Offaly Crosses B

The Crosses of County Offaly apart from those at Clonmacnois include:  the Banagher shaft or pillar; Drumcullin; Durrow cross head, west cross; Kinnitty or Castlebernard; Sier Kieran base, small cross; and Tihilly.  The location of County Monaghan is indicated by the red star on the map to the right.

Banagher:  consisting of a shaft or pillar now located in the National Museum in Dublin. 


Writing in 1853, Cooke tells a little of the history of the Banagher church.  In the ninteenth century it was known as Kill-Regnaighe, and was located in the parish of Reynagh.  The church and parish were named for St. Regnach or Regnacia, a sister to St. Finian who was at the monastery at Clonard.  It was his understanding that Regnacia founded a religious house at this place, now present day Banagher, and served as abbess.  He suggests that she likely died near the time of her brother’s death.  St. Finian died in 563.  (Cooke, p. 277)

Banagher sits at a strategic point on the River Shannon.  It was for along time one of the few places where the river could be crossed between Leinster and Connacht.  (  

It was Cooke who found the cross shaft in the church cemetery, and who later, due to damage to the stone, had it moved to Clonmacnois.  He learned from locals that the shaft had stood near a spring that was dried up by the time he was there.  (Cooke, p. 277)

The Cross

DU018-205—-.  The high cross from Kylebeg or Banagher, Co. Offaly (OF021-003004-).  Described by Harbison as "A cross shaft of sandstone which originally stood at Banagher, Co. Offaly, was removed by Cooke around the middle of the last century (1800’s).  After his death, it was moved to Clonmacnois around 1870, and to the National Museum in Dublin in 1929, where it is now on display with the inventory number 1929:1497.  It is 1.47m tall, and its tapering faces and sides have maximum dimensions of 40cm and 19cm respectively.  All the corners have small roll moulding, and the panels which are all of different sizes are also framed by similar moulding.  Damage to the two top side panels was probably caused by a secondary attempt to add a ring.  A shallow mortise-hole on top is probably secondary also.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 25)

The shaft fragment stands 56.5 inches in height (143.5 cm) has a width of 14.5 inches (39 cm) and is 7 inches thick (18 cm).

Face One:

1:1  There are three panels.  The lower panel begins at the bottom with two animal heads, the one on the right side has been damaged but the one on the left is clearly visible.  Above this there is a pattern of two-strand interlace that resolves at the top of the panel into two figures seen in profile.  Each has a pointed nose.The one on the left is holding the wrist of the one on the right.  What appears to be their hair creates an interlace pattern between their faces.  (See the photo on the left below right, the source of both photos of the Banagher cross is Harbison, 1992, Vol. 1 pp. 25-26; Vol. 2, Figs 65-68)

1:2  In the center panel there is a lion crouching.  Its tongue is out and its tail is between its legs.  In the upper left corner is a three point interlace.  Another interlace is above the back of the lion.

1:3  This panel is a simple two-strand interlace.  

Face Two:

2:1  This face also has three panels.  The lowest panel contains an intricate design of four intertwined humans.  There legs are intertwined in the center with their heads reaching out to each of the four corners.  Something like a ribbon weaves around their arms.

2:2  The middle panel depicts a deer with the front right leg caught in a trap.  In describing this panel, Cooke states that the dear is “proved by the character of its horns to be the red deer; an animal now, I believe, nearly extinct in Ireland.”  (Cooke p. 278)

2:3  The upper panel contains two images.  The lower portion has a horseman who holds a crozier.  He sits on a prancing horse with his legs extending forward.  Above this image there is a prancing lion with protruding tongue.  The tail rises and ends in two leaf-like shapes.  Cooke aptly describes the horseman as a bishop.  He identifies the bishop as William O’Duffy, a bishop killed by a fall from his horse in 1297.  He goes on to suggest that the deer below, because of the Irish word “Davefeei, or Duffy” makes the deer a symbolic image of the bishop’s family name.  The fact the deer is caught in a trap is interpreted as pointing to the accident that resulted in the bishop’s death.  Based on these conclusions he suggests the cross was carved and set up in memory of the bishop in the late thirteenth century.  (Cooke, pp. 278-279)

If Cooke’s assertions are granted that would place the Banagher cross about one hundred years outside the period Harbison sets for the Irish High Crosses.  However, based on stylistic features of the art, Harbison suggests a date in the ninth century, about four hundred years prior to the life of Bishop O’Duffy.  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 378-379)  Harbison’s dating is to be prefered but Cooke’s early explanation is certainly worth noting as part of the history of the interpretation of this particular cross.

Side One:

1:1  The lower panel contains two animals, one atop the other, entangled in a band of interlace.  “The tail of the upper animal terminates in a triangular shape in the centre of the panel.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 26)

1:2  The next panel up contains interlace.

1:3  The next panel up contains “Interlinking C-shaped spirals forming pelta-shapes, terminating in two outward-turning spirals at the top.”  (Harbison, 19092, p. 26)

1:4  The upper panel has a coiled animal with a fish-like tail.  The head is missing.  

Side Two:

2:1  A panel of interlace “which terminate in animal-heads with rope-like necks and car-lappets, and with their mouths biting the interlace.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 26)

2:2  This panel is similar to panel 1:3 on side one.

