:

The plinth has a rectangular panel that may have contained interlace.

E 1:  No interpretation is made but two have been suggested.  One is David playing his lyre for Saul; the other suggests the Judgment of Solomon.  

E 2:  No interpretation.  There are three  unidentified figures.

E 3:  Moses Smites Water from the Rock.

E 4 left:  David with the Head of Goliath.

E 4 right:  David Slays the Lion

E 5:  Three unidentified figures.

Head center:  The Last Judgment (?)

Head, top:  St. Paul overcoming the devil in the form of a bird or winged beast (?).

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross south side.

Head, ring:  may have contained interlace.

South Side:  See the photo to the right.

Plinth:  no decoration.

S 1:  Unidentified scene that could be David playing the harp, Solomon holding the child upside down or St. Paul or St. Anthony overcoming the devil in human form.

The Photo below left shows the South Side with a detail of the shaft and the North Side, moving from left to right.  The source is Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 186, 187, 188.

S. 2:  Interlace ending in animal heads at the corners.

S 3:  Close interlace.

Head:  Interlace decorates the underside of the ring and end of the arm.  The top has what may be six animal heads emerging from a center point.

North Side:  See the photo below.

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross north side.

Plinth:  unclear decoration.

N 1:  close interlace.

N 2:  David Encounters/Smites Goliath (?)

N 3:  Abraded panel of what was possibly interlace.

N 4:  Interlace.

Head:  The underside of the ring has two panels, one is uncarved, the other bears interlace.  There is a figure, possibly an angel at the end of the arm.  The decoration of the top is unclear.

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross West Face.

West Face:  See the photo to the right.

Plinth:  Interlace framed by roll moulding.

This face contains several images  but is not divided into separate panels.

W 1:  Adam and Eve

W 2:  Noah’s Ark  W 3:  Two unidentified figures.

W 4:  The Sacrifice of Isaac (?)

Head:  Center is a Crucifixion scene with Stephaton and Longinus.  On the arms are the two thieves, each flanked on each side, presumably by soldiers.  There are figures of uncertain identity in the constriction of each arm.  There is an angel around Jesus’ head.

Top:  Two figures that are not identifiable.  

Ring:  Interlace and cylinders are attached to the inner surface of the ring.

The photo to the right is from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig. 189.  

Downpatrick Crosses  

Little is known of the history of the monastery at Downpatrick.  It was, at some point, sacked by the Vikings.  At the Synod of Rathbreasil, in 1111 it became a diocesan episcopal center.  Maol Muire was the first Bishop.  His successor, St. Malachy repaired the church on Cathedral Hill and introduced the Augustinian Canons there in 1138.

In 1177, John de Courcy captured Downpatrick and ruled most of Antrim and Down.  He renamed the town Dun Phadraig and claimed to have found the bones of St. Patrick, St. Brigid and St. Colmcille.  In 1186 these remains were reburied in the presence of the Papal Legate, Cardinal Vivian.  De Courcy replaced the Canons with Benedictine monks.  He also founded a priory and a convent for Cistercian nuns.  The priory and convent fell into decay and in 1513 their property was entrusted to the Abbey.  (http://www.parishofdownpatrick.org/history/history-of-the-parish?showall=&start=2)

Downpatrick Cross, County Down, Northern Ireland

Cathedral Cross

Writing in 1897, Bigger and Fennell tell us the cross may originally have been erected on the Dun (where the present Cathedral stands) to honor Cletchair, an Irish king.  It served later as the Market cross, being located in town center.  At some point in time it was badly damaged and in June of 1897 it was re-erected at the Cathedral.  It was pieced back together, the primary pieces being the base, shaft, arms and circle.  The cap-stone was not found.  An additional base stone was necessary due to damage to the original.  (Bigger and Fennell, p. 272)  The photo to the right was taken in 2008.  In 2014-15, the cross was moved to the Down County Museum while a replica was placed at the Cathedral.  (http://www.downcountymuseum.com/What-s-New/Downpatrick_High_Cross_Exension_Project.aspx)

East Face:  There are four panels on the shaft.  Harbison is reluctant to identify any of the scenes.  From the bottom up, two figures that may be seated; two rows of three figures each; two panels that are too worn to identify.  

