Cork Cross

There is only one High Cross in county Cork.  It is the Kilnaruane shaft near Bantry.  The location of County Cork is indicated by the star on the map to the right.

Bantry aka Kilnaruane

County Cork, Ireland, Kilnaruane cross

The Kilnaruane shaft is presumed to be the shaft of a cross.  It stands about 7 feet in height, is 10 inches wide and 6 inches across.  There is carving on the two faces.  A vertical groove at the top of each side may have been used to attach a ring or head.  There is some speculation that this was originally a “tau” or “t” shaped cross.  (Carroll, p. 1)  Based on the characteristics of the cross and the carving F. Henry and P. Johnstone date the cross to the 8th century.  (Johnstone, p. 277)

The East Face

The east face bears a boat that is presented vertically.  See the photo to the right.  Johnstone describes it as a “very fine representation of a boat with a small cross on its stern, a helmsman holding a steering oar, and four oarsmen.  The boat is being rowed hard heavenwards amidst a sea of crosses.”  (Johnston, p. 277)

Harbison identifies seven figures in the boat.  There are four oarsmen amidships, two figures in the bow facing aft and a figure in the stern of the boat, presumably the helmsman.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 132)  These details are difficult to make out in detail but the photo below offers an idea of the detail of the carving.

Johnstone’s interest is the Bantry Boat as a boat.  He points out that if the 8th century dating of the cross is accurate, the carving is pre-Viking and the boat is clearly not a Viking boat..  The shape and other characteristics of the boat make it probable it is a skin boat typical of a curragh.  Johnstone notes that “no representation of a skin boat from that period is generally known.”  (Johnstone p. 278)  This alone makes the Kilnaruane cross shaft unique among the Irish High Crosses.  Johnstone describes the carving as very realistic, writing “The attitude of the helmsman, leaning exhaustingly forward like a boat-race coxswain the angle of the steering oar, the position of the oarsmen with stroke pulling a little harder than anyone else, the bending heave of the oars, are remarkably vivid and convincing.”  (Johnstone, pp. 279-280)

County Cork, Ireland, Kilnaruane cross

Although the carving is quite realistic, Johnstone also points to ambiguities.  How many oarsmen are there and are they rowing or sculling?  If they are rowing, there would be two oarsmen in each row and each would have one oar, operating on opposite sides of the boat.  This would render a total of eight oarsmen.  If they are suclling, each oarsman would have two oars, one in each hand, hence four oarsmen.  Johnstone also points to a error.  “The steering oar disappears where it crosses the stern.  One might take that to indicate, very unusually that it was simply on the port side were it not so clear that the helmsman is holding it in his right hand.”  (Johnstone, p. 280)

In addition to the boat, there are, as noted above, several crosses in the carving.  There is a cross in each of the bottom corners of the panel and a cross in the upper right-hand corner of the panel.  There is also a small cross on the stern of the boat.

The question of the meaning of this carving has drawn several different responses.  Wallace sees it as an incident in the life of an Irish saint.  Brendan the Navigator comes to mind as an example.  Hourihane and Hourihane interpret it as a symbol for the ship of the church.  Harbison suggests that if it is biblical in nature, it may represent Jesus Calming the Storm.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 132)  Based on the presence on the west face of the cross of a panel that represents Saints Anthony and Paul breaking bread in the desert (discussed below) it seems entirely possible that the image is intended as the representation of an Irish saint.  Johnstone’s statement that the ship seems to be sailing toward heaven amidst a sea of crosses could be entirely consistent with this identification.  The ultimate goal of the Irish saints was to find their place of resurrection and be united with God.

There are two other panels on the east face of the cross.  Above the bow of the boat there is a panel containing four quadrupeds.  Like the boat, this panel is arranged vertically.  However, it is turned the other way round.  In the panel there are two rows of beasts.  In each row two of the quadrupeds face each other with their heads touching.  Harbison notes that Hourihane and hourihane interpret this panel as “Apocalyptic Beasts”, but Harbison makes no interpretation.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 132)

The top panel contains a much worn design that appears to be a double-spiral design.

The West Face

County Cork, Ireland, Kilnaruane crossThe west face of the cross shaft contains four panels in about the same space as the three on the east face.  See the photo to the left.  The lowest panel seems straight forward in its interpretation.  It offers a classic image of Saints Anthony and Paul of the desert sharing a loaf of bread brought them by a raven.  The saints sit on chairs facing each other.  Between them is a table, or as Harbison points out, it could represent the tau shaped crozier of St. Anthony.  Above this is a full loaf of bread and the bird that brought it.  (Harbison, 1992,  p. 132)

The next panel up contains an equal-armed cross as seen in the photo to the right.  There is a square in the center.  Each arm is rectangular and is connected to the center by a narrower rectangle.  

The third panel up contains a figure that has been variously identified as a woman lamenting and simply as an orans or praying figure.  The figure is best seen in a drawing in a 1913 article in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society pictured to the right.  Indeed this illustration offers a clear image of the first three of the panels.  The upper panel is described by Harbison as containing irregular animal interlace.  The animal nature of this is not made clear in the illustration.  (Notes and Queries p. 202)

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 67 A 2.  Located south of Bantry.  “The Kilnaruane or Bantry Pillar Stone is situated about a mile outside Bantry up the by-road at the West Lodge Hotel.”  (Carroll, p. 1)  Take the N71 south from Bantry. The cross is not visible from the road, but is signposted.  

I visited this cross shaft in 2008.  This was before I had discovered the National Monument Survey that could provide maps for me to most of the crosses.  As was my habit, I stopped at a store and asked if anyone knew where the cross shaft was.  No one did.  One employ recommended that I check with the local Information Center and told me where it was located.  When I arrived, this was early May, I discovered that the center had just opened for business for the season that day.  The name I knew for the cross was the Bantry Cross.  I had some information and a photo from the internet under this name.  The attendant had never heard of it and so began an internet search of her own.  While she was doing that she suggested I look over a single sheet on the counter that gave general information and illustrations of several local sites of interest.  Just as she found Bantry Cross on the internet, I was seeing the cross shaft I was looking for illustrated in the very center of the page.  Locals know this only as the Kilnaruane stone.  She gave me directions to get there and I found the proper roads.  I began looking for signpostings along the road and after several kilometers had not found one for Kilnaruane.  I resolved to turn back.  There was one place where there were numerous signpostings that I had surveyed along the way.  I returned to this and approaching it from the east rather than the west I found the signpost for Kilnaruane.  Along the gravel road it directed me to there was another signpost that directed me into a field to the right.  Someone had placed a sign on the gate asking that it be closed behind me.  I started up a relatively steep slope and toward the crest found the cross shaft.

Resources Cited:

Carroll, Michael J., “Antiquities of the Bantry Region”, about 1999.

Coleman, J., “Notes and queries:  Ancient carved stone near Bantry”, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1913, Vol. 19, No. 100, page(s) 201­202.  Published by the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

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.

Johnstone, Paul, "The Bantry Boat”, Antiquity/ Volume 38/ Issue 152/ December 1964, pp. 277-284.

 Barney McLaughlin 2012