Tyrone Crosses

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This page explores the High Crosses of County Tyrone.  They include:  Arboe, Caledon, Clogher, Donaghmore, Errigal Keerogue and Killoan.   Where information is available there is a section on the history of the site, brief information about the primary saint related to the site and a description of the cross or crosses at the site.  Except where noted, the photographs were taken by the author.  Directions to the sites reference The Official Road Atlas Ireland.  Maps related to the sites are cropped from Google Maps.  

Beginning just prior to the Christian period, Tyrone was the stronghold of the O'Neill clans.  Tyrone is a development of the Irish Tír Eoghain, the land of Eoghain, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages who reportedly died in the early 400’s of the common era.  They expanded from what is now Donegal and became the strongest of the clans in Ulster throughout the early Christian period.  (Foley, p. 89)


This feature includes an Introduction to the Site and the Saint and an Overview of the Cross.

Arboe, east face, Co. Tyrone, United Kingdom

“The cross at Arboe is unusually tall, standing some 20 feet high.  It is profusely decorated by abstract motives and by a comprehensive series of figure sculptures which are treated with exceptional detail and fullness.  The balance between form and decoration, between ornament and narrative:  the delicate execution of the abstract design contrasting with the robust and lively realism of the figure sculpture, all combine to set this cross amongst the most distinguished of the Irish monuments.”  (Helen M. Roe, p. 81)

The photo to the right shows the east face of the cross.

The Site 

Basic information about the monastery at Arboe (also spelled Ardboe) can be found in a letter from William Reeves, the Rector at Tynan in County Armagh to a C. Treanor at Ardboe.  The letter is dated 30 November 1869.

“My Dear Sir,  I myself made a pilgrimage many years ago to the old Cross of Ardboe, when I was fresh in the incumbency of Ballymena, ere my tastes had broken out in a love for antiquities.

“I copy all that is said about it in Archdale’s Monasticon.

“‘In the Barony of Dungannon, and two miles west of Lough Neagh, a noble celebrated monastery was founded here by St. Colman, the son of Aid, and surnamed Macaidhe; his reliques were being preserved in the Abbey, and Festival is kept on the 21st February.

“‘A.D. 1105.  Monchad O’Flarthican, Dean of this Abbey, and a doctor high in esteem for his wisdom and learning, died in pilgrimage in Armagh.

“‘A.D. 1166.  Rory MaKany Mackillwarry Oilloona did so destroy this Abbey by fire that it immediately fell to decay, and was scarce visible in the time of Colgan the Franciscan.’”  (Bigger and Fennell, p. 2)

Arboe, west face, Co. Tyrone, United Kingdom

The citation of the death of Monchad O’Flarthican is actually listed in the Annals of Ulster under the year 1103.  It reads “Murchad ua Flaithecán, superior of Ard Bó, eminent in wisdom and honour and teaching, died happily on his pilgrimage, i.e. in Ard Macha.  (Annals of Ulster, 1103)  

The mention of the destruction of the Abbey appears both in the Annals of Ulster and Annals of the Four Masters.  The citation in the Annals of Ulster reads “And Ard-bo was burned by Ruaidhri, son of Mac Canai and by the son of Gilla-Muire Ua Monrai and by the Crotraighi.”  (Annals of Ulster 1166)

The photo to the left shows the west face of the cross.

The current Parish of Ardboe has a website that offers a brief history of the parish.  It traces the conversion of the people of the area, the Ui Turitre clan by Saint Patrick.  Legend has it that he converted Cairthen Beg, the leader of the clan.  About a century and a half later Colman MacAidh, great-great grandson of Cairthen Beg founded an abbey at Ardboe.  The history continues “there can be no doubt that the Abbey of Ardboe was a seat of learning and instruction; indeed it thrived for almost six hundred years.”  (

Following the destruction of the Abbey in 1166 it was not reestablished.  The brief history states “its destruction coincided with reforms put in place by St Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, to replace Ireland’s monastic system by parishes and dioceses. Subsequently the townlands of Ardboe became a parish in the deanery of Tullyhogue, in the diocese of Armagh.”  (

For four hundred and forty years after its destruction the parish continued and the Gaelic way of life continued for its members.  In 1607, as a result of the creation of the Plantation of Ulster, the native Irish population was dispossessed and the church became the property of the new settlers.  (

The lovely photo below, taken by Kenneth Allen, was found on the internet.  Attribution is below in the References section.  This shows the east side of the site with the ruins of an old church to the right and a view of Loch Neagh to the left.

The Saint 

Legend tells us that Arboe was founded by a Saint Colman.  However, there are at least 130 saints named Colman mentioned in the Irish Martyrologies and Histories.   

The Colman who is celebrated at Ardboe, as founder of the monastery there, has been identified with Saint Colman, surnamed Mucaidhe.  A genealogy identifies him as son of Aid, son to Amalgad, son of Muredach, son to Carthenn, son of Erc, son to Ethac or Eochod, son of Colla Huasius, King of Ireland.  (  This follows the genealogy offered by the Parish of Ardboe website in claiming Colman was related to the royal family of his clan.  The Carthenn mentioned above would appear to be the same person the Parish website names as Cairthen Beg.  It is well known that many of the saints of Ireland had connections to royal families.  Colman was apparently a member of this group.  

