Laois Crosses

There are two high crosses in County Laois, both at Sleaty.  The location of County Laois is indicated by the red star on the map to the right.


The Site and the Saints

The best article I have found on Sleaty is an article by Sean Murray on the Laois Heritage Society webpage.  While his focus is on St. Fiacc, the founder of Sleaty, his article also offers a brief overview of the early history of the monastery.  Much of what follows is based on the information in his article.  Related to the name of the site, he tells us that the monastery was in the townland of Sleaty or Sleibtach (House near the mountains).  (Murray)

Fiacc was the son of a prince from the Irish midlands.  His mother was sister of Dubhtach, chief bard and brehon of Ireland.  The brehons were the lawyer/judges of the time.  Fiacc was an early convert of St. Patrick in the year 433, when Patrick was at Tara.  The following is quoted from a revision of Sean Murray’s article:

"Patrick converted the Leinster King Laeghaire to Christianity at Tara too, and this set the ball in motion for the seemly rapid adoption of the new religion throughout the country. Fiacc was ordained and Patrick is said to have cut off his beard and given him a tonsure, he became the first Ard Espog of Laighen and founded a monastery near Clonmore (between Clonmore and Aghold on the east of the Slaney) in Co. Carlow. This monastery on the east bank of the Slaney was called Domnach-Fiech, likely at Killabeg (Healy, 1905, Life and Writings of St. Patrick) was to be the scene of a great tragedy in which over 60 monks died from disease. Afterwards Fiacc received a vision and was accompanied by St. Patrick to a place “marked by the boar” on the west side of the river Barrow in Co. Laois. Here he founded a thriving monastic settlement at Sletty. Fiacc is said to have received the Latin alphabet from Patrick and the site here at Sletty may have become one of the first scriptoriums on the island of Ireland. Soon afterwards Fiacc was to fall ill and Patrick sent him a horse and chariot from Armagh, on which he could administer as Bishop to the province of Leinster."

County Laois, Sleaty, South Cross

In the photo to the right, the South Cross is in the foreground with the ruins of the church in the background.

The Sleaty monastery had an early scriptorium.  Fiacc is said to have learned the Latin alphabet from Patrick.  As a former bard himself and a man who now could read and write, Fiacc is credited with writing a “metrical life of St. Patrick in Irish.  

Fiacc was known for piety and many pilgrims visited Sleaty.  It was well positioned as the River Barrow was a major natural waterway in ancient Ireland.  Fiacc died between 510 and 520.  His son Fiacre became abbot of Sleaty after him.

Over 100 years later, Aed was abbot of Sleaty.  He is credited with commissioning Muirchu, a scribe, to write a “Life of St. Patrick.”  This he did in the mid by about 688 and we have this “Life” still.  Aed died in 698.  The Annals of the Four Masters record that “Aedh, Anchorite of Sleibhte, died.”  (AFM, M698.2)

Sleaty is mentioned in the annals a number of times.  In 864, it is recorded that the monastery was plundered by the Ossorymen.  (AFM, M864)  Perhaps because of Viking raids along the Barrow and the growth of large monasteries nearby, Sleaty began to diminish in importance.  The last mention of Sleaty in the Annals comes in 1055 when the annalist wrote, “Maelbrighde Ua Maelruain, airchinnech of Slebte.”  The meaning is that this steward of the monastery died.  (AFM, M1055.4)

On the site now can be found the two High Crosses that will be explored below.  They are dated between the 8th and early 10th centuries.  The ruins of a later medieval church also survive.

The Crosses

The South Cross

County Laois, Sleaty, South Cross, west face

This imperforate cross is carved of granite.  It stands a little over four and a half feet.  The west face, seen to the left has a raised ring with what appears to be a Maltese cross inside.  There is a slightly raised panel on the shaft that does not seem to have any decoration.

County Laois, Sleaty, South Cross, east face

The East face, seen in the photo to the right, has a raised circle in the center of the head but there is no apparent decoration.

The North Cross     

County Laois, Sleaty, North CrossCounty Laois, Sleaty, North Cross

The North cross, seen in the photos left and right, stands nearly nine feet in height.  It is ringless with arcs carved out on all four corners where the arms and shaft meet.  It has no apparent decoration on either side.

Getting There:  See the Road Atlas page 45 4 B.  Sleaty is not named on the map.  The site is just north of Carlow on a minor road that runs between the N80 and the R417.  At a fork in the road keep right.  The distance from the N80 is about 1km.  

Resources Cited

Murray, Sean,

 Barney McLaughlin 2012