2:3  “Interlace terminating below in animal-heads which bite the interlace.  A break groove at the top suggests that a ring may have been inserted secondarily to support the arms of a cross.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 26)

Resources Cited:

Cooke, Thomas L., “The Ancient Cross of Banagher, King’s County”, Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1853), pp. 277-280.

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.

Offaly Tourism:

Drumcullin (Knockbarron)

For those interested in a concise but very comprehensive description of the Drumcullen cross-head and the background of the Drumcullen monastery the best read would be a brochure written by Dr. Peter Harbison entitled “The Drumcullen Cross-head of c. 900.”  The link to this brochure is below.  Here I will offer a brief summary taken from this and the other sources cited.

The Monastery 

In an article published in 1918, Olive Purser describes finding the cross-head.  She offered a description of both faces and some basic information about the supposed founder of the abbey.  (Purser and Armstrong, pp. 74-77)

Drumcullin, monastery abbey, County Offaly, Ireland

This same article offered drawings of both faces of the cross-head.  These are pictured below along with photos and descriptions of the cross-head.  (Purser and Armstrong, figs. a and b.)

The photo above shows the ruined church at the site.  The cross-head was located in front of the church to the right. 

Harbison suggests Drumcullen must have been important in spite of a scarcity of mentions in the annals.  It was home to both the cross of which the current cross-head was part and the Kinnitty cross now located at Castlebernard nearby.  The Drumcullen monastery is located near the river Camcor which was the ancient boundary between Leinster and Munster.  Drumcullen is on the Lenister side of the river while another monastery at Kinnitty, not farm from Drumcullen, lies on the Munster side of the Camcor.

In an Ordnance Survey Letter for King’s County we find:  “The name of Drumcullen Parish in the Barony of Eglish is in the Irish Calendar written Druim Chuilinn, where we read:- ‘Bairfionn, Bishop from (of) Druim Chuilinn and from (of) Killbarfinn near Eas Ruadh to the north. He was of the race of Conall Gulban who was son of Niall, etc.’”  (Ordnance Survey Letter)

The letter goes on to state that in 591 Barrindeus was abbot of Drumcullin and it flourished.  Later, the Annals of the Four Masters record for 721 that St. Cuana of Druim Cuilinn died and for 740 that Ceannfaola, Comharb of Druim Cuilinn died.  (Ordnance Survey Letter; see also Annals of the Four Masters)

The Saints

Harbison tells us that there were two saints connected with Drumcullen.  One was Rioghnach, a female saint.  The other was Barinthus, a male saint.  Not much is known of Rioghnach.  The Martyrology of Donegal tells us she was sister to Finnian of Clonard and mother of Fionntainn, a Priest, of Fochuillich.  (O’Donovan, p. 197)

Drumcullin cross-head, County Offaly, Ireland

We know only a little more of Barrinthus or Barrindeus.  He was Abbot of Druimcuillin and also of Killbarron in Tirconnell, county Donegal.  He was of the family of Niall, the most powerful family in the north of  Ireland and is mentioned as having encouraged Brendan to undertake his famous voyage.  (Walsh, p. 508)

The Cross

The photo to the left was taken in 2008 before the cross-head was moved for preservation from the ruined abbey where it was found.  The face showing is described below as the east face.

The descriptions of the carving on the cross are taken from Harbison, 1992, p. 75, except where elsewhere noted.

East Face: 

The arms and the ring have interlace decoration.  In the center a raised moulding encloses a spiral decoration.  The design can be seen clearly in Figure b to the left.  (Purser, Fig. b)

South Side:

On the underside of the ring a vertical roll moulding if found.  On  the end of the arm there is a panel of interlace.

West Face:

In the center of the head is a scene from the crucifixion.  The figures of Stephaton and Longinus are suggested to the left and right of Jesus.  “There is a hemispherical boss (SOL, the sun, or a worn human head?) at the end of Jesus’ arm.”  Above his head is what may be a spiral motif.  In Fig. a to the right this spiral motif is copied at the end of Jesus’ right arm.

Writing in the brochure for Drumcullin, Harbison writes, “There are, however, two curious features associated with the Crucifixion figure.  The first is a large rounded boss in relief on the arm of the cross beyond Christ’s right hand.  there was doubtless a somewhat similar-shaped boss on the other, lost, arm.  On possible explanation is that these represented the cosmic symbols, sun and moon, whose faces may well have been painted onto the smooth surface of the boss.”  (Harbison, brochure)

Drumcullin cross-head, County Offaly, Ireland

Drumcullin cross-head, County Offaly, Ireland

The West Face is seen in the photo to the left, the East Face in the photo to the right.


Getting There:  See Road Atlas page 43 1 D.  The cross-head is on public display inside the Rath Roman Catholic Church less than 2 km southeast of the N 52.  The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Resources Cited

Annals of the Four Masters,

Catholic Ireland, “High Cross Fragment displayed in Meath parish

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.

Harbison, Peter, “The Drumcullen Cross-Head of c. 900”,

O’Donovan, John, The Martyrology of Donegal, A Calendar of the Saints of Ireland, Dublin, 1864.

Ordnance Survey Letters King’s County, Letter no. 32 from Thomas O’Connor, Birr, Jan. 26th 1838:

Purser, Olive and Armstrong, E.C.R., “Fragment of a Celtic Cross Found at Drumcullin, King's County”  The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Sixth Series, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Jun. 30, 1918), pp. 74-77

Walsh, Thomas, History of the Irish Hierarchy, with the Monasteries of Each County, Biographical Notices of the Irish Saints, Prelates, and Religious, New York, 1854.