The Cross

Arboe, North West face, Co. Tyrone, United Kingdom

The cross at Arboe stands 5.70 meters or just over 18 and a half feet tall.  It is one of the tallest in Ireland.  It stands on a stepped base.  Taken together the two levels of the base are 3 and a half feet tall.  The cross is constructed of four pieces of red sandstone.

The top stone fell in about 1817.  The upper portion, including the arms fell in 1846.  Restoration took place between then and late 1850.  It was managed by Colonel Stewart of Killymoon and the cross was apparently moved in the process.  (Bigger and Fennell, p. 1)

 Colonel William Stewart of Killymoon was born in 1781 and died in late 1850.  He was a Colonel in the Tyrone militia and served in the Dublin and Westminster parliaments for Tyrone.  He and his family were members of the Protestant Acendency.  


The upper parts of the cross are quite weathered. For our purposes the cross can roughly be divided into four parts.  1) the shaft, 2) a wider band of decoration near the top of the shaft, 3) the head above the band and 4) the house or church shaped cap.

The East Face

The shaft is composed of four panels.  The lowest of these panels  represents the Hebrew scripture story of Adam and Eve in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit and suddenly see themselves as naked.  (Genesis 3)

In the scene the tree stands between them and arches over their heads.  On the trunk of the tree the serpent is visible and is turned toward the left hand figure, presumably Eve.  Both Adam and Eve have their hands lowered to cover their genitalia.  

(Photo to the left from Harbison, 1992, vol. 2, figure 31)

Arboe High Cross, east face, shaft, Abraham sacrifices Isaac, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

 The next panel up represents the Hebrew scripture story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac.  (Genesis 22:1-19)

Both Peter Harbison and Helen Roe describe this scene in some detail.  In general what we see is Abraham on the left.  In front of him Isaac bows over an altar.  He appears to bring the wood for the sacrifice with him in the foreground.  Above Isaac’s back is the figure of the ram and above and to the right of the ram is an angel.  Roe describes Abraham as “bearded and clad in a belted tunic, hold[ing] a cleaver-like weapon.  It is not clear if he grasps Isaac’s hair with his other hand.”  (Roe, p. 82)

Harbison describes Abraham standing “upright on the left, dressed to the knees and wearing an over-garment.  His right hand is placed across his breast, while his left holds up the sword diagonally.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 15)

Roe describes the angel in the upper right of the scene as “thrust[ing] in the ram.”  (Roe, p. 82)  Between their two descriptions we have a reminder of just how difficult it is, even for those who have studied the crosses most deeply, to discern the details of the image.  This is more difficult on a sandstone cross like Arboe that has suffered so much deterioration from weather.

Arboe High Cross, East Face, Daniel and the Lion's Den, Co. Tyrone, United Kingdom

The third panel up depicts the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  (Daniel 6:10-28)

The figure of Daniel is in the center of the panel.  He seems to be clothed to the knees and to have an overgarment that comes to below the waist.  Roe also describes him as having “a heavy mustache and short beard.”  (Roe, p. 82)  His hands are stretched out to the sides so that he has a kind of cruciform shape.  His posture is best understood as an orant posture.  Following is part of what the Encyclopedia Britannica has to say about this posture.

“In Christian art, a figure in a posture of prayer, usually standing upright with raised arms.  The motif . . . is particularly important in Early Christian art (c. 2nd-6th century) and especially in the frecoes and graffiti that decorated Roman catacombs from the 2nd century on.  Here many of the characters in Old Testament scenes of divine salvation of the faithful, the most commonly represented narrative subjects of the catacombs, are shown in the orant position. . . .The orant has been interpreted as a symbol of faith or of the church itself.”                     (

It is clear from the text of Daniel that deliverance was a major theme of this story.  When Daniel is initially placed in the lion’s den, Darius the king says “may your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!”  (6:16b)  When Darius returns in the morning he calls out “  Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?”  (6:20b)  Daniel replies that angels have protected him.

On either side of Daniel is a lion raised up on hind legs, tail twisting around its legs, facing Daniel with its jaws open and its tongue reaching out toward Daniel.

The fourth panel up represents the story of the story of the Fiery Furnace.  (Daniel 3:19-30)

Details are difficult to make out due to weathering.  Harbison describes the image in this way:  “The three children — two of them kneeling on one knee and facing one another in profile, and the third, much smaller, frontally between them — are protected by the outspread wings of the angel.  On either side of the angel’s head, four flames curl upwards above the horizontal frame at the top of the panel.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 16 and the photo to the right Vol. 2, figure 31)

Bigger and Fennell, writing in 1897, are the lone voices suggesting another, but unlikely, interpretation of the panel.  They describe it as an image of the Ark of the Covenant being carried along.  They do not offer a detailed analysis of the image and that makes it problematic to assess their interpretation.

