Armagh Crosses

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This essay discusses the Crosses of County Armagh.  They include the Armagh Market cross and Fragment, Eglish East and South crosses, Tynan Island, Terrace, Village, Village Fragments and Well crosses.  The location of County Armagh is indicated by a red star on the map to the right.

History of County Armagh

The early history of what is now County Armagh centered around Emain Macha (Navan Fort) which lies to the west of the city of Armagh.  Emain Macha was a royal capital and ceremonial site of great antiquity.  “The Annals of the Four Masters date the fall of Emain to 331”, but it may not have been abandoned until a century later.  (Hamlin p. 296)  “According to the genealogies the last king of Emain was Fergus Foga, ‘stout ruler of Emain’, who was killed in warfare by the three Collas, and ‘it was then that the kingship of Ulaid parted from Emain’.”  (Hamlin p. 296)

Based on the work of T.F. O’Rahilly, author of Early Irish History and Mythology, and Daibhi O Croinin, editor of  A New History of Ireland I: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, and author of “"Ireland, 400-800” in this history, the three Collas are literary doublets for the three sons of Niall Noigiallach.  They were Conall, Endae and Eogan.  If so, a date in the mid 5th century for the fall of Emain Macha seems realistic.  (O Croinin, pp.  202)  The Colla’s ruled the area that became known as Airghialla or Oriel for about 800 years.

The establishment of a church at Armagh in the 5th century was probably influenced by its proximity to Emain, though there may well have been a pagan site there that was converted into a Christian site in the 5th century.  The Annals of the Four Masters (M457.3) tell us that:

“Ard Machab was founded by Saint Patrick, it having been granted to him by Daire, son of Finnchadh, son of Eoghan, son of Niallan. Twelve men were appointed by him for building the town. He ordered them, in the first place, to erect an archbishop's city there, and a church for monks, for nuns, and for the other orders in general, for he perceived that it would be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland in general.”  

The suggestion that Patrick intended Armagh to be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland was a claim that supporters of Armagh put forward throughout the medieval period..  Additional background on Armagh is provided below as part of the discussion of the crosses at Armagh.

Armagh Crosses

The Monastery

Much has been written about the history of the monastic foundation at Armagh.  A brief summary is sufficient here.  The Catholic Encyclopedia dates the foundation of the church, monastery and archdiocese to about 445.  Its foundation is attributed to Saint Patrick.  The Book of Armagh tells us that St. Patrick asked Daire, the chief of the area, for a site on the top of the hill.  He was granted instead a site on lower ground, where Patrick built a church.  Later, Daire gave Patrick the hill top and a second church rose there.  As often happens, a town grew up around the monastery.  The town and monastery were destroyed by fire numerous times before 1200.  It was also plundered by the Danes on several occasions.  During the period of the High Crosses (up to 1200) there were numerous buildings within the monastic enclosure.  These included the “Barn”, the “Stone Church of the Elections”, “The Round Tower”, “The Library”, “The Culdee Priory”, “The Abbot’s House”, “The Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul”, “St. Brigid’s Church”, and “The Gate”.  (Paterson and Davies, pp. 84-85 & 97-98.)

The Annals mention numerous crosses at Armagh.  They include:  the cross of Columbkille, the Cross of Bishop Eoghan, the Cross of Sechnall, the Cross of St. Brigid and the Market Cross.  The later is now located in the cathedral.

While St. Patrick established a diocesan system in Ireland, monasteries soon came to dominate the religious scene.  This continued until 1111 when the Synod of Rath Breasail established a diocean system that endures today.  Armagh officially became an Archdiocese at that time.  

It is clear that Armagh became a large and wealthy monastery and diocean center.  It was a place of learning and from  an early date claimed primacy over all other foundations in Ireland, though this was frequently challenged. 

The Market Cross 

The Market Cross is said to have stood outside the rath of Armagh, likely near the gate.  It was “thrown down” in the 17th century to be re-erected in 1793.  Thrown down again in 1813 it was re-erected again and in 1916 it was brought into the Cathedral.  The cross now consists of two shaft fragments on a modern base.  Harbison makes a compelling argument that these two fragments represent two original crosses.  Part of a broken head is nearby.  It appears to have been connected to the upper shaft fragment.  (Harbison 1992, p. 20) 

County Armagh, Northern Ireland, Armagh Market Cross, east face

East Face:  Identifications are based on the work of Harbison.  Photo to the right.

E 1:  Adam and Eve Know their Nakedness

E 2:  Noah’s Ark

E 3:  Sacrifice of Isaac

E 4:  Daniel in the Lions’ Den (?)  

E 5:  Christ before the Doctors (?).  Harbison’s suggested identification is based on similarities of these cross fragments with the Arboe Cross in Co. Tyrone.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 20)  Roe and Glancy suggested this partial panel might represent the Incarnation or the prophesy of Isaiah, “behold a virgin will conceive.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 109)  

E 6:  The Baptism of Christ (?)  This scene has also been interpreted as Moses, Aaron and Hur, the Arrest of Christ and the Transfiguration of Christ.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 20)

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Armagh Market Cross, South side

South Side:  Photo to the left.

S 1:  Cain Slays Abel.  Roe and Glancy identify this as an image of Jonathan and David standing together.  (Roe and Glancy, p. 109)

S 2:  David Encounters/Smites Goliath.

S 3:  David Slays the Lion.

S 4:  Unidentified.

S 5:  Unidentified.

S 6:  Two arched animals with heads to the ground.

The photo below right depicts the East face, South side and West face of the cross, moving from left to right.  (Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs 45-47) 

West Face:

W 1:  The Annunciation to the Shepherds.

W 2:  The Adoration of the Magi.

W 3:  The Baptism of Christ.  The fact that Harbison also identifies this same scene on the east face of the upper fragment is one argument for the two fragments representing parts of two crosses.

W 4:  The Marriage Feast of Cana.

W 5:  The Second Coming of Christ (?).  Four rows of heads (24 in total) lead Harbison to suggest this is not simply the Apostles.  Another reasonable suggestion is made by Roe and Glancy.  It could be an image of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.  (Roe and Glancy p. 110)  

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Armagh Market Cross, north side upper

North Side:  Photo to the left from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 48-49.  Photos right, upper and lower portions of the north side.

N 1:  Three Children in the Fiery Furnace.

N 2:  Interlace forms two circular devices.

N 3:  Saints Paul and Anthony Breaking Bread in the Desert.

N 4:  The Temptation of St. Anthony (?)  See the partial panel in the photo to the right.

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Armagh Market Cross, north side lower

N 5/6:  There are two panels.  Both are too badly damaged to identify.

Cross Head:  Photo to the right below is from Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Fig.51.  It represents the west face.  The photo below left pictures the east face.

East Face:  The Crucifixion is depicted in the center with Longinus piercing Christ’s side and Stephaton on Christ’s right side.  There are bosses in the constriction and a thief crucified on the south arm.

West Face:  The Last Judgment or perhaps the Majestas Domini (Christ in Glory).

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Armagh Market Cross, head


Base and Fragment of Shaft located near the present gate to the cathedral.  

East Face: Roe and Glancy identify "a lozenge which encloses a pattern of six bosses placed about a central and slightly larger boss.”  Below this is what they refer to as a D-shaped device.  (Roe and Glancy p. 108)  Harbison sees this D-shaped device as a quadruped enclosed by a semicircle or arch.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 23)

South Side:  “Circular device with lozenge above.  Almost obliterated.”

West Face:  “Lozenge filled by a cruciform interlaced design.

North Side:  “A spiral motif?”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 108)

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 18 H2.  The Cathedral is located in the center of Armagh town.  The map below is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Eglish Cross

I can find no information concerning the history of the Eglish monastic site in County Armagh.  Even finding the Eglish site is complicated by the fact that the town of Eglish is in County Tyrone, just a few miles from the Eglish monastic site in County Armagh.  There are two partial cross heads and a cross base.   

East or North Cross  (Harbison identifies the two crosses as East and South.  Roe and Glancy identify them as North and South.)

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Eglish, East Cross

Base:  The base is a truncated pyramid without a step.  It has no decoration.

Head:  The head is mounted on a modern shaft.  It appears that in its present form that one modern arm and a modern top have been added to the damaged cross head.

The head is ringed and is imperforate.  There are volutes in each angle of the cross.  The face shown in the photo to the left has a “circular medallion of eight spiral bosses set about a central boss and linked by C- and S-spiral turns.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 111)

The face shown in the photo to the right has a “rather low boss in a shallow roll moulding.  The boss is covered by an over-all pattern of fine mesh interlace.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 111)

West or South Cross

The only decoration now visible is a roll moulding on the sides of the cross with a narrower rib inside this.  There is a circular depression at the center on each face of the cross.  Roe and Glancy suggest these depressions may or may not be original.  The upper part of an imperforate ring is present with volutes extending into the corners of the cross.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 86 and Roe and Glancy, p. 111)

The photos below show the West or South face left and the East or North face right.

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Eglish, South Cross


Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 18 G1.  The site is located in County Armagh south of the Blackwater River.  Getting there from Armagh take the B115 northwest toward the town of Eglish in Co. Tyrone.  Approximately 8 km from Armagh you will come to a crossroad where there is a Methodist Mission Church on the left.  Turn right there on Carrickaness Road (not sign posted).  Stay to your left at two “Y”s.  At the next cross road turn right on Milltown Road.  Go approximately 200 metres.  Keep your eyes open for a signpost on your left for the Eglish graveyard.  It will direct you to turn to the right.  That track will lead to the grave yard.  The map below is cropped from Google Maps.  You can see the semicircular enclosure of the graveyard in which the crosses are located near the center of the map.  


Tynan Crosses

There are four crosses in the area of Tynan, three of them coming from the old monastic site of Glenarb nearby.  Three are on private property with restricted access.  The fourth is in the Tynan village center.  In addition there is a ring fragment and possible base near the Village Cross.

Like Eglish, above, the history of the Tynan monastic site is shrouded in mystery.  There is some indication that the Tynan Village cross dates from between 700 and 1000.  The Terrace Cross in the Tynan Abbey Demesne was moved there from the Tynan Churchyard in 1844.  The Well and Island crosses located in the Tynan Abbey Demesne were reportedly moved from Glenarb in County Tyrone in 1844.

Island Cross

A partial shaft and a cross head are mounted on a modern base and partial shaft.  Photos below show the east face (left) and the west head (right).  Source:  Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs. 629, 630.  During my visit I was unable to visit the Island Cross as a boat was not available.

East Face:  “The centre of the head is filled by a medallion enclosed in a double roll moulding.  The design consists of bossed spirals turned in C- and S-curves.  The ring arcs are ornamented by interlace and fret-spiral patterns.

West Face:  A central medallion, similar to that on the E. side with slightly more elaborate design of bossed spirals in C-curves.  The arcs of the ring are unornamented.

North and South Sides:  Plain.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 112)

Terrace Cross

This cross was erected in a terraced garden of Tynan Abbey.  The upper part of the shaft and the two lower segments of the ring are modern reconstructions.  The photos below show the east face, south shaft, west face and north side (from left to right).  

East Face:  “In its ornamentation the cross has been treated as a unit, the decoration extending continuously from the top of the head to the base of the shaft, thus forming a single compositon.  The decorative scheme is composed of a number of small devices in interlace, fret or spiral patterns sometimes enclosed in moulded frames and linked, one with another by a single slender ‘thread’ of moulding. . . . The form taken by the ring on this cross is noteworthy:  each arc is cut on two levels in such a way as to produce the effect of a two-fold ring.”   (Roe and Glancy, p. 112-113)

West Face:  This face of the cross is arranged in much the same way as the east face.  “The little devices, all seemingly composed of spiral patterns, are variously shaped.  At the lowest part of the shaft a lozenge-shaped device which is filled by a cruciform spiral arrangement, is flanked on either side by a spiral coil; this is linked by a central rounded moulding to a cruciform design of C-spiral coils.”  In the centre of the head the medallion is rounded and this is linked to D-shaped devices, one on each arm and on on the top of the shaft.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 113)

North and South Sides:   The main feature on each side is a long panel on the shaft with a decorative device at top and bottom.  On the north at the bottom is a medallion of interlace, while at the top is a medalion of angular frets.  On the south both devices have spiral design.  (Roe and Glancy, p. 113)


The Well Cross

East Face:  This face is very worn.  In the center of the upper shaft, just below the ring, is a socket that may have been used to place an ornament.  “The surface of the head and arm bears a cruciform design of a central diamond with a narrow cord moulding extending into each arm and there forming a D-Shape.”  (Roe and Glancy, p. 111.)

South Side:  On the shaft there is a lozenge-shaped cruciform design.  There is alo another socket with a stone plug in it.

West Face:   On the upper shaft, right below the ring, there is a panel that is nearly square.  In this panel, which is badly worn, Roe and Glancy saw a possible image of Adam and Eve.  Harbison suggests that it may instead be Saints Paul and Anthony Breaking Bread in the Desert.  (Roe and Glancy p. 112, Harbison, 1992, p. 182)

North Side:  The top of the shaft is decorated with a "lozenge-shaped frame with C-shaped spirals, having their backs to a boss in the centre.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 183)

Village Cross

This is a composite cross.  The base may or may not belong to the lower shaft that now stands in it.  The lower shaft is from one cross and the upper shaft and head are from another.  They were placed together sometime in the 19th century.  “The northern arm and ring segments as well as the top and the upper southern segment of the ring of this cross-head are modern replacements.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 181)

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village Cross, East FaceNorthern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village Cross, North Side

          Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village Cross, Adam and Eve Knowing their Nakedness

East Face:  The lower shaft has an image of Adam and Eve Knowing their Nakedness.  See the photo above center.  The center of the head has a large boss.  There are also bosses on the upper shaft and the south arm.  These bosses are copied on the modern arm and top of the cross.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 181)  Photo above left.

North Side:  The lower shaft has a rectangular panel of interlace.  The upper shaft also has a trace of interlace.  Photo above right.             

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village Cross, South side    Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village Cross, West Face

West Face:  There is a square panel on the lower shaft that has a tall figure with other smaller figures on each side.  One of the figures seems to hold a sword.  Harbison has tentatively identified this as an image of David Acclaimed King of Israel.

The head has bosses similar to those on the east face.  The central boss has traces of interlace.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 182)  See the photo to the left.

South Side:  The shaft has a panel of interlocking C-shaped spirals below and four C-shapes at the top.  The end of the arm is pointed vertically.  The end of the arm may have contained interlace.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 181)  See the photo to the right.

Village Fragments

A small section of the ring of a cross is built into the wall of the graveyard just across the road from the Village Cross and just to the left of the gate post.  It bears interlace on the side that faces the road.  See the photo below left.

There is some possibility that the base of the gate post was once the base of a cross.  See the photo below right.

Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village fragment of ring        Northern Ireland, County Armagh, Tynan Village possible base

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 18 G 2.  The village cross is located at a road junction in the village of Tynan.  About seven miles west of Armagh on the A28 you will come to the B210 the Coolkill Road.  Turn left  (south) and follow sign postings for Tynan.  Tynan Abbey is located northwest of Tynan along Abbey Road and is private property.  The location of the Abbey is indicated by the blue star on the map.  The map is from Google Maps. 

Resources Cited

A Photographic Survey.  Part II The High Crosses of Co. Armagh”, Seanchas Ardmhacha:  Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1955), pp. 107-114.

Hamlin, Ann, Emain Macha:  Navan Fort, Seanchas Ardmhacha:  Journal of the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1985), pp. 295-300.

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.

New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, “Armagh”.

O Croinin, Daibhi; “Ireland 400-800”, A New History of Ireland:  Prehistoric and Early Ireland, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Official Road Atlas Ireland, Ordnance Survey Ireland, 2015

Paterson, T.G.F. and Davies, O., “The Churches of Armagh”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 3 (1940), pp. 82-103. 

Roe, Helen M. and Glancy, Michael, “Antiquities of the Archdiocese of Armagh:  

 Barney McLaughlin 2012