The Site:

Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, West Face

The monastery at Durrow was founded by St. Colum Cille (521-597).  It lies along the Eiscir Riada, the major east-west roadway across Ireland.  This same ridge crosses the River Shannon south of Durrow where Clonmacnois lies.  The early name was Daru or Dairmag.  The exact date of founding is unknown though Charles-Edwards suggests it was probably between 585 and 597 (the year Colum Cille died).  (Charles-Edwards, p. 555)  The point has been debated.  Some suggest that Durrow was founded before 563, the date when Colum Cille left Ireland for the Isle of Iona in Scotland.  Others believe it was founded after 575, while Colum Cille was back in Ireland for a Synod of Drumkeatt.  He appears to have remained in Ireland for an extended time following the Synod and may have founded Durrow then, or on a subsequent trip back to Ireland.   

Colum Cille was a member of the Ui Neill family and more specifically the Cenel Conaill, the dominant branch of the Ui Neill at the time Durrow was founded.  Charles-Edwards suggests that the founding may have had a political aspect.  The Cenel Conaill was at the time seeking to continue the decline in influence of the Cenel Fiachach, a rival faction of the Ui Neill.  Durrow lies just about four miles from the chief monastery of the Cenel Fiachach and with royal patronage its foundation would have added to the influence of the Cenel Conaill in that area.  (Charles-Edwards, p. 555)

Durrow was a daughter house of the monastery of Iona, the primary Columbian foundation.  A number of the most influential monasteries had daughter houses.  The daughter houses of Iona included Derry and Durrow, and in the early ninth century Kells, which due to the pressure of Viking attacks on Iona became the new center of the Columbian foundations.  (Charles-Edwards, pp. 250 and 587)

The Venerable Bede, an eighth century English monk who wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” referred to Durrow as a monasterium nobile or famous monastery.  It was large both in population and in land area.  The present church and graveyard area are only a small part of the larger monastery at its heights.

Durrow experienced challenges over the course of the years.  In 764 it found itself at war with the folk of Clonmacnois over issues of political and spiritual influence.  The Annals report that 200 of the Durrow men died.  The Chronicon Scotorum reports that Durrow was burned in the year 833.   In 1019, according to the Annals of Lough Ce, the sanctuary of the church was violated.  Molloye, King of Fearceall had sought asylum there and was removed by force and later killed.  The Annals of Clonmacnoise place this same event in 1013.  In 1095 the books of the library were burned, fortunately the Book of Durrow was not destroyed.

The twelfth century saw the arrival of the Augustinian Canons who opened a house near the old monastery.  In 1153 and again in 1155 fire damaged or destroyed the monastery.  In 1175 the Normans destroyed the old monastery.  While the Augustinians remained, the monastery declined in significance. 

We have the names of only a few of the Abbots of Durrow.  Cormac Ua Liathain is said to have been appointed Abbot by Colum Cille when he left for Scotland.  Abbot Ruadhan also dates to the sixth century and so would have been an early abbot of the foundation.  About 630 we know that Cumain was Abbot of Durrow and the Annals of Ulster report that Saergus Mac Cuinnid (Soergus Mac Cionnaoth) the Abbot of Dairmag (Durrow) died.

Little remains of the early monastery.  The church presently on the site was build during the renaissance period.  The illuminated Gospels known as the Book of Durrow, dating from about 700, is on display at Trinity College, Dublin. The High Cross, that will be described below, dates to the early tenth century, while a smaller cross head, also described below, may be a bit earlier.  An eleventh century crozier, venerated as that of Colum Cille, is now in the National Museum of Dublin.   There is also a probable cross base, known as the “headache stone” as well as a holy well on the site.  In the field to the north and west of the church part of the circular bank and ditch which once protected the monastery can be seen, especially in an aerial photograph.

The Saint:

Much has been written about St. Colum Cille (Columba).  Our primary resource is the Vita Columbae or Life of Columba written by Adomnan, Abbot of Iona, about a century after Colum Cille’s death.  Colum Cille was born in County Donegal in 521and studied under St. Finnian at Clonard.  Finnian's school was noted for sanctity and learning.  Colum Cille was one of twelve students of Finnian who became known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.  As noted above, Colum Cille was a member of the Royal family of the Ui Neill.  Indeed when he was born his half uncle was High King at Tara and during his life six of his cousins reigned as High King.  

He founded a number of monasteries in Ireland prior to his exile from Ireland in 563.  He then founded the monastery at Iona in Scotland.  As noted above, he returned for the Synod of Drumkeatt, after which he remained in Ireland for a time and founded other monasteries, possibly including Durrow.  He then returned to Iona where he died in 597.

The Crosses

The West Cross at Durrow

Inscriptions:  There are two inscriptions on the plinth of the shaft of this cross.  One is on the west face, the other on the north side.  Both of these inscriptions have been damaged, likely “the result of deliberate action and the use of stone working tools, chisels and punches.”  O Murchadha, p. 55)  O Murchadha and O  Murchu did an extensive analysis of these inscriptions, publishing their results in 1988.  They propose the most complete reading of this inscription yet ventured, but they offer no translation of the text.  