The Ark of the Covenant is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew scriptures.  The construction of the Ark is described in Exodus 25 and 37.  A section of the text that may have influenced Bigger and Fennell reads as follows:  “The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings.  They faced one another, the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the mercy seat.”  (Exodus 37:9)  The image to the left offers an interpretation of what the Ark of the Covenant may have looked like.  ( is the source of the artists rendering)

The story of the Fiery Furnace follows the themes of the Sacrifice of Isaac and Daniel in the Lion’s Den better than the Ark of the Covenant.

Arboe High Cross, band of shaft, east face, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The band of decoration that tops the shaft is pictured to the right.  The full design in difficult to make out.  What is obvious is that the whole is framed by moulding.  Within is a second framing feature described as a line of pellets.  The interior design can be described as "a panel of rather wiry spirals with fret.”  (Roe p. 82)

Arboe High Cross, head, lower panel, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The head of the cross begins with a panel just above the band that has proved to be difficult to identify with any precision.   Both Roe and Harbison agree on the content of the scene.  At the top, in the center, is a bust of Christ.  He is identified by the crook in his left hand.  On each side of this figure are the busts of angels.  Below are eleven figures, identified as the eleven apostles (the twelve minus Judas).  See the photo to the left.

Harbison identifies this scene as the second coming of Christ.  Roe identifies it as Christ with the apostles.  Harbison informs us of a variety of other interpretations:  Bigger and Fennell, the Resurrection; Henry the Transfiguration or part of the Last Judgment; Flower, a monastic leader and community at the Judgment.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 16)

If this represents a specific text, what text might that be?  The only one that seems to come close to fitting is that of a resurrection appearance.  In Matthew we read “but the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus as directed them.  When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”  (Matthew 28:16)  Jesus then gives his disciples the Great Commission.  The eleven surviving apostles and Jesus are accounted for in this scene.  The angels accompanying Jesus are not mentioned in scripture but are typically present in high cross art depicting the crucifixion, for example.  This interpretation bridges the interpretations of Bigger and Fennell and Roe by suggesting this is a resurrection appearance of Jesus with the apostles.  

The center and arms of the cross contain a scene identified as either Christ in Glory or the Last Judgment.  As seen in the photo below left, the figure of Christ is in the center.  He stands upright, clothed in a long robe, holding a cross in his left hand and perhaps a secptre in his right.  He is surrounded by an indeterminate number of heads on his left and right and possibly above him.  The head of the cross is badly eroded.  Below the feet of Christ is an image of a scales.  Below that are flames.  These features suggest that the scene reflects the Last Judgment.  A similar, but more detailed scene appears on the head of Muiredach’s cross at Monasterboice in County Louth.  In this image (below right) it is clear that the figures on the left are moving toward Christ while those on the right are moving away.  They represent, respectively, the saved and damned.  Whether this was true of the image at Arboe is not clear.  

Arboe High Cross, east face, head, Co. Tyrone, IrelandMonasterboice, Cross of Muiredach, Co. Louth, Ireland



The South Side

Arboe High Cross, south side, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The Shaft:  The following describes the decoration of the south side of the cross below the ring.  

The lowest panel represents Cain killing his brother Abel.  The story is found in Genesis 4:1-16.  Like the image of Adam and Eve on the east face of the cross, this image represents fallen humanity.  (The image to the right is a detail found in Harbison 1992, vol. 2, figure 34)  In the image, Cain appears to kill Abel with a cleaver or machete type instrument.

Arboe High Cross, south side shaft, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The next two panels, moving up the shaft, are closely related.  They both come from the story of David and Goliath.  The lower of the two shows David subduing a lion and rescuing a lamb.  The text is found in I Samuel 17:32-37.  This is a story David tells King Saul to convince him that he (David) is capable of subduing Goliath.  In the image we see the lion in the lower part of the panel with David to the left reaching down and grasping the jaws of the lion.  Above to the right is a lamb and there may be another lamb below the lion.

The upper panel carries on the story.  Saul sends David out to fight Goliath.  The text is found in I Samuel 17:38-52.  David is on the left and Goliath is on the right with a round shield on his left arm.  Goliath is on his knees before David.  Roe and Harbison agree that David’s sling is hanging from his hand and that Goliath has his right hand on the wound in his head.  (Roe, p. 82; Harbison 1992, p. 16)

Here we have two more images of deliverance.  

Arboe High Cross, south upper shaft, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The fourth panel changes the theme away from the Hebrew scriptures to the tradition of the Desert Fathers, a popular theme for the churches of Ireland.  It is relatively easy to pick out the figures of the two saints.  They are seated side by side.  Above there is a descending bird.  What is more difficult to make out is that each of the saints has a staff with a crooked head that appears above their heads.  Also difficult to make out clearly is that the bird carries a loaf of bread to the saints.  This image appears on a number of crosses, including the north cross at Castledermot.      

