Sligo Crosses

This page describes the crosses in County Sligo.  They include a cross, cross-shaft and fragments from Drumcliff; a cross-head at Drumcolumb and a base at Tempolehouse Demesne.  The location of County Sligo is indicated by the red star on the map to the right.  

Drumcliff Crosses

The Monastery

Druim Cliabh (Drumcliff) was known to Irish legend prior to the establishment of a monastery there.  The name translates to “the Ridge of [boat] frames” and derives from the construction there of about 150 boat frames used by Curnan the Backlegged to attack and destroy Dun Barc, possibly located in Bantry Bay.  (Stokes p. 551)

County Sligo, Drumcliff monastic site

The Martyrology of Donegal tells us that St. Columba founded the monastery at Drumcliff about 575.  He left Mo-Toren (Mothairen) there as the first abbot.  (Stokes p. 552)  The founding of the monastery took place after Columba had left Ireland for exile on Iona in Scotland.  It happened when he was back in Ireland for a time to attend the synod at Drumkeatt.  Following that synod he visited numerous churches and monasteries and founded monasteries, including Drumcliff.  (Stokes p. 553)

Stokes reports that it was not until the 9th century that Drumcliff gained notice in the Irish annals.  She mentions the following entries.

M921.3  Maelpadraig, son of Morann, Abbot of Druim-cliabh and Ard-sratha;

M930.6  Maenghal, son of Becan, Abbot of Druim-chliabh;

M950.4  Flann Ua Becain, airchinneach of Druim-cliabh, scribe of Ireland, died.

M1029.5  Aedh Ua Ruairc, lord of Dartraighe; and the lord of Cairbre; and Aenghus Ua hAenghusa, airchinneach of Druim-cliabh; and three score persons along with them, were burned in Inis-na-lainne in Cairbre-mor.

M1053.4  and Murchadh Ua Beollain, airchinneach of Druim-cliabh, died.

M1187.8  Drumcliff was plundered by the son of Melaghlin O'Rourke, Lord of Hy-Briuin and Conmaicne, and by the son of Cathal O'Rourke, accompanied by the English of Meath. But God and St. Columbkille wrought a remarkable miracle in this instance; for the son of Melaghlin O'Rourke was killed in Conmaicne a fortnight afterwards, and the eyes of the son of Cathal O'Rourke were put out by O'Muldory (Flaherty) in revenge of Columbkille. One hundred and twenty of the son of Melaghlin's retainers were also killed throughout Conmaicne and Carbury of Drumcliff, through the miracles of God and St. Columbkille.

M1225.1  Auliffe O'Beollan (Boland) Erenagh of Drumcliff, a wise and learned man and a general Biatagh, died.

M1252.1  Maelmaedhóg O'Beollain, Coarb of Columbkille, at Drumcliff, a man of great esteem and wealth, the most illustrious for hospitality, and the most honoured and venerated by the English and Irish in his time, died.

M1267.5  A depredation was committed by the English of West Connaught in Carbury of Drumcliff, and they plundered Easdara Ballysadare.

(Annals of the Four Masters)

The Crosses

Sandstone Cross:  This is the only complete cross at Drumcliff.  It stands  nearly 10 feet in height and measures about 43 inches across the arms.  The stepped base on which it stands is nearly 33 inches in height.  Harbison points out that the head does not seem to have been that originally planned for the shaft.  He suggests that it is a replacement that was either carved at the time due to a change of plans or somewhat later to replace the original head.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 70)

The cross is not divided into separate panels, however the divisions between the images is generally very clear.  The descriptions below depend on the work of Harbison (1992 pp. 70-73) and Stokes (pp. 551-556).  Where their descriptions diverge , that fact will be indicated.

East Face:  See the photo to the right.County Sligo, Drumcliff, sandstone cross

E 1:  There is an interlace pattern composed of four circles that Stokes describes as the roots of the Tree of Knowledge.

E 2:  The Fall of Man.  In this image Eve, on the left, appears to eat the apple.  At the same time both Eve and Adam hide their nakedness.

E 3:  An animal in high relief that seems to be a lion.

E 4:  Harbison identifies this scene as David Slaying Goliath while Stokes identified it as Cain killing Abel.  Harbison notes details such as Goliath holding a shield in support of his identification.  His argument is persuasive.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 71)

E 5:  Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Center of Head:  Stokes identified the figure here as a bishop, perhaps St. Columba.  Harbison sees this as a depiction of either the Second Coming of Christ or the Last Judgment.  The key identifier is the cross held over the right shoulder of the figure.  If this were a bishop a crozier would be expected instead.  

Arms:  Each of the arms has five heads.  The upper part of the shaft is broken but may contain six heads.  Stokes identifies these as cherub heads.  Harbison does not attempt an identification.   

County Sligo, Drumcliff, sandstone cross

South Side:  See the photo to the left.

S 1:  Bottom panel that is undecorated.

S 2:  Various interlocking spirals.

S 3:  blank panel with a mortise hole.

S 4:  Two interlaced animals with interlacing ribbon.

S 5:  Top panel of shaft is undecorated.

