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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

DU018-181—-  The shaft of the high cross the base of which stands in the graveyard at Drumcliff, Co. Sligo (SL008-084008)  There are two sections of the cross-shaft, joined by a modern concrete filler.  Only one face of the cross is visible as it is displayed standing against a wall.  See the photo to the right.  

The lower fragment measures 22.5 inches high (60 cm), 14.5 inches across (34 cm), and 9 inches thick (22.5 cm).  

East Face:  See the photo to the left.  At the bottom of the shaft is a narrow plinth with an empty panel. It is set off by double roll-moulding.  Above this there is a pattern of interlace that has four circular motifs that are interconnected.  In the center there is a cruciform pattern crossed by strands of the interlace that connect the panels diagonally.  

The panel at the top of this fragment is broken, making identification of the image there difficult.  Harbison identified the image as David Slaying the Lion.  He wrote:  “The animal’s body and feet are visible, one of the front legs being raised.  David’s right knee is visible on the lion’s back, while the lower part of the left foot can be seen beneath the front part of the lion’s body.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 73)  

The Sides:  On the right or north side there is a plinth and two panels, both undecorated.  The panels have double roll-moulding.  See the photo to the left.  The left or south side has a plinth.  Above this is a semi-circle then an undecorated panel with concave ends.  Above this is a circle and the lower end of another apparently concave panel.  See the photo to the right.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 73 and Vol. 2, Fig. 223) 



West Face:  There is no clearly defined plinth.  The lower panel has an interlace design similar to that on the east face.  The panel above is broken.  In the panel are the lower torsos of three figures, each clothed in a long robe.  While a number of possibilities exist for explaining the meaning, there is not enough of the panel to provide any context.  See the photo to the left.  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig. 224)



The upper fragment measures 32 inches in height (83 cm) and tapers to 10.25 inches near the top (30 cm in the middle of the fragment).  It is 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) thick.  There are two panels on the shaft with part of another panel forming the lower part of the head of the cross.  There is an indication on the right side at the top of the shaft that there was probably a ring on the cross.  

East Face:  See the photo to the right.  The lower panel represents Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  There are two persons depicted.  The left hand person is as tall as the panel and holds a club or some other weapon in his right hand.  The right hand figure is smaller and appears to lean forward toward the left hand figure.  He may be depositing a bundle of faggots on the altar.  Above to the right, appearing to be on the back of the right hand figure is a sheep or ram.  In the extreme upper right corner is a circle or boss that may represent the angel.

The upper panel contains an image of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  Daniel stands in the center of the panel with arms outstretched.  On each side of Daniel there is a lion below and above his arms.

In the constriction of the arms there is the lower part of a figure that appears to be clothed to the knees.  There is not enough context to hazard a guess as to the identity of this image.

The Sides:  The South side has two panels too worn to identify any patterns.  The North side appears to have two undecorated panels.

West Face:  See the photo to the left.  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig. 228)  There are two panels on the shaft with another in the constriction of the arms.  Harbison identifies the lower panel as an image of the Resurrection.  Christ in the center is flanked by angels, one of which holds a staff of some sort.  Below, on both sides of Christ’s feet there is a sleeping soldier with his weapon on his shoulder.

The upper panel has been identified as a Mocking of Jesus scene.  Jesus, the central figure is flanked on each side by a figure taken to be a soldier.  Each holds a stick or baton up to Jesus’ face.  

In the constriction of the arms there is a knot of interlace.  A pair of feet are above this but there is no context to venture a guess as to the identification.

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