The story is that Saint Paul the Hermit was the first to live alone in the wilderness.  For seventy years he lived in a cave, wore a tunic made from a palm tree fiber and saw no one.  His meals were send to him by God via a raven.  Each evening he received half a loaf of bread.  When Saint Anthony, another of the early desert fathers, learned about Saint Paul, he immediately went to find him.  When Anthony found him he was greeted with hospitality and the two talked about the greatness of God.  In the evening the raven appeared.  The bird carried not a half loaf of bread but a full loaf, half for each of the two saints.  The story is intended to emphasize the holiness of both of the men. (, 1998-2005,

Arboe High Cross, south head, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The band and the area above it are dedicated to decoration.  Both panels feature bossed spiral design.  That on the band is described by Roe as having “foliate links.”  (Roe, p. 83)  In this case the bosses are located in the four corners of the panel.

In the panel above the band there are also four bosses.  In this case they are located in such a way that in the center of the panel a cross is formed.  Harbison suggests that above and below this cross form there are “what appear to be stylized animal forms.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 16)  In the images available, it is difficult to make out the details of either of the panels.

Arboe High Cross, west face, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The West Face

The entire west face of the cross, except for the band is dedicated to stories from the Gospels about Jesus.  Beginning at the bottom and moving up we have the Adoration of the Magi, the miracle of the Wedding at Cana, the miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the Arrest of Jesus, and in the center of the head and on the arms, the Crucifixion.


The Shaft:  The lowest of the images represents the story of the Adoration of the Magi.  There are five figures in the panel.  Sitting and holding the baby Jesus is Mary.  Above her head are two bosses.  At least one of the bosses may represent the star that guided the Magi.  The Magi appear, two on Mary’s left and one on her right.  They carry their gifts in their hands.  Matthew 2:1-11 offers the text for this story.  It is the only one of the four gospels that relates a visit by the Magi.

The image to the left is taken from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, figure 37.

The second panel up represents the story of the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana of Galilee.  The text is found in  the Gospel of John 2:1-11.  Helen Roe suggests we read it as a story in two acts, the first across the top of the panel, the second across the bottom.  (Roe, p. 83)  Read this way Jesus appears in the center of the upper frame.  He is flanked by Mary on the left and the master of the feast on the right.  Here we see Mary requesting that Jesus do something about the lack of wine.

In the lower panel we have four figures, Jesus on the right faces three servants on the left.  Along the very bottom of the frame are the six stone jars of water for the rite of purification.  Jesus seems to hold a hand out and the servant nearest him may be taking water, now wine, from one of the jars at Jesus’ request.

In John this is recorded as Jesus’ first miracle.  The text tells us this revealed Jesus’ glory.  The story appears only in the Gospel of John.

Arboe High Cross, west upper shaft, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

Moving up the shaft we have the miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes.  All four gospels have a version of this story (see Matthew 14:13f  , Mark 6:30f  , Luke 9:10f  and John 6:1f) .  In Matthew the disciples declare that they have only five loaves and two fish.  Mark and Luke follow a similar pattern.  John is the only gospel to mention a young boy as the source of the loaves and fish.  

The panel (below right) seems to reflect the story told in John.  The figure in the center represents Jesus.  He is flanked by two apostles, perhaps Philip and Andrew, the two apostles mentioned in the text in John.  Below right and left are two figures who support a platter before Jesus that seems to hold the loaves and fish.  Harbison points to the pellet like bosses along the bottom of the panel as the twelve baskets filled with leftovers at the end of the feast.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 17 and Roe, p. 83)

The next scene is intended to represent Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  This is another text that appears in all four gospels:  Matthew 21:1f, Mark 11:1f, Luke 19:28f and  John 12:12f.  In Matthew and John the animal Jesus rides is referred to as a donkey.  In Mark and Luke it is referred to as a colt.  In the image to the right the animal appears to be a fine and full grown horse.  Porter accounts for this incongruity by suggesting this is actually a scene from the life of Saint Columcille, founder of the monastery at Iona.  (Porter, p. 41)  Favoring this point of view is the presence on the south side of the cross of a scene identified as the Raven bringing bread to Saints Anthony and Paul, an image from the lives of the saints.  (See above.)  Against this point of view is the fact that all the other scenes on the face of the cross are connected to the life of Jesus.     

The band:  On the band at the top of the image to the right is a panel that includes a series of small bosses.  The pattern is worn and indistinct.

Arboe High Cross, west face, Co. Tyrone, Ireland

The Head:  The lowest scene on the head of the cross is a panel that extends below the ring.  Above and below a figural scene are bosses.  There are three below and a pattern of four above.  In between we see the figure of Jesus flanked on each side by a soldier.  Each appears to hold a club or sword against Jesus’ breast.  The arrangement of the scene offers several possible interpretations, all related to the passion narrative.  These include:

a)  The Arrest of Jesus.  This story appears in Matthew 26:47f, Mark 14:43f, Luke 22:47f and John 18:1f

b)  The Mocking or Flagellation of Jesus.  This episode is reported in Matthew 27:26f and Mark 15:15f, following Jesus’ condemnation by Pilate; in Luke 22:63f while Jesus is in the home of the High Priest and before he appears before the Council; and in John 19:1-5 before Pilate condemns Jesus.   

c)  The Ecce Homo.  This refers to a statement made by Pilate as recorded in John 19:5 following the mocking and flogging of Jesus.  In this version of the trial he is brought out draped in a purple robe and with the crown of thorns on his head.  