S 6:  An animal seems to crouch.   Harbison describes this as a lion while Stokes identified it as a stag.

Underside of Ring:  Harbison describes an animal seen from above and facing down toward the shaft.  Stokes identifies this as a seal and frog.

End of Arm:  Virgin and Child


West Face:  See the photo to the right.County Sligo, Drumcliff, sandstone cross

W 1:  Interlaced design.

W 2:  Harbison identifies this scene as the naming of John the Baptist or the presentation of John in the temple.  Stokes sees it as the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

W 3:  An animal figure that Harbison identifies as a camel and Stokes suggests might be an Irish wolf dog.

W 4:  The smiting of Jesus.  Harbison specifies the second mocking.

W 5:  Harbison suggests this may be the return of Mary and Joseph from Egypt or less likely Zacharias and Elisabeth bring John the Baptist for circumcision.  Stokes guesses that the figures could be Mary and John.

Center of Head:  Crucifixion with lance and sponge.

Arms:  On each arm is a head.  Stokes identifies them as cherub heads while Harbison suggests they may represent the thieves crucified with Jesus. 

Top:  Circular interlace.

County Sligo, Drumcliff, sandstone cross


North Side:  See the photo to the left.

N 1:  Blank panel.

N 2:  Interlace

N 3:  Blank panel with tortoise hole.

N 4:  Fretwork with spirals and interlace.

N 5:  Stokes identifies this as a lion in high relief.

County Sligo, Drumcliff, cross shaft

Under the ring:  An animal in high relief similar to that on the south side. 

End of Arm:  There is another animal similar to that on the underside of the ring.


Undecorated Shaft

This undecorated cross shaft stands nearly 10 feet in height and stands on a base that is nearly 4 feet in height.  A mortise hole in the top is there to receive a missing head.  See the photo to the right.

Fragments in the National Museum

The National Museum has two fragment of a shaft and part of a cross-head.  They probably came from Drumcliff.

Lower Fragment:  23 inches high, 13 inches across and about 9 inches thick.  In the photos below from left to right we have East Face, South side; West Face and North Side.  (Photos from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 222 to 225)

East Face:

E 1:  Interlace in four spiral patterns.

E 2:  David Slays the lion.

South Side

Panels with no particular motif of decoration.

West Face

W 1:  Interlace forming four circular patterns.

W 2:  Unidentified scene with three figures but insufficient information to make an identification.

North Side

A full and a partial undecorated panel.

Upper Fragment:  32 inches in height, 11 inches across and a little over 6 inches thick.  In the photos below from left to right we have East Face, South side; West Face and North Side.  (Photos from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 222 to 225)

East Face:

E 1:  The Sacrifice of Isaac

E 2:  Daniel in the Lions’ Den

E 3:  Unidentified figure.  

South Side:

Two panels possibly decorated with interlace.

West Face:

W 1:  The Resurrection.  Harbison sees the Christ figure with arms supported by an angel on each side and with two sleeping soldiers below, weapons on their shoulders.

W 2:  First rocking of Christ.

W 3:  Partial knot of interlace that appears to have feet above it.

North Side:

Two undecorated panels.

Sources Consulted

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

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.

Stokes, Margaret and Westropp T. J., “Notes on the High Crosses of Moone, Drumcliff, Termonfechin and Killamery”, The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 31 (1896/1901), pp. 541-578.

Drumcolumb Cross-head

In the early Christian period Drumcolumb was known as Druim-namac.  Tradition states that the church was established by St. Columba.  He left his disciple Finbarr in charge of the foundation.  (O’Hanlon, p. 554) 

The cross-head lies on a hill-top.  It is about 18 inches by 17 inches.  It is about 5 and one half inches thick.  The cross-head may not have been finished.  It is imperforate but on one side the process for perforation is advanced while on the other the outline has been pecked out.  The ring is not quite circular and on one side the arm extends just beyond the ring while on the other it comes only to the outside of the ring.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 74, photos Vol. 2, Fig. 230 a and b)

Sources Consulted

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.

O’Hanlon, John, Lives of the Irish Saints:  With Special Festivals, Volume 6, 1873.

Reeves, William, ed., The Life of Saint Columba:  Founder of Hy, Volume 6.

Templehouse Demesne Cross-base

There is a cross-base situated on the line of the missing west wall of Templehouse Hall.  It is made of limestone.  The base is nearly 16 inches in height.  At ground level it measures about 27 by 24 inches.  There is a mortise hole in the top.  The base does not appear to have any decoration.  Harbison lists this as a base that is possibly pre 1200.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 393)

The cross may be connected with the Knights Templar.  They had a foundation at Templehouse.  (Historic Environment Viewer)  The Knights Templar were active in Ireland from the 12th into the 13th century.  Whether an early Christian monastery was there prior to that is unknown. 

I was unable to find a picture of the cross-base.  It is located in the ruins pictured to the left, posted by Martha Bernie on September 17, 2014 and retrieved on 2 June, 2017. 


Sources Consulted

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.

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

Home Thoughts from Abroad:  https://homethoughtsfromabroad626.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/temple-house-sligo-ireland/

 Barney McLaughlin 2012