The inscription on the north side of the cross might be rendered as follows:  (O Murchadham p. 58)

O R D O [M] _ _

S E C H N A _ _ _

R I G H E R E _ _

O R _ O C _ O _ _

A _ D O R R O _ _

A C H R O _ S

The first line probably said “prayer for”, a typical part of an inscription.  The second line may provide the name of Soergus Mac Cionnaoth, abbot of Durrow till his death in 835/6.  The next lines would then ask a “prayer for” and provide the name of the person who erected the cross.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 359)  A few years later, Harbison wrote:  the inscription “on the north side, though poorly preserved, can reasonably be reconstructed to include the name of king Maelsechnaill — leaving the options open as to whether it was commissioned by him or was commemorating the achievements of a dead man.”  (Harbison, 1998, p. 165)  If the Maelsechnaill referred to is Mael Sechnaill mac Mail Ruanaid, king of Mede (Meath) from 845-862, and if we have the correct Soergus, it is possible that the king caused the cross to be raised to honor the late abbot, and of course, himself.

The inscription on the west face of the cross is more badly damaged than that on the north.  About all that can be safely postulated is that the inscription begins with “prayer for”.  Suggestions for a name in the inscription, made by Stokes and Smyth suggest Dubhthach, Airchinnech of Durrow who died in 1010 and Dubtach who was head of the Columbian monasteries of Ireland from 927 to 938.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 358)  Either of these identifications would place this person long after the death of Soergus and Maelschnaill.  

The West cross at Durrow can be roughly dated to the “second and third quarters of the ninth century, and the . . . first half of the tenth.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 368)

The descriptions below are based on the work of Harbison (1992, Vol. 1, pp. 79-83)  

East Face:  

Base:  There are two undecorated panels on the base.

Plinth:  Any identification is uncertain.  There may be a ringed cross or the head of a lamb with a ringed head to the left.  The center may contain a human figure with an animal or two centaurs face to face.  

Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, East Face

E 1:  The Raised Christ.  This image has a central Christ figure with an angel on each side of the head.  His feet are on the knees of two robed figures seated opposite each other.  They have an open book between them.  They probably represent Peter and Paul and the book the gospel.

E 2:  A panel of interlace with circular devices.

E 3:  The Sacrifice of Isaac.  Abraham is on the left wth a sword in one hand and the fire in the other.  Isaac is on the right, one knee on the ground.  He holds an ax and carries the wood for the sacrificial fire.  Above him are an angel and the ram.

Center of Head:  The Last Judgment.  A central Christ figure holds a cross-staff and a scepter.  Above his head is a lamb in a circle.  He stands on interlace that may represent clouds.  On the left and right are angels.  One with folded hands, the other blowing a pipe.  

South Arm:  David Playing the Lyre.  The very end of the arm contains interlace.

North Arm:  David Slays the Lion.  David, knee on the back of the lion pulls apart its jaws.  In front of him is a lamb.

Top of Head:  A square panel has bosses in each corner.  From these emerge animals which bit one another in the center and others with heads on the outer periphery of the bosses.

The Ring:  There is roll moulding framing animal interlace in the lower left and upper right segments.  There is fretwork with spiral terminatons in the lower right segment.  The upper left segment decoration is unclear.  Inside the ring are cylinders with round bosses on the ends.

South Face:  

Base:  The base has one undecorated panel.Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, South Face

Plinth:  While difficult to see in the photo, there are two winged animals standing opposite one another under a tree.  The animal on the right appears to grasp the tree.

S 1:  Eve Gives the Apple to Adam.  Once again we have a tree, this one with spiralling branches.  The serpent is not prominent.  Eve is on the left handing a fruit to Adam.

Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, South Face

S 2:  Cain Slays Abel:  Cain appears on the left in profile.  He strikes his brother Abel with a club.  Abel is on the right and appears in a frontal position.

S 3:  David as King:  David is seated and holds a sword and a shield.  There are two animals, one on each side, both having their heads in David’s lap.

Underside of Ring:  In a center panel a snake coils around three human heads.  To the left is a panel of S-spirals, while to the right are C-shaped spirals.

End of Arm:  The end of the arm is shaped as a truncated pyramid.  On a panel on the truncated end is a panel of fretwork.

Upper side of Ring:  Probable interlace on the left.

Top:  A horseman moves to the left.  Above this is a triangular panel that is too worn to identify.

West Face:  

Base:  There are two undecorated panels.Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, West Face

Plinth:  There is an inscription that is described above.

W 1:  Christ in the Tomb:  Jesus’ body lies below a grave slab, his head uncovered by the slab.  Above two soldiers lean together, each holding a spear.  There may be a small human figure between them.  On the left a small bird stretches its beak toward Jesus’ head.

W 2:  The Mocking or Flagellation of Christ.  The figure of Jesus is in the center, facing left.  He appears to be held by a solder behind him who also faces left.  In front of Jesus a second soldier holds a flail in each hand.  With one he appears to beat Jesus on the shoulder.

W 3:  The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ’s Garments.  The three figures are interpreted as soldiers.  The one in the center appears to hold Jesus’ garment.  The soldiers on each side hold swords and face word the central figure.

Center of Head:  The Crucifixion.  Jesus is in the center, his feet on interlace, his feet tied, his arms outstretched.  On his left Stephaton offers him vinegar while on the right Stephaton pierces his armpit.  Above Jesus’ head a bird, probably representing the Holy Spirit perches on his head with outstretched wings.

North Arm:  The Denial of Peter.  The figure of Peter sits facing Jesus.  He appears to hold a drinking horn.  Above the horn a cock perches.  A smaller figure sits in front of Peter and also holds a drinking horn.  His identity is unclear in the context.