Regardless of the interpretation, the image is a reminder of the events in the gospels that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The head of the cross is centered on the crucifixion.  It is a classic image that contains Stephaton and Longinus on either side of the crucified Jesus and an angel on each shoulder.  Stephaton on the right offers vinegar on a pole.  Longinus on the left stabs Jesus near the armpit.  In the constriction of each arm is a star shaped design with small bosses.  On each arm are three figures.  In each case a center figure is flanked on each side by what appears to be a soldier.  The soldiers appear to beat the figure in the center.  The most probable interpretation suggests these parallel scenes represent the thieves crucified with Jesus being beaten before being crucified.  

Above the crucifixion image there appear to be another three figures.  The image is worn to such a degree that no reasonable interpretation is possible from the art itself.

The North Side


The shaft:  The photo to the left is from Harbison 1992, Vol. 2, figure 40.  The panels are identified as the Baptism of Jesus (bottom) and Christ before the Doctors (above).  There are alternative interpretations of the upper panel.

In the lower panel John the Baptist stands to the left.  He is a towering figure and appears to hold a book in his hand.  On the right is the much smaller figure of Jesus.  The waters of the Jordan may be suggested at their feet.  There is what probably was a dove above the head of Jesus.  It is badly worn.  The texts that describe Jesus’ baptism can be found in Matthew 3:13f and Mark 1:8f.  The dove, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, appears in both versions.

The most logical interpretation of the upper panel is that it represents Jesus before the Doctors.  The text here is found in Luke 2:42f.  In this interpretation a young Jesus sits or kneels in the presence of two larger figures who represent the teachers in the Temple in Jerusalem.  

Biggers and Fennell offer a very different interpretation, suggesting the center figure is Moses.  The only text that would come close to supporting this interpretation is found in Exodus 17:8f.  The text, however, has Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses.  This image does not reflect this most important aspect of the text.  (Bigger and Fennell p. 2)

The photo to the right is from Harbison 1992, Vol. 2, figure 40.  The prevailing interpretation of the lower panel is the Slaughter of the Innocents.  The upper panel has been interpreted as the Judgment of Solomon, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and a scene from the legends of Cuchulain.

In the lower panel two figures, typically identified as soldiers wearing long robes, hold a smaller figure upside down.  Each is holding a leg.  The story of the Slaughter of the Innocents is found in Matthew 2:16f.  Roe interprets the upper panel as an extension of this scene.  She identifies the large figure as a soldier with a spear and the two small figures to the left as children who have been killed.  (Roe, p. 84)  

Bigger and Fennell, as with the upper panel above, offer an interpretation taken from the Hebrew Scriptures.  This scene and the one above can be read together as reflecting the story of the Judgment of Solomon.  This text is found in I Kings 3:16f.  In the story two mothers argue over one child.  The lower image could well reflect this scene.  In this interpretation the upper panel represents Solomon ordering that the child be divided between the mothers.  (Bigger and Fennell, p. 2)  In their interpretation three of the four panels on the north side of the cross have themes taken from the Hebrew scriptures.

Roe and Bigger and Fennell group the upper two panels together as part of one story.  They identify entirely different stories, however.

Harbison agrees with Roe and others in interpreting the lower panel to the right as representing the Slaughter of the Innocents.  He sees the upper panel as representing the Annunciation to the Shepherds.  He identifies the large figure on the right as that of an angel with a cross staff, the small figure lower left as a shepherd kneeling, and the small figure upper left as being that of another angel.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 18)  

Porter offers a non-biblical interpretation of the upper panel.  He sees this image as a reference to the hero of Irish folklore Cuchulain.  He identifies at least one of the figures on the left of the panel with a hound, an attribute of Cuchulain.  (Porter, p. 15).  This identification seems unlikely to me.  The image is worn in such a way it is difficult to identify details that might assist with a more precise interpretation.

The band and above:  The upper two panels on the north side of the cross are filled with decoration.  This balances the north with the south side of the cross.    On the band of the cross we have “S” spirals.  On the panel above there are bosses from which Harbison sees animals emerging.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 18)

The Iconographic Program of the Cross

The Arboe High Cross offers a consistent, logical and comprehensive set of images from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  

The shaft on both the east and south faces offer scenes from the Hebrew scriptures.  In each case the lowest image reflects fallen humanity:  Adam and Eve knowing their nakedness on the east and Cain killing his brother Abel on the south.  On the east face the other images reflect the salvation of God for those in need:  God provides a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, Daniel is saved from the lions and the three children are protected from the fiery furnace.   In addition the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac prefigures the saving power of Jesus’ death on the cross.  The central two images on the south are part of the David Cycle and also reflect the saving power of God:  David rescues a lamb from a lion and David saves his people by slaying Goliath.  The only variance from the Hebrew scriptures appears on the south side of the cross in the upper panel.  This scene is taken from the lives of the Desert Fathers.  It represents God’s provision for the faithful:  the raven bringing bread for Anthony and Paul.

The shaft on both the west and north faces can be interpreted as outlining major events in the life of Jesus.  On the west face we have the Adoration of the Magi, the miracles of Cana and the Loaves and Fish.  On the north face we have, in this case moving from the top down to follow the chronology, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and or the Slaughter of the Innocents, Jesus before the Teachers and the Baptism of Jesus.  These panels, taken together, and added to the images on the east and west faces of the head of the cross, offer images of the miracle of the birth of Jesus, his early life, the beginning of his ministry, his miracles, events from Passion Week and, depending on interpretation his Resurrection or Second Coming and Christ as Judge.

As noted directly above, the west face of the head of the cross offers images of some aspect of Jesus’ Arrest and Trial and a depiction of the Crucifixion.  On the east face we have what may be an image of the Resurrection or Second Coming in a panel below an image of the Last Judgment.  

Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 11, A 4.  The Cross is marked on the map.  The cross is located south of the B73.  Just past the Moortown Post Office take the Ardboe Road south.  It will turn to the southeast and lead to the cross site.

Caledon aka Glenarb

At one time there were at least seven crosses on a hill of Glenarb.  The cross presently under consideration was once in the townland of Glenarb and was moved in about 1872 to the Caledon Demesne for preservation.  The odd thing about the Glenarb hill site is that while it was clearly used for burial, there is no sign of any building having been there.  Alexander Pringle writes that “Under its old name of Clonarb, or Cluain airbh, the place is mentioned in the Martyrology of Tamlacht, an Irish calendar of the ninth century, and also in the metrical calendar of Marian Gorman, which was compiled about the year 1167.  Although no monastic buildings appear to have occupied the site it would seem to have been held in great veneration in early times, and may have been endowed with rights of sanctuary by the church, which would account fo the profusion of crosses, which were usually placed as boundary-marks to define the area of the city of refuge.”  (Pringle, p. 292)

The cross at Caledon is a composite cross, composed of two parts.  It is set up over Lady Jane’s Well in the grounds of Caledon Estate.

Shaft:  The shaft stands 1.20m high.  It tapers slightly from bottom to top and has a “box” at the top.  “There is a circular device at the centre of the panel on each side.” (Harbison, 1992, p. 30)  Only the device on the west is distinct.  There is a central boss surrounded by eight circling and interlinked bosses.

Head:  The head was part of another cross.  It is imperforate and the arms, which seem to have been broken, presently extend just beyond the ring.  The cross is framed by a round moulding.  On the west face in the center is a large boss.  There may have been a flatter boss on the east face, but only traces now remain.

Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 18, G 2.  Caledon is located west of Armagh on the A 28.  As noted above, the cross is on private property.  Permission would be needed to view the cross.  I have been unsuccessful in gaining permission to view this cross.

Clogher Crosses

The Site and Saint

While some traditions claim that the monastery at Clogher was founded by St. Patrick, the Register of Clogher states that Macartin was the first Bishop of the See.  The Register lists Bishops or Abbots into the 16th century.  (Ware, p. 30)  This places the foundation of the monastery at about 490.  In the early 5th century it appears that a new group of “political, cultural and ethnic kinsmen, again a mixed bag of Irish and British warriors” made an incursion into the area around Clogher.  They came to be known as the Airgialla.  (Warner, p. 41)  It was the leaders of this group that St. Patrick would have encountered and among whom, and with whose support, Macartin established the Clogher monastery.  This may not have happened as early as 490 as Eochu, the king of the area in the late 5th century was not a Christian.  His son Caipre was a Christian as was his grandson Daimine.  It is more probable that one of them encouraged and became patron of the monastery.  It was built on Castle Hill adjacent to the royal site, probably in the early 6th century.  (Warner, p. 45)

The church there was rebuilt in 1041 and dedicated to the memory of St. Macartin.  At the Synod of Rathbreasail, in 1111, Clogher was recognized as an episcopal see.  The church was rebuilt again in 1295 by Matthew M’Catasaid, Bishop of Clogher.  The church and more than 30 other buildings burned to the ground in 1396.

Macartan’s hagiography states that he was born somewhere in Munster.  Hearing of Patrick’s teaching he traveled to Armagh to hear him preach.  He left behind a wife and child.  He actually met Patrick first in County Leitrim.  There he was baptized by Patrick and soon became Patrick’s “strong man”.  It is said that when Patrick wore out Macartan supported him or carried him.  Eventually, as he also grew older, he ask permission to settle down and live out his life in peace.  The story goes that Patrick sent him to establish a monastery in Clogher.  This tradition would support the rather later date for the foundation of Clogher monastery that Warner suggests above. 

The Crosses

There are parts of five different crosses to the west of the Cathedral in Clogher.  There are two composite crosses, each composed of separate shafts and heads.  There is also a fragment of another cross on the ground between the two composite crosses.

North Cross:

Clogher north cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Base:  The base of this cross is stepped near the top.

East Shaft:   Near the top of the shaft there is a area of interlace forming four circular devices.  See photo to the right.

East Head:  The head of the cross is imperforate.  In the photo above left the design on the head is clear.  “At the centre of the head there is a four-point knot of interlace framed by four animals forming a cross pattern.  Two of their heads are  below, and the other two presumably on top, while the animals’ legs are presumably on the arms of the cross.”  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 42-43; Vol. 2, Fig. 118)  

West Face:

Clogher north cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

West Shaft:  There is a lozenge-shaped panel of interlace.  See photo the the left.

West Head:  At the center is a roundel of interlace.

North and South Sides:  The sides of the cross are undecorated.

Clogher south cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

South Cross

Base:  The base is undecorated.

East Shaft:  The shaft is decorated with bosses of different sizes.  See photo to the right.

East Head:  The top of the head is broken and missing.  The upper part of the shaft at the bottom of the head has bosses that may have animal heads related to them.  The head is imperforate and in the center is a boss with interlace.  Three sections of the ring also seem to have interlace design.  The forth, the lower right, is unclear. 

South Side Shaft:  There is a panel of interlace.

North and South Side Head:  The decoration on the ends of the arms is not clear.  On the South there is a “three-point interlace in a bottom triangle, and there may conceivably have been upright animals in the vertical panels.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 43)

Clogher south cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

West Face Shaft:  In the center of the shaft is interlace.  See photo to the left.

West Face Head:  The section of the shaft below the head has interlace.  There is a boss at the center of the head with loose interlace.  The ring has fretwork on the lower right and interlace on the lower left.  The upper right may also have interlace.

Clogher cross fragment, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Cross Fragment:  

This fragment appears to be part of the shaft of another cross.  It is undecorated.

Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 18, E 1.  The crosses are located at St. Macartan’s Cathedral Church on the southwest side of Clogher.  The Cathedral is located just to the southeast of the A 4.  

The map is cropped from Google Maps. 


Very little is known about the monastery at Donaghmore.  Some sources state that the monastery was founded by St. Patrick for St. Columb.  Another source associates it with St. Patrick and St. Macerc.  In each case the foundation was dated to the 6th century.  The cross is a composite of two original crosses.  The cross is typically dated to the 10th century.  It has been in its present location since 1776. 

Donaghmore cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

The Cross

East Face:  See photo to the left.

E 1:  The Annunciation to the Shepherds.

E 2:  The Adoration of the Magi.

E 3:  The Baptism of Christ.

E 4:  The Marriage Feast of Cana.

E 5:  The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. (?) Only a small fragment of the lower part of this panel survives.  It is at the top of the lower section of the composite cross.

E 6:  Unidentified Scene.  Only a small portion of a panel survives.  It is at the bottom of the upper section of the composite cross.

E 7:  The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.

E 8:  The Mocking or Flagellation of Christ.  

East Head:

Center:  The Crucifixion

Top:  Unidentified scene.

Arms:  Thieves held by guards.

Ring:  No decoration survives.

The image to the right appears on a sign posting at the site.  Note there are some differences between the identifications of the scenes on the cross between those listed on the sign post and those identified by Harbison above.  The primary difference is the identification of the panel just below the crucifixion as the Mocking or Flagellation of Christ (Harbison) and the Arrest of Christ (sign post). 

Donaghmore cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

South Side:  The lower shaft, near the bottom of the cross, may have an image of Romulus and Remus (?).  Above are a lozenge-shaped pattern, a rounded one and another lozenge-shaped image.  On the upper section is a lozenge-shaped figure with interlace under the ring.  Two triangles with knots of interlace are under the arm.  The end of the arm shows an animal facing down, its front paws beside the head.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 66)  See photo to the right for lower section.

West Face:  

Base:  A horseman facing to the right.  There may be other animals on the upper step of the base.  See photo below.  The lower portion of the shaft is hidden by the cemetery wall.

Donaghmore cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland


W 1:  Adam and Eve knowing their nakedness.

W 2:  Cain Slays Abel. 

W 3:  The Sacrifice of Isaac.

W 4:  Unidentified scene.

W 5:  “An upright lozenge-shape with somewhat rounded corners bearing four bosses in high relief, and possibly with animal-heads on top and bottom.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 66)

W 6:  “A very curious rounded device having a raised circular boss bearing a sunken cross-shape in the centre and seeming to have small legs protruding from it.  On the left there seems to be an animal-head in raised relief looking towards the left and two ‘legs’ extending beyond it above and below.  The whole looks almost like a copy of a metalwork clasp.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 66)

Donaghmore cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

West Head:  An oblong figure from which four animal-heads seem to emerge.

West Arms:  Bears seated upright with long necks.

Top:  Broken away.

Ring:  Interlace that may be animal interlace.  

North Side:   The design is similar to that on the south side.  The animal at the base does not have any trace of figures beneath its body.  Bosses in the roundel in the center are clearer.  The animal at the end of the arm is less worn that on the south.  See photo to the right.


Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 10, G 5.  The cross is marked on the map but not in its exact location.  The cross is located on the B43 across from The Brewer’s House, where the Castlecaulfield road goes to the south. 

The map is cropped from Google Maps.


Errigal Keerogue

Errigal Keerogue cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Errigal Keerogue cross, Co. Tyrone, Northern IrelandThe site is also known as Errigal Kieran and it is said to have been founded or dedicated to St. Kieran.  I presume this is Kieran of Clonmacnois.  While local traditions reported in the late 19th century suggest that Kieran built the church there, the construction of the stone church would have been much later than the life-time of Kieran.  (Simson, p. 29)

Simson writes:  “In the graveyard surrounding the ruins of the church there stands an ancient stone cross.  The ornamentation is partly defaced, in the centre of the cross on the far side is a kind of raised boss.  It seems to have been ornamented but being greatly exposed to the weather it is almost completely worn away.  There is no carving round the edges. . . The cross at Errigal stands about 5 ft. 6 in. high, and 2 ft. 6 in. in width.”  (Simson, p. 30)

The photo above left shows the west face of the cross, the image to the right shows the east face.  On the west there is a central boss in a frame created by incised lines.  On the east face the outline of the cross and ring have been incised.  The ring is imperforate.

Getting there:  See the Road Atlas page  18, E 1.  The location of the cross is marked on the Road Atlas.  The site is located on the map to the right south of Seskilgreen near the left upper edge of the map.   


Nothing is known of the history of the site related to the Killoan cross-base.  Foley, in an article on the history of County Tyrone writes:  “Traces of many early church sites survive from the same period.  Last remnants, such as a cross base at Killoan or an occasional bullaun, are sometimes clues to these earlier settlements.  The large earthwork enclosures which once defended these sites are often sloughed out, but recent work on aerial photographs has turned up some new examples.”  (Foley p. 89) 

This decorated cross base (see photos left and right) is located “in a fence two fields down from a farm in Killoan townland.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 129)  The Ordinance Survey has it marked as “The Head Stone”.

Only the south face is decorated.  It has "a square panel consisting of four angular spirals divided by a square moulding and with a square in the centre, which gives it a cross form.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 129)

In conversation with the owner of the land and operator of a horse farm that is the “farm” mentioned above, I was told that the locals have long associated this monument with a head stone for an ancient grave.  This explains the reason it is referred to as The Head Stone on the Ordinance Survey map.  Harbison identifies it as a base for a cross, at least in part because it has a mortise in the top.  It stands 90 cm high, is 58 cm wide and 32 cm thick.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 129)

The land owner, who accompanied me to the site, stated that he is prohibited from plowing in that field and that it is his understanding that there was at one time a monastic workshop there.

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 9, B 4.   From the Langfield Primary School on the northwest side of Drumquin, take the Willmount Road west northwest till you come to the Tullyard Road, that goes to the north.  South of this intersection is a Horse Stable.  The cross is located in a field south of the stables that can be reached by a farm road.  The field is down a steep hill and is on the left.  On the map below, the location is on the extreme left center of the map.

The map is cropped from Google Maps.


Resources Cited

Allen, Kenneth, photo:'s%20Abbey,

Annals of Ulster, CELT:  Corpus of Electronic Texts,

Bigger, Franacis Joseph and Fennell William J., “Ardboe, Co. Tyrone:  Its Cross and Churches”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Oct., 1897), pp. 1-7.

Colman of Arboe.  Parish History., 1998-2005,

Foley, Claire, “Tyrone”, Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 86-90.

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.

History of Parliament:  (

Jewish Virtual Library  (

Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae:   See Saints of February, February 18, 


Porter, Arthur Kingsley, The Crosses and Culture of Ireland, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1931.

Pringle, Alexander, Morris, H. and Patterson O.D. and T.G.F., “Correspondence”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 2 (1939), pp. 292-295.

Roe, Helen M., “Antiquities of the Archdiocese of Armagh:  A Photographic Survey.  Part III The High Crosses of East Tyrone”, Seanchas Ardmhacha:  Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1956, pp. 79-89.

Simson, W. J., “Note on the Parish of Errigal Keerogue, Co. Tyrone”, The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Fourth Series, Vol. 7, No. 61 (Jan., 1885), pp. 29-30.

Ware, James, The Antiquities and History of Ireland, Dublin, 1705.

Warner, Richard B.  “Clogher:  an archaeological Window on Early Medieval 

Tyrone and Mid Ulster” in Dillon, C. and Jefferies H. (eds), Tyrone:  History and Society, Dublin, 2000.  pp. 39-54.

Tyrone History:  (

 Barney McLaughlin 2012