County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick Cross, East Face.

Mike King offers an interpretation of the top panel on the shaft.  He writes:  “At the very top of the east side of the cross shaft is a small panel depicting two figures with large heads, who appear to be seated facing each other.  Photographs also show a round object between the two figures, wth a vertical division down the centre, and a triangular feature in relief above their heads, which may be interpreted as the outstretched wings of a descending bird.  The combination of these features suggests that this scene depicts St Anthony and St Paul breaking a loaf of bread brought to them by a raven. . . “  (King, 2013, p. 15)

County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick Cross, West Face, south side.

South Side:  There is one long panel of interlace as illustrated to the right.

West Face:  Harbison identifies several biblical scenes on the west face of the cross.  Beginning at the bottom of the base with Adam and Eve under the apple tree.  Above that he believes may be an image of Cain Slays Abel.  There are three figures in the usual northern variant that shows the figure of the Lord with Cain and Abel.  Harbison states that the upper two panels on the shaft are too worn to offer any identification.  On the head Harbison identifies The Last Judgment.  Christ in the centre is flanked by a number of figures.  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 67-68)

Mike King, based on recent photography and scanning of the Downpatrick cross, identifies a figure riding on a donkey, moving to the left in the same panel where Harbison sees Cain Slays Abel.  His conclusion is that “Despite its unusual position and orientation, the Downpatrick rider may indeed echo representations on other northern high crosses of Christ entering the city of Jerusalem upon an ass and accompained by its colt, before the events of the Passion and Holy Week.  The scene may also symbolize the journey of each of Christ’s elect to the heavenly Jerusalem, and as such may have been intended as a universal image of salvation for all those closely examining the high cross, ever since its appearance on, or close to, the Hill of Down some 1,100 years ago.”  (King, 2014, p. 19, photo right, p. 16) 

North Side:  This side bears no decoration.

North Cross

County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick North and South Crosses.

The North and South crosses are pictured to the left.  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig 205 left and right respectively).

The North Cross is just under two feet in height.  It has in imperforate ring.  In high relief is the figure of an abbot or bishop wearing a robe and cloak. His right hand holds a drop-headed crozier.  His left hand holds what may be a reliquary.  The face has broken away.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 68)

South Cross

The South Cross is a smaller version of the North Cross.  Like the North Cross the figure in high relief holds a cross-decorated book or reliquary.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 68)


Two Fragments of One Cross

These two fragments, together, measure more than 1.40m in height.  In the figures to the right we have both faces of each of the two fragments.  The figures on the left have interlace in the central circle, fretwork on the surviving arm and unknown decoration on the shaft.  The other side, shown on the right has a sunken circle in the head, a sunken squared panel on the shaft and interlace on the arm.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 68; Vol. 2, Figs 206 and 207)

County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick Fragment 1County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick Fragment 2


These two fragments are shown in the photos to the left and right as they appear on display in the front porch of the Cathedral.




Fragment of Another Cross

County Down, Northern Ireland, Downpatrick Fragment 3.

This fragment belonged to another cross.  It measures about 20 inches by 20 inches.  A tenon protrudes from one side.  On one face is a hollow square, on the other face a panel of spiral decoration.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 68; Vol. 2, Fig. 208)

Getting There:  The Cathedral and Down County Museum are both located uphill just to the north of towne centre.


Dromore

The Site and the Saint

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross, East Face.

Saint Colman is believed to have established a monastery at Dromore between 500 and 513.  It was located on the north bank of the River Lagan in what is likely part of central Dromore today.  Colman was educated at Nendrum on Strangford Lough.  He is said to have studied with Saint Coelan.  Colman’s tenure at Dromore is unknown but he seems to have had both the title of Abbot and Bishop.  The attribution of the foundation to Colman is attested to by the presence in the Cathedral of the Church of Ireland in Dromore of a stone known as “Saint Colman’s Pillow.”  Nearby is a well known as Saint Colman’s Well.  Little is known of the early years of the monastery.  

The Cross

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross, West Face.

 Dromore Cross is carved of granite and dates to the 9th or 10th century.  What we have today are the base, part of the shaft and the center and arms of the head.  The photo to the left shows the East Face of the Cross, that to the right shows the West Face.

The cross was restored with modern parts in 1887.  An inscription reads:  "The ancient historical cross of Dromore.  Erected and restored after many years of neglect by public subscription to which the Board of Public Works were contributors, under the auspices of the Town Commissioners of Dromore, County Down, 21. D. 1887.”  (http://www.lisburn.com/books/dromore-diocese/parish-dromore.html) 

County Down, Northern Ireland, Dromore Cross, south side.

Harbison describes the parts of the original Cross.  The base has roll mouldings and a rounded top.

The shaft fragment as geometric design on each side.  Each side has a central panel surrounded by interlace.  The panel on the east side is worn.  The panel on the south side contains fretwork.  The panel on the west side may have a fretwork pattern.  The north side panel contais interlace.  The photo to the left shows the panel on the south side of the cross. 

The head of the cross is unperforated with a “concave central depression and with a sunken square panel on one arm.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 70)


Getting There:  The cross is located in towne centre near the river.

Drumgoolan Cross

The Drumgoolan Cross is presently stored on the grounds of Castlewellan Forest Park.  It seems to have originally been connected with the parish church of Drumgoolan, about three miles northwest of there.  Harbison indicates it was moved from there about 1778.  Bigger, writing in 1908 suggests it was built into a wall when he described it.  Harbison tells us it was at one time built into the wall of the school at Drumgoolan.  Fitzpatrick, writing in 1909 seems to describe it as standing near the church door at Drumgoolan.  (Bigger, p. 57; Fitzpatrick, p. 45; Harbison, 1992, p. 75.)

County Down, Northern Ireland, Drumgooland Cross, West Face.

The image to the left show the west face of the cross.The image below right shows the east face of the cross and the south side.  The photo above right shows a copy of the cross that stands in town center.


County Down, Northern Ireland, Drumgooland Cross, East Face.West Face:  Bigger describes the west face as follows, “Traces of Celtic interlacing can still be seen in a sunk panel extending across the arms and down the shaft.  The centre has a ring enclosing ball ornament.  There are no figures on the exposed side of the cross and the circle is solid with the arms and shaft.  Close to the ground on the three visible sides of the base are three deeply-sunk panels, but whether they were for ornament or for the inserting of other blocks . . . is difficult to say.”  (Bigger, p. 57)  To this Harbison adds that the shaft is divided into four panels.  Interlace can be seen on the lowest of these but the rest are too worn to identify.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 76)

North Side:  There is a sunken panel the length of the shaft decorated with interlace.

County Down, Northern Ireland, Drumgooland Cross, South arm. Face:  A sunken panel the length of the shaft is decorated with interlace.  The frame around it may have been decorated with fretwork.  "The head has a circular panel with a small boss in the centre surrounded by four, or more probably eight, similar bosses, placed like eggs in a nest."  There is interlace in sunken panels on the top and arms of the cross.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 75)

South Side:  A sunken panel runs up the shaft and onto the underside of the arms.  It is decorated with interlace.  The frame around it has interlace on the left and running S-spirals on the right.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 75-76)  See the photo to the left.

Getting There:  A copy of the cross is located in the town square of Castlewellan.


Kilbroney Cross

The Site and the Saint

This cross is located in an old churchyard at Kilbroney, just north of Rostrevor.  Tradition tells us it was the site of an early convent founded by Saint Bronagh in the 5th century.   The early name was Cell Bronche or the Church of Bronach.  Legend also states that the convent was established to aid shipwrecked sailors on the shores of nearby Carlingford Lough.

Saint Bronach was a disciple of Saint Patrick.   Her importance is indicated by the early attribution of the foundation of the convent to her.  The range of her influence is indicated by the depiction of Saint Bronach in a modern stained glass window in All Saints Church, Ballymeena, in County Antrim, pictured right.   (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BrónachSaint)

In the late 19th century a storm felled an old oak tree in the churchyard and a 10th century bell was recovered from the branches.  It is said that the ringing of the bell warned of a storm brewing in the Carlingford Lough.  Note that in the stained glass window Saint Bronach is holding a bell in her left hand.

The Cross

The High Cross located in the churchyard is made of Mourne granite and may, like the bell, date to the 9th or 10th century, though King suggests it may come from the early period of the development of the high cross in Ireland.  (King, 2001, p. 3)  The presence of the cross is an indication of the prestige and wealth of the convent.  It is decorated only on the west face and has no ring.  

Harbison describCounty Down, Northern Ireland, Kilbroney Cross, West Face.es the geometric ornament as follows:W 1:  T-shaped decoration.

W 2:  Too worn to identify.

W 3:  Angular fretwork.

County Down, Northern Ireland, Kilbroney Cross, East Face.

W 4:  Too worn to see anything clearly.

W 5:  ‘Angular spiral’ decoration.

Head:  centre:  A lozenge-shaped panel with ‘angular spiral’ decoration, and with undecorated triangles above and below; arms:  T-shaped decoration; top:  ‘Angular spiral’ decoration.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 113; photo Vol. 2, Fig. 364)King describes the center of the crosshead as having a lozenge symbol filled with key ornament in low relief at the center of the crosshead.  (King, 2001, p. 3)  He identifies the lozenge shape as an image of the stone removed from the tomb and therefore, an image of the resurrection.  He writes:  “The lozenge on the cross reminds the informed viewer that the Resurrection of Christ is implied within the symbolism of the cross.  It is a reminder that, through his martyrdom on the cross, Christ was triumphant, rising again after three days, when an angel descended from Heaven and rolled back the stone from the door to Christ’s tomb.”  (King, 2001, p. 11)  

Resources Cited

Bigger, Francis Joseph, “The Ancient Cross of Drumgolan in the Co. Down,”  Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol. 14, No. 2/3 (May-Aug, 1908), pp. 56-58.

Bigger, Francis Joseph and Fennell, William J., “The High Cross at Downpatrick”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol. 3, No. 4 (July, 1897), pp. 272-274.

Brennan, J. V., “Catholic Bangor and Its Old Abbey”, The Irish Monthly, Vol. 48, No. 568 (Oct., 1920), pp. 509-513.

Brooks, Catherine, “Parish of Donaghmore”, http://www.lisburn.com/books/dromore-diocese/parish-donaghmore.html, accessed March 2015.

Cowan, J. Davison, An Ancient Irish Parish Past and Present:  Being the Parish of Donaghmore, County Down, David Nutt, London.  http://archive.org/stream/ancientirishpari00cowarich/ancientirishpari00cowarich_djvu.txt, accessed March 2015.

Crawford, Henry S., “A Descriptive List of the Early Irish Crosses”, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 37, No. 2, June 30, 1907, pp. 187-239.

Downpatrick High Cross Extension Project:  http://www.downcountymuseum.com/What-s-New/Downpatrick_High_Cross_Exension_Project.aspx

Dromore Diocese:  http://www.lisburn.com/books/dromore-diocese/parish-dromore.html 

Fitzpatrick,Thomas, “The Ancient Cross of Drumgoolan, Co. Down,” Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Feb., 1909), pp. 45-47.

Harbison, Peter; "The High Crosses of Ireland:  An Iconographical and Photographic Survey", Dr. Rudolf Habelt GMBH, Bonn, 1992.  Volume 1:  Text, Volume 2:  Photographic Survey; Volume 3:  Illustrations of Comparative Iconography.

King, Mike, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem on the Northern High Crosses”, Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring 2014, pp. 16-19.  For the entire article:  http://www.academia.edu/6684549/Christs_Entry_into_Jerusalem_on_the_northern_High_Crosses

King, Mike, “The Downpatrick High Cross — Sharing Bread from Heaven”, Archaeology Ireland, Winter 2013, pp. 15-18.  For the entire article:  http://www.academia.edu/5493635/Sharing_Bread_from_Heaven_-_The_Downpatrick_High_Cross

King, Mike, “Diamonds are Forever:  The Kilbroney Cross, the Book of Kells and an Early Christian Symbol of the Resurrection”, Journal of the Lecale Historical Society, No. 19, 2001, pp. 3-13.  For the entire article:  http://www.academia.edu/7113832/Diamonds_are_Forever_the_Kilbroney_Cross_the_Book_of_Kells_and_an_Early_Christian_Symbol_of_the_Resurrection

“Miscellanea”, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 7, No. 3, , Sep. 30, 1897.  pp. 245-246

 Barney McLaughlin 2012