Wexford Crosses

This page highlights the crosses of County Wexford.  The crosses are Adamstown, Ballynatray Lower, Ferns (Decorated Shaft, North Cross, West Cross and Northeast Cross), Kilmokea/Great Island, Rossminoge North, and Taghmon/Poulman.  The location of County Wexford is indicated by a red star on the map to the left.

Adamstown

Adamstown, Co. Wexford, Ireland, cross

Adamstown, Co. Wexford, Ireland, cross

The Cross     

     This cross is ringless and undecorated.  It is approximately twelve feet six inches in height.  It stands on a base that is about two and one half feet square at ground level.

     The photo to the left shows the south face of the cross while that on the right shows the north face.

     The west arm is shorter than the east arm.

The Saint

     Tradition connects St. Abban with both Adamstown in County Wexford and Killabban in County Laois.  There are five manuscript copies of the Life of Abban.  They present some difficulties in determining just when Abban lived, covering a life-span of more than 300 years.  The likelyhood is that Abban “belongs to the sixth and seventh centuries, and that his life has been prolonged backwards by local patriotism.”  (Culleton, p. 98)  Wikipedia ventures a guess that Abban was born about 570 and died in 620.  While these dates are uncertain, thay fit with the sixth and seventh century timeframe for Abbans work mentioned above.  

     Abban seems to have begun his work in Connacht where he is said to have established several foundations.  He moved from there to Munster where he is credited with founding churches in Dingle, Co. Kerry and Ballyvourney, Co. Cork.  From there he moved to Leinster where he first fouded a monastery at Magh Arnaidhe (the plain of the berries).  This is the site now known as Adamstown.  The name derives from Adam Devereux, a Norman whose family was granted land there.  (Culleton, p. 99)   

     There is no information about the church or monastery itself.  If it was founded by St. Abban, in perhaps the early 600’s, and if, as seems likely, it was still in existence during the time of Adam Devereux in the eleventh century, it had a life of at least 400 to 500 years.  

 Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 53 4 C.  Located on the R735, the cross is located in a graveyard as indicated on the map to the left.

The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Ballinatray Lower

The Cross

     This Latin cross is made of shale and has one broken arm.  It stands a little over seven feet high.  On each side there is an incised cross in a circle.  (http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/ item WX012-006)

     I find no information at all about the site or any Saint that may be related to it.

Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 54, 1 F.  Located north of the R742 on the western outskirts of Courtown.  From the R742 take a left where a brown sign reads “Forest Park”.  Immediately there will be a left under a low entry barrier into “Forest Park Walking Trails.”  As you enter the walking area you will see to your left a sign that directs you to The High Cross of Kilbride.

 



The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.


Ferns

Ferns, Co. Wexford, Ireland, church and cross.

The photo to the left shows the west end of the current Church of Ireland, Saint Edan's (or Aidan's) Cathedral with the west cross in the foreground.  (photo 2011)

Introduction to the Site

The area around Ferns, in County Wexford has a long history of recorded habitation.  In July 1963 a bronze age cemetery was found at Scarawalsh, about two kilometers southwest of Ferns.  (Rynne, p. 39)  Ferns itself  “is a village that is built upon an old iron age settlement. An archaeological dig in 1999 found a ring ditch that had been in use between 2000-500 BC.”  (Holy Well)  Herbert Hore, writing in 1910 suggests an etymology for the place name.  He said that Fearna mor “signifies ‘a great plain or field’.  (Hore p. 302)  Wikipedia, on the other hand, reports that Fearna means “alder trees”.  (Wikipedia, Ferns, County Wexford)  

Our particular interest here is the early Christian habitation at Ferns.

Near the end of the sixth century a nobleman named Becc gave a gift of land to Saint Aidan (also known as Maedog) on which he built a wooden church.  Near this same time Brandubh, the Ui Cheinnselaig [a Leinster clan] king of Leinster gifted Aidan with additional land and funds to build a monastery.  (Culleton, p. 134)    Records exist showing that the monastery was active from around 598 C.E. until at least 1158 C.E. During this period of nearly six hundred years the monastery was guided at times by an abbot and at other times by a bishop.  Aidan himself was ordained a bishop in 598 C.E.  Both bishops and abbots were appointed with the approval of the local chieftains or kings. (Culleton, p. 135-139) 

Ferns was a center for the Ui Cheinnselaig clan at the time the monastery was founded in about 598.  Much later, it was the capital of Leinster during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when, after a period out of power in Leinster, the clan again held the kingship.

Like many of the early Irish monasteries, Ferns was centered in a circular enclosure.  Part of this boundary can still be seen in the remaining surrounding wall.  (Meehan, p. 328)  The image to the right is not a rendering of what Ferns looked like.  It is instead a rendering of a generic early Irish monastery reconstruction by Liam de Paor.  The source is:  http://www.finlaggan.com/page/24.asp.  De Paor, who died in 1998, taught archaeology and history at University College, Dublin and elsewhere.

The presence of High Crosses at Ferns suggests that it was a prosperous monastery during at least part of its history.  This certainly included the eighth and ninth centuries.  Peter Harbison suggests a ninth century date for a decorated cross shaft south of the Protestant Cathedral.  He suggests that the other three high crosses on the site probably also fit into this earlier groupings of crosses.  (Harbison, 1992, p.377)  Another sign of the importance of Ferns monastery is found in a mention in 787 of the stone church there.  This makes it one of the early stone churches in Ireland.  (Meehan, 328) 

During the eighth century Ferns and its monastery were involved in a power struggle between two branches of the Ui Cheinnselaig clan.  One branch, the Sil Chormaic were in control of the area around Ferns and held the kingship.  The other branch, the Sil Maeluidir, were centered around Taghmon (in south Wexford), where a monastery had been founded about the same time as at Ferns. There was military action between the two monasteries in 769 and 783, which probably involved monks fighting monks.  In 809 the Sil Maeluidir gained the kingship of Leinster, but not Ferns.  “Given the power, pretige and wealth of Ferns this situation had to be remedied.  In 817 a major battle was fought between the forces of the monastery of Taghmon, . . . and Ferns, in which 400 people were killed.”  (Culleton, p. 138 and Hughes, p. 169)

Norwegian Vikings also attacked, sacked and burned Ferns several times in the ninth and tenth centuries.  (Askaboutireland)   

The Ferns monastery, like many Irish monasteries, was a place of learning.  The Annals of the Four Masters for 1129 records the death of Mac Muirgheasa, a lector or professor at Ferns.  

By the twelfth century the old monastery was in decline and there may not have been much left of the community.  In 1158 Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster  chartered Saint Mary's Augustinian abbey at Ferns.  It was build within the grounds of the old monastery.  (Furlong, pp. 88-90)  

In 1166, Diarmait left Ireland.  (Furlong, p. 103)  He was forced out by his enemies.  The image to the right is of Diarmait.  (:http://www.evi.com/q/facts_about__dermot_macmurrough)  Before leaving he burned Ferns including his royal palace and the monastery at Ferns.  (presumably this included the new Abbey.)  In 1169 Diarmait returned to Ireland with the support of the Normans.  Upon his return, he rebuilt Ferns.  (Meehan, p. 329)  Thus he holds the dubious distinction of being the Irish king who invited the Normans to Ireland.  He died at Ferns in 1171 and the decorated cross shaft south of the Protestant Cathedral is said to mark his grave.

Introduction to the Founding Saint

The monastery at Ferns was founded by Saint Aidan, also known as Maedog.  Aidan was born in Co. Cavan around the middle of the sixth century.  He was of noble birth.  He studied for a time at Saint David’s monastery in South Wales.  As stated above land at Ferns was given to Aidan by the nobleman Becc and the Ui Cheinnselaig king Brandubh.  Aidan was given the title of Bishop of Ferns by Brandubh in thanks for his prayers that had led Brandubh to victory in war.  (Meehan, p. 328)  "His name, Aedh, prefixed by Mo and ended with go, both affectionate terms, became locally 'Mogue', but in its English diminutive, it becomes 'Aedhin' or 'Aidan'."  (Meehan, p. 327)  You will also find additional spellings of his name.

The image to the left is a detail from the Breach Maodhog associated with St. Aidan of Ferns.  "The Breach Maodhog (the speckled or variegated shrine of Saint Maedoc . . ) is a house-shaped reliquary, probably made in the late 11th century."  http://www.100objects.ie/portfolio_category/national-museum/.   Photo http://www.facebook.com/irisharchaeology.ie/posts/325749244208592, 3/27/2013.  It is unclear who the figures represent.

The Ferns monastery probably followed the pattern of life at St David’s in Wales.  “Each monk toiled at daily labour, they ‘dig the ground with mattocks and spades, carry in their holy hands hoes and saws for cutting, provide with their own industry all the necessities of the community.  The rest of their time is spent in prayer and chanting of the psalms.’”  (Culleton, p. 104)  Aidan seems to have participated in the manual labor of the community as well as caring for administrative needs.

Like all Saints, miracles of various kinds were atrtributed to Aidan.  “When the monastery was being built, his disciples complained that there was no water near the place.  Aidan ordered them to cut down a large tree, whereupon a spring gushed forth which was named after the saint.”  (Culleton, p. 105)  This miracle creates a link between Aidan and Moses, who at God's command struck a rock in the wilderness from which water gushed forth.  (Exodus 17:1-7)  Such connections with biblical figures are typical of hagiography.

Aidan died around the year 624.

There is a certain amount of confusion around the life of Aidan or Maedog.  There was another saint Maedog located nearby at Clonmore in County Carlow.  The two lives have probably been conflated.  (Culleton, p. 103)

The Crosses

There are parts of four high crosses at Ferns and a much smaller fifth cross that may or may not be pre-thirteenth century.  Each of these crosses is described below.

The South cross consists of a decorated shaft and a large base.  The West, North and North-east crosses have original  heads, all with imperforate ringed heads.  They stand on their original bases but the shafts have not survived.  These three crosses have been re-erected using concrete shafts.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89)  The small cross is east of the Cathedral.  

The Decorated Shaft:  The South Cross consists of a decorated shaft and a large base.  It stands south of the Protestant Cathedral.  The base is of granite and measures 1.4 m by 1.17 m.  It has “raised moulding on the edges and surrounding the bottom of the shaft.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89) 

The photos below show the south side of the cross (upper left), the north side (upper right), the east face (lower left) and the west face (lower right). 

Ferns, Decorated cross shaft, Co. Wexford, Ireland          

 Ferns, decorated cross shaft, Co. Wexford, Ireland          

Ferns, decorated cross shaft, Co. Wexford, Ireland

  Ferns, decorated cross shaft, Co. Wexford, Ireland

The shaft is of granite and stands 95 cm high.  It is 57 cm wide and 34 cm thick.  “There are broad raised flattened mouldings at the edges.  It has a meander pattern on the south side and fret patterns on the north side, as well as on the two faces.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89)

Ferns, West Cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland

The West Cross:  Standing to the west of the Cathedral, this cross consists of the base and the head.  It has be erected using a concrete shaft.  “this cross-head is 1.12 m high and 1.25 m across the arms.  The east face of the cross has no roll moulding.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89)  The east face is seen in the photo below.  As seen in the photo to the right the shape of the cross is outlined by a roll moulding on the west face of the cross.

Ferns, West Cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland


Ferns, North Cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland

The North Cross:  “This cross-head stands near the road, to the north of the Cathedral.  It is 1.10 m high and 1.21 m across the arms.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89)  Like the west cross it consists of a base and head connected by a concrete shaft.  The size of the head and the outlining of the cross head with roll moulding is very similar to that on the west cross.  The photo to the left is the west face of the cross, the one below is the east face.

                                                    Ferns, North Cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Ferns, Northeast cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland

The North-east Cross:  “Situated in low-lying ground close to the road, and in the north-eastern part of the Cathedral grounds, this cross-head has narrower and longer arms than the other two, and the ring is framed by a roll moulding at the edges.  It is 1.40 m high and 1.53 m across the arms.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 89)  This cross is larger than the west and north crosses.  The arms extend farther from the ring.  The photo to the left shows the west face of the cross.  The photo below is the east face.

Ferns, Northeast cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland


          





Ferns, small cross, Co. Wexford, Ireland



The Small Cross:  In Peter Harbison's catelogue of crosses the small cross is not included as it does not fit his criteria for inclusion.  It is, however listed in Appendix A along with other crosses that may be pre-thirteenth century but do not meet the criteria.  Crosses excluded include those “which are -- or are likely to have been -- less than 1.50 m or about 5 feet in height, and which bear no traces of carving or mouldings, even though they may have simple incised decoration or a ringed outline.”  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 393 and 2)  The small cross, pictured to the left, is far short of 5 feet tall and has no apparent decoration of any kind.




Saint Mary's Augustinian Abbey

Ferns, St. Mary's Augustinian Abbey, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Ferns, St. Mary's Augustinian Abbey, round tower, Co. Wexford, Ireland

As stated above, Saint Mary's Abbey was chartered by Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster.  There is some disagreement among writers about exactly when the abbey was founded.  Brian Lalor gives a date of 1152 for the founding.  "In 1152 MacMurrough founded St Mary's Abbey for the Canons Regular.  This was burned by the O'Rourkes and O'Connors, but he rebuilt it in 1160, following his return from his appeal to Henry II."  (Lalor, p. 229)  Nicholas Furlong states that the abbey was chartered in 1158.  He provides the text of the original charter.  (Furlong, p. 88f)  He also reports that in 1165, during a time of peace, fire destroyed Ferns except for the castle, monastery, cathedral and churches that were constructed of stone.  (Furlong, p. 95)  In 1166, before leaving Ireland, Mac Murchada himself had Ferns burned again.  (Furlong, p. 99)  Cary Meehan reports that "on his return in 1169, with Norman support, he rebuilt Ferns and founded an Augustinian Abbey on the site of the original monastery."  (Meehan p. 329)  Lalor seems to be off in his dating both of the abbey and of Diarmait's return from England.  Furlong's record of events has greater credibility as it is reported in a life of Diarmait that explores events of that time in considerable detail.  

One thing that can be agreed on is that the abbey has an unusual round tower.  It is built into the northwest corner of the abbey church.  From the ground to the eaves of the building it is rectangular in shape.  Above the eaves it becomes round in shape.  Brian Lalor states "This is the sole example of an attached tower which survives relatively intact."  (Lalor, p. 229)  He adds that it probably had a conical top.  

The abbey was suppressed between 1536 and 1541 by order of Henry VIII.

Medieval Cathedral 

Ferns, Medieval Cathedral, Co. Wexford, Ireland


East of the present Church of Ireland Cathedral, Saint Enda,' stand the ruins of a medieval cathedral built by Bishop John Saint John about 1220.  It was in the Gothic style.  (http://www.fernsvillage.ie/ferns-heritage-page53915.html)



 Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 54 2 E.  Located on the N 11 The crosses are indicated by the circles on the map to the right.

The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Kilmokea, Great Island

The Site

Kilmokea is located on Great Island.  Habitation of the island commenced about 10,000 BCE.  In the 7th century a monastery was founded at Kilmokea that covered 20 acres.  In the graveyard there, in addition to the high cross, are  bullaun stones and the remains of a horizontal water-mill.  A church was founded here in the 8th century by Suadbar.  The site is also associated with Saints Findbarr and Barrfhin.

The Cross

     The cross at Kilmokea is quite small, measuring just under two feet in height.  It is made of sandstone, is imperforate and has "rope-moulding around the edges and around the cross in the centre of the what is now the west face, as well as around the panels on the ends of the arms.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 131)  The photos to left and right above were taken by Paddy Healy.  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 438-440; the descriptions below are derived from Harbison, 1992, p. 131)

East Face (photo to the right)

     This face has a crudely shaped cross that dominates the entire face of the cross.  Inside the center of the cross is a double incised circle with an equal armed cross within that has X-shaped decorations on the arms.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 131) 






South Side (photo to the left)

     Rope moulding frames this entire side of the cross.  In addition rope moulding on the shaft forms an X.  On the end of the arm is an equal-armed cross that is raised and has an incised cross inside.


West Face (photo to the left)

     Once again, rope moulding is used extensively.  On the shaft is a panel of interlace.  On the head is an equal-armed cross with rope-moulding at the edges.  There is an incised cross on each arm of the  equal-armed cross and a cross-decorated boss in the center surrounded by rope moulding.  An inscription runs around the top of the cross.  The inscription cannot be deciphered.

North Side (photo to the right)

     This side is similar to the south side.  A panel of interlace can be seen on the flat top of the cross.


Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 63, 2 B.  Take the R733 south from New Ross.  Follow the signs for the Kilmokea Gardens.  The cross is located in a small graveyard that is on a side road just before you come to the Gardens.  Turn right and you will see a graveyard on your left.

The map to the right is cropped from the Historic Environmental Viewer.

Rossminoge North Cross-head

The only reference I find to this cross-head is in the Historic Environment Viewer.  The description there is as follows:  “Located on a gentle E facing slope.  The parish church of Rossminoge is within a rectangular graveyard defined by an earthen bank, which has a fosse or ditch inside it on the SE side.  In the SW corner of graveyard is the ringed but unpierced and undecorated head of a large granite high cross (H 0.93m; With 0l.84m; T c 0.1m), but one of the arms is missing.  Compiled by Michael Moore.”






The cross-head is lying partly buried in the ground and is covered with grass and moss.  Nearby is the base with a rectangular mortise.

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 63, 2 B.  Take the R733 south from New Ross.  Follow the signs for the Kilmokea Gardens.  The cross is located in a small graveyard that is on a side road just before you come to the Gardens.  Turn right and you will see a graveyard on your left.


The map to the left is cropped from the Historic Environmental Viewer.



Resources Consulted:

Historic Environment Viewer, http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/

Taghmon, Poulman

The Monastery

     Saint Munnu founded a monastery at a place called Achadh Liathdrm which means “the field of the grey ridge” on land donated by the local chief, a man named Dimma or Diarmait.  The exact year of the founding is not known, however, Munnu died in 635 or 636.  The place soon came to be called Teach Munnu or the house or monastic church of Munnu.  This was later morphed into Taghmon.  (Culleton, pp. 140-141) 

     The monastery functioned as a school and continued to flourish for several centuries.  A number of abbots are mentioned in the Annals, and one additional abbot, Ossine, is mentioned in the Life of Adomnan.  These abbots are:

Munnu, d. 636; Ossine, d. 687; Ciaran, d. 777; Crundmael, d. 817; Laisren, d. 854; Fiachra, d. 859; Dunghal (vice-abbot), d. 885; Diarmaid, d. 886; Cochlan, d. 889; Soichleachan, d. 925; and Dunlang Mac Donnagain, d. 953.  (Culleton, p. 141)

     The Annals record that in 828, “Cairpre, son of Cathal, king of Ui Cheinnselaig, and the men of Taghmon, defeated the Norse, or Gentiles, as the monks who recorded such attacks named them.”  (Culleton, p. 142)  It is entirely possible that the men of Taghmon included monks.  The Norse later plundered Taghmon in 835 and 921.  

Taghmon, Co. Wexford, Ireland, crossTaghmon, Co. Wexford, Ireland, cross

     During the 8th and 9th centuries Taghmon was involved in conflict with the monastery at Ferns.  That story is told briefly under the history of Ferns above.  It was in the 9th century, perhaps as a result of its conflict with Ferns that the monastery began to decline.  It continued to exist into and perhaps beyond the 11th century.  (Culleton, p. 142)

The Saint

       Saint Munnu is also known as Finton.  He was born into the Ui Niell clan of Northern Ireland.  After 18 years in monastic life in Ireland, he traveled to Iona to serve under Saint Columba.  By the time he arrived Columba had died and the new abbot, Baithene, told him that Columba wanted him to depart because he was destined to found a monastery.  That monastery was Taghmon.  At the synod of Magh Lene in 630, Munnu was a firm supporter of the Celtic liturgical practices in opposition to Saint Laserian and others who preferred the Roman practices.  (http://celticsaints.org/2010/1021a.html)  This apparently centered around the computation of the date of Easter.  (Lanigan, p. 393) 

Taghmon, Co. Wexford, Ireland, crossTaghmon, Co. Wexford, Ireland, cross

The Cross

     All that remains of the cross at Taghmon is the base and the head.  The base stands four feet in height.  The cross head is four and a half feet tall and a few inches more wide.

   The base has decoration only on the south face.  There we have a ringless cross in relief with a boss in the center.  The arms have expanding terminals.

     The head is that of a ringed cross that is imperforate.  The ring is outlined by raised ribs.  the decoration is the same on both faces. (Harbison, 1992, p. 168)

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 53 5 D.  Taghmon is just west of the R738.  The cross is located just inside the gate of the church indicated on the map to the left.  


The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.


Resources Consulted:

Askaboutireland:  http://www.askaboutireland.ie/learning-zone/primary-students/looking-at-places/wexford/aspects-of-county-wexford/ferns/

Celt, Corpus of Electronic Texts, http://www.ucc.ie/celt/publishd.html, Annals of the Four Masters.

Celtic Saints, http://celticsaints.org/2010/1021a.html.

Culleton, Edward, Celtic and Early Christian Wexford, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999.

Ferns, County Wexford: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferns,_County_Wexford

Ferns Heritage:  http://www.fernsvillage.ie/ferns-heritage-page53915.html

Furlong, Nicholas, Diarmait:  King of Leinster, Mercier Press, Douglas Village, Cork, 2006.

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.

Holy Well:  Saint Mogue’s Well, Ferns, http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2011/09/saint-mogues-well-ferns.html

Hore, Herbert F., “Ferns, Co. Wexford”, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 40, No. 4 December 31, 1910.

Hughes, Kathleen, The Church in Early Irish Society, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

Lalor, Brian, The Irish Round Tower, The Collins Press, Cork, Ireland, 1999.

Lanigan, John, An Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, 1923.

Meehan, Cary, The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland, Gothic Image Publications, Gastonbury, Somerset, England, 2002.

National Monument Service:  http://webgis.archaeology.ie/historicenvironment/ item WX012-006

Rynne, Etienne, “Bronze Age Cemetery at Scarawalsh, Co. Wexford”, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 96, No. 1 (1966), page 39.  


 Barney McLaughlin 2012