South Arm:  Pilate Washes His Hands.  The figure of Pilate balances that of Peter on the left.  He washes his hands in a vessel held by a servant sitting in front of him with his back to Jesus.

Top:  Traditio Clavium.  Jesus in the center hands a key to St. Paul on the left and a book to St. Paul on the right.

Ring:  The upper left and lower right segments have bosses linked in S-spiral.  The bottom left has animal interlace which may also appear on the upper right segment.  Cylinders attach to the inner surface of the ring.

North Side Durrow High Cross, County Offaly, Ireland, East Face and north side

Base:  There is one undecorated panel.

Plinth:  There is an inscription discussed above.

N 1:  John the Baptist Embracing/Recognising Christ.  Two figures embrace in such a way that their bodies form an X.

N 2:  Spiral bosses alternate in horizontal in vertical C-shapes.

N 3:  Zacharias and Elizabeth with the Infant John the Baptist.  A female on the left holds a child.  On the right a male puts one hand up to his mouth.  This gesture seems to indicate Zacharias who could not speak while Elizabeth was carrying John up to the moment when he wrote the name John on a tablet.

Underside of Ring:  A central panel is decorated with interlace.

End of Arm:  Shaped like the south arm with the central panel being decorated with interlace.

Upper side of Ring:  No visible decoration.

Top:  A seated figure that remains unidentified.  Above is a boss-whirl with serpents emerging and three point interlace in the spaces.

The Cross Head:  

DU018-191—-There is a cross fragment (OF009-005006-) cemented into the S end of the W wall of the graveyard at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly (OF990-005009) and this piece appears to have come from the shaft of a high cross.  The missing cross head described below and the possible fragment of the shaft may belong to the same cross.  This cross-head as described below, was once at Durrow and is now housed in Dublin, in the National Museum of Ireland (IA File, IA/29/1988).  The cross-head is on display in the museum.

In 1974 the head of a high cross was removed from the monastery at Durrow and was described by Harbison as "A cross-head of sandstone stood for centuries on top of the gable of the now disused Protestant church to the east of the main cross.  It fell to the ground in the late 1950s, after which it was placed on a base just south of the church.  In 1974 it was, apparently, removed to Durrow Abbey nearby, in the grounds of which the old monastic site lies.  The cross-head is 43cm (17 inches) high, 68cm (27 inches) across the arms, and the lower part of the shaft has a maximum width of about 20cm (8 inches)  The arms expand markedly at the terminals, and it seems unlikely that the cross originally had a ring.  The ends of the arms are probably not decorated.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 82)

East Face:  (?) David as Shepherd.  "A figure stands with a crook in its left hand, and there may be a sheep with turned-back head to the right.  Above the figure’s head there is what is probably an angel, on the analogy of panel S 3 of the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnois.  The figure is most likely to represent David as Shepherd, the presence of David in such a position at the centre of the cross-head being rendered quite likely in view of the David interpretation suggested here for the scene at the centre of head of the Tall Cross at Monasterboice.  The arms are decorated with interlace.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 83)

Cross Base:  

This cross-base is located to the south of the road a few yards into the woods beside a large tree.  It is undecorated.

Getting There:   See Road Atlas page 34 3 F.  The entrance to the site is off the N52 between the M6 and Tullamore, on the east side of the road.  The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Resources Consulted

Annals of Lough Ce:

Annals of Ulster:

Charles-Edwards, T.M., Early Christian Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Chronicon Scotorum:

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.

Harbison, Peter, “Durrow:  Monasterium Nobile”, Irish Arts review (2002-), Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), pp. 102-107.

Harbison, Peter, The Golden Age of Irish Art:  The Medieval Achievement, 600-1200, Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Meehan, Bernard, The Book of Durrow, Roberts Rinehard and Town House, Dublin, 1996.

O Croinin, Daibhi, Ed. A New History of Ireland:  Prehistoric and Early Ireland, Oxford University Press, 2005.

O Murchadha, Domhnall and O  Murchu, Giollamuire, Fragmentary Inscriptions from the West Cross at Durrow, the South Cross at Clonmacnois, and the Cross of Kinnitty, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 118 (1988), pp. 53-66., County Offaly

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

Williams, Sterling De Courcy, “The Old Graveyards in Durrow Parish”, The Journal of the royal Society of Antiquaries of ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jun. 30, 1897), pp. 128-149.

Williams, Sterling De Courcy, “The Termon of Durrow (continued), The Journal of the royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep. 30, 1899), pp. 219-232.

Castlebernard (Kinnitty)

The Site and Monastery

The village of Kinnitty is located at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains.  The name comes from a myth “that the head of an ancient princess is buried beneath the village, Ceann being Irish for head and Eitigh being the name of the princess.”  (

During the sixth century Saint Finnian, a disciple of Saint Brendan founded a monastery at Kinnitty, on the site of the present Church of Ireland and its graveyard.  (

The Abbey was sacked by the Danes in 842.  Two abbots have been identified:  Colga Mac Connagain who died in 871 and Colmain who was slain at the battle of Magh Ailbe in the early tenth century.  (

During the Norman period a castle and an Augustinian Abbey were built on the site of the present castle, outside of the village of Kinnitty.  Some of the walls of the Abbey were incorporated into the present day castle.  (

During the ninth century Kinnitty benefited from the patronage of Maelsechnaill, king at Tara from 846 to 862.  It was during this time the Kinnitty cross was carved and set up there.  This was a political act as much as a religious one as Kinnitty lay just within the territory of the Eoganacht, the dominant force in Munster and rivals of the Southern Ui Neill, the people of Maelsechnaill.  (FitzPatrick, p. 16)  The subjugation of Munster was one of the goals of Maelsechnaill’s reign.

The Saint

The founder of Kinnitty was Finnian or Finnan Cam.  He was a pupil of St. Brendan.  As with many Irish saints there is confusion about the identity as there are at least two other St. Finnians, one connected with Clonard and the other with Movilla and apparently another Finan Cam.  (Carver, p. 134 note)

The Cross

The cross itself is a little over five feet in height and stands on a base that about thirty inches tall.  It is oriented so that the faces of the cross are north and south.  The arms of the cross are broken.

The Base is of irregular shape with two sides tapering inward and two essential perpendicular.  Each side of the base is decorated in the same way.  There are two bands of interlace framed by a rib above and below each.

The East Side contains four panels.

E 1:  Interlace

E 2:  Spiral forms that may end in animal heads. 

E 3:  “Two animals with the back part of their bodies interlacing in the centre of the panel.  The head of the lower animal points diagonally downwards, and its front legs seem to project at right angles.  The head of the upper animal has been replaced by cement.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 35)  The details are not clear in the photo to the right.  The source of the photo is Harbison, 1992, Vol. 2, Figs 97 and 98.  And for the photo below Figs 99 and 100. 

E 4:  From a central spiral boss two animals emerge, their front legs projecting forward beside their heads.

The South Face contains a plinth and three panels.  

The plinth contains an inscription that Liam de Paor has translated as reading “A prayer for King Maelsechnaill son of Maelruanaid.  A prayer for the king of Ireland.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 35)

S 1:  Interlace that comes to a point in each corner of the panel.

Castlebernard, Kinnitty, High Cross, south panel, County Offaly, Ireland

Castlebernard, Kinnitty, High Cross, south panel, County Offaly, Ireland

S 2:  This pane, pictured to the left,l has been interpreted in a wide variety of ways.  Harbison sees in it the summoning of David.  Other interpretations include Aengus, king of Cashel, converted by St. Patrick, St. Brendan of Clonfert giving a crozier to Finan Cam, founder of the Kinnitty monastery, the anointing of David, and the presentation in the temple.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 36)  A figure seated on the left appears to be playing a harp.  Above his head is a bird.  In front of him is a standing figure holding a crook in his left hand and in his right what might be interpreted as a bucket or a bell.

S 3:  Interlace in circular patterns.

The Head of the cros, pictured left, contains a crucifixion scene.  Some of the head has been replaced by cement but it is clear that the Jesus is flanked by Stephaton and Longinus in a typical  crucifixion scene.

The West side has four panels.

W 1:  An S-shaped spiral.

W 2:  Knots of interlace.

W 3:  Four spirals with animals emerging.  W 4:  Knots of interlace.

The North Face has a plinth and four panels.

Castlebernard, Kinnitty, High Cross, north panel, County Offaly, Ireland

The Plinth contains an inscription that Domhnall O’ Murchadha translated as reading, “A prayer for Colman who made the cross for the king of Ireland.  A prayer for the king of Ireland.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 36)

N 1:  Two strand interlace.

Castlebernard, Kinnitty, High Cross, north panel, County Offaly, Ireland

N 2:  Pelta-shaped spirals with bosses at the terminals.

N 3:  Animal interlace with the heads at the corners.

N 4:  Eve gives the Apple to Adam.  See the photo above left.

The Head has a panel with two birds at the stricture just below the center.  On each side of and above a central square panel there is interlace.  In the square panel there is a large central boss surrounded by six smaller bosses.  Three of these are linked to the central boss.  In each corner of the square panel there is interlace.  See the photo to the left.

Getting There:   See Road Map page 43 1 D.  Located northeast of Kinnitty along the R421 on the grounds of the Castle Hotel.  The cross is in the front a short distance from the entrance.  The map is cropped from the Historic Environment Viewer.

Resources Cited

Carver, Martin, The Cross Goes North:  Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, AD 300-1300.

FitzPatrick, Liz, “Raiding and Warring in Monastic Ireland”, History Ireland, Vol. 1, No. 3, Autumn, 1993.

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.

Irish Tourist:  (

Kinnitty Castle:  (

Slieve Bloom Walks:  (

Seir Kieran/Churchland

The Site:

The monastery was founded around 500 by Saint Kieran the elder.  By the eighth century it was the primary monastic foundation in Ossory as indicated by the burial of rulers of Ossory at the site.  Seir Kieran monastic site, County Offaly, IrelandIn the photo to the right the church can just be made out behind the large trees.

During the ninth and tenth centuries there were Viking raids on the monastery.  In 952 the Munstermen raided Seir Kieran.

In 1185, as a result of the Norman conquest, the property was granted to Theobald Walter and the Bishop of Ossory gained direct control of the monastery.  In the fourteenth century ownership was disputed between the secular and ecclesiastical authorities.  In 1548 the English and O’Carroll burned the monastery and four years later the priory was dissolved and the church became the parish church for the Church of Ireland.  (offalytourism)  (

The entries below from the Annals with some added comment from Carrigan offer the names of some of the Abbots of Seir Kieran, as well as a plundering by the “Gentiles” in 842 and the 952 plundering by the men of Munster mentioned above.

At or near the site are several points of interest.  There is the base of a Round Tower, St. Kieran’s well, the base of a tenth century cross and a small decorated cross.

Seir Kieran in the Annals

695 St Killen MacLubnen was abbot of Saighir

744 Laidhgnen Abbot of Saighir was slain[4]

771 Tnuthghal the Abbot died

783 (recte 788) Maccog the Abbot died

788 (recte 793) Cucathrach of Saighir died

807 (recte 812) Cobhthach the Abbot died

809 (recte 814) Fearadhach the Abbot died

810 (recte 815) Conchobar the Abbot died

826 Connmhach Ua Loichene the Abbot died

832 Irghalach the Abbot died

842 Plundering of Birr and Saighir by the Gentiles

846 Anluan the Abbot died

867 Cormac son of Eladhach Abbot of Saighir bishop and scribe died

870 Geran son of Dicosc the Abbot died

885 Sloghadhach Ua Raithnen the Abbot died

912 Cormac Bishop of Saighir died

919 Fearghal son of Maelmordha the Abbot died

920 Aedh Ua Raithnen old sage of Ireland and wise man of Saighir died[5]

937 Ceallach son of Caellaighe Prior of Saighir died

941 Fogartach the Abbot died

941-4 At this time Sadhbh Queen of Ireland wife of the Ard Righ Donn chadh son of Flann Sionna and daughter of Donnchadh King of Ossory grieved that Saighir the burial place of her ancestors lay open and defenceless while so many other famous churches in Ireland were encircled by walls induced her royal husband to send a number of masons to erect a suitable wall of stone around the cemetery

951 Ceannfaeladh son of Suibhne Abbot of Saighir died

952 Saighir Chiarain was plundered by the men of Munster

961 Fearghal son of Ceallach died at Saighir after penance

974 or 975 Donnchadh King of Ossory father of Queen Sadhbh or Sabia above died at an advanced age and was buried with his forefathers at Saighir

984 Flaithlemh airchinneach of Saighir died

1004 Foghartach Abbot of Leithghlinn and Saighir died

1012 The Prior of Saighir was killed

1048 Dunchadh Ua Ceileachair successor of Ciaran of Saighir died

1079 Ceallach Reamhar the Fat successor of Brenainn of Birr and of Ciaran of Saighir died

1118 The See of Ossory was changed from Seir Kieran to Aghaboe (most probably by the Synod of Rathbreasail held in this year)

1200 About this date the old Irish order of monks at Saighir having become extinct or been superseded the monastery church and parish were handed over to the Canons Regular of the Order of St Augustine who established a community here and continued in possession down to the Reformation

1284 The Lord Bishop of Ossory Geoffry St Leger acquired (recte recovered) the manor of Serrkeran by duel according to Clynn and others.  (Carrigan, pp. 2-3)

The Saint:

Saint Ciaran was one of the pre-Patrician saints of Ireland.  He is known as the “first-born of the saints of Ireland.”  What we know about Ciaran comes from later hagiography, the purpose of which was not to provide a historical record.  That Ciaran was pre-Patrician, along with Aibe, Declan and Ibar, points to a connection between Ireland and Wales in the years before the arrival of Patrick.  The foundation at Seir Kieran was, for some time, the most significant of the churches/monasteries in that region.  (, also photo to the right. Patrick Duffy)

According to “The Life of Old Ciaran of Saighir” the saint was born in Ossory.  This was in the time before the Christian faith had come to Ireland.  At about the age of thirty, Ciaran is reported to have traveled to Rome where he studied, was baptized and received episcopal orders.  After thirty years in Rome he was sent back to Ireland and on the way reportedly met Patrick.  He was given a special bell by Patrick that would ring when he came to the place in Ireland where he was destined to found a monastery.  Of course the Life provides information about many miracles and mighty deeds performed by Ciaran.  (The Life)  

While we cannot with certainty assign a date of birth or death to Ciaran, it is generally agreed that he lived in the fifth and perhaps into the early sixth century.

The Cross Base:

East Face: 

The east face of the base contains a number of biblical scenes that are not separated into discrete panels.  They are generally arranged in an upper and lower register.  Seir Kieran cross base, County Offaly, IrelandThe lower register has a winged griffin on the left, an image of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace in the center, an image of Adam and Eve right of center and on the far right an unidentified figure.  See the image to the right.

The upper register seems to feature David with the head of Goliath on the left, the Sacrifice of Isaac in the center and two horses on the right.  Harbison describes this last image as follows:  “Two horses (?), that on the left being apparently winged, that on the right seeming to have a human leg in its mouth.  There is a bird perched on the rump of the winged horse, and there would also appear to be something (a rider? or a head?) on the back of the right-hand horse.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 166)  The illustration below offers some indication of what is seen on this face.  (Edwards, p. 22)

On the step of the base there is a row of interlace. 

Seir Kieran cross base, County Offaly, Ireland

South Face:The bottom panel contains three panels of interlace side by side.  See the image to the right.

The lower step has what appears to be a procession of animals.

West Face: 

Seir Kieran cross base, County Offaly, Ireland

This face of the base is badly damaged.  Only a bit of interlace remains visible.  See the image to the left.

North Face:Seir Kieran cross base, County Offaly, IrelandThis face has a lower panel divided into two registers.  The lower seems to contain a number of figures but is badly eroded.  The upper register seems to show “three or four horsemen riding towards the left, where they face five figures with staffs, who may reel backwards from them.”  (Harbison,  1992, p. 167)  See the image to the right.

The lower step contains interlace.

Seir Kieran small cross, County Offaly, Ireland

Small Cross:

This small sandstone cross is imperforate.  There is a tenon at the bottom.  It stands only about one and one half feet in height.  On each face there is a large boss in the center with smaller bosses on the arms and shaft.  On the shaft there is a hole on one side and a sunken circle on the other.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 167, Vol. 2, Fig. 562)  See the image to the right.

Getting There:

See the Road Atlas page 43 D 1.  Located just south of Clareen, east of the R421. The site is sign posted.  See map to the left.  (Source

Sources Cited:

Carrigan, William, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Volume 2, Dublin, Sealy, Bryers and Walker, 1905.

Duffy, Patrick, “Kieran of Saighir (6th cent.)”,

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.

Offaly Tourism:  (

“The Life of Old Ciaran of Saighir",, Náem nÉrenn (Author: [unknown])   


The Cross

The Tihilly Cross is a scripture cross made of sandstone.  It is presently about 6 feet in height and sits on a base that is about 22 inches high.  Writing in 1897, Williams notes that the cross was still standing.  “Near its west end [the church] stands, in a very dilapidated condition, an old cross.  The shrine-like head and the south arm have vanished, but the north arm, with fragments of the ring, remains broken from the head.”  (Williams, 1897, p. 130)  Porter noted that in 1928 he found only broken fragments of the cross at the site.  (Porter, 1931, p. 56 n)  Harbison stated in 1992 that since the cross had been badly damaged by the ravages of time, it was re-erected from fragments found at the site by the Office of Public Works.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 172)

The carvings on the cross remain visible but are worn and difficult to see clearly as the photos I took while there will attest (see below).  Fortunately Williams included a number of illustrations in his article of 1897 that give us a clearer image of the carvings.  The two sets of illustrations below are from that article.  (Williams, 1897, pp. 131-2).   Harbison provides the most complete description of the carvings on the cross.  All of the description below depends on his work, with the sections in quotes being exact quotes.  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 172-3)  

Note that the cross as re-erected is turned 180 degrees from what the illustrations suggest.  The descriptions below reflect the current alignment.  Below the second illustration are three photos showing, as in the second illustration, the North, West and South sides of the cross. 

East Face:

Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, IrelandThe east face of the cross, is illustrated above and pictured to the right.  

E 1:  Two two birds with interlocking necks, and with a human head between them on the bottom of the panel.  

E 2:  A panel of human interlace.  There is a head in each corner and the legs of these figures come together in the middle.  

E 3: A spiral fret-pattern.

Head:  In the center is “a roundel bearing a spiral joined to others surrounding it.

Arms:  There is interlace, possibly of an animal variety.

Ring:   On what is left of the ring, it is not possible to identify any decoration.  

It is clear from the photo to the right that much of this design is difficult to make out.

South Side:

The illustration and photo, below left, show the south side of the cross on the right.  

S 1:  A panel of interlace.

S 2:  An image of two animals “with crossed necks, comparable to those on the shaft of the south side of Saints Patrick and Columba’s Cross in Kells.” (Harbison, 1992, p. 172)

S 3: An S-spiral design and interlace. 

End of Arm:  Some fragmentary fretwork. 


Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, Ireland          Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, Ireland          Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, Ireland

West Face: 

The center image in the illustration above and the middle photo above show the west face of the cross.  

W 1:  A panel with a winged griffin.  The griffin is a mythic animal that is biformed, half lion and half eagle.  It is possible to interpret the griffin as a symbol of Christ as guardian of good, or as an anti-Christ persecuting Christians.  (Sill, p. 21)  

W 2:  A panel of interlace with four circular devices.  

W 3:  Adam and Eve knowing their nakedness.  This particular moment is indicated by each figure covering their nakedness with a hand.  

W 4:  Another panel of “interlace of four circular devices with an extra band of interlace beneath.”  (Harbison, 1992, p. 172)   

Head:  There is an image of the crucifixion.  “Christ stands in a tight-fitting garment and possibly with his legs bound.  His arms hang down at a slight angle.  To the left is Stephaton holding up the vinegar on the end of a pole, while on the right, Longinus pierces Christ’s armpit with his lance.  Above Christ’s head there is an unidentified object or figure (a bird or an angel?).   (Harbison, 1992, p. 172)  

Arm:  There may be a small but unidentified figure at the end of the surviving arm.

The North Side:

The north side of the cross is represented on the right in the illustration and in the photos above.   

N 1:  A panel is interlace.  

N 2:  A panel of "C-shaped spirals of pelta-type above one another."  (Harbison, 1992, p. 172)  The term pelta derives from the Greek and Latin words for a small shield that has an elliptic or crescent-shaped form.  An example of a Roman pelta belt mount, image to the right, illustrates the type.  (  3/2014)

N 3:  Animal interlace followed.

N 4:  Two-strand interlace.  Illustration 4 from the upper illustration is repeated and enlarged below to demonstrate the details of the animal interlace.  

Arm:  The arm on this side is broken. 

Harbison goes on to note that the top or gable of the cross is (or was in 1992) in the University college, Dublin.  It is house shaped.  It has “flat broad mouldings at the corners, the finials consisting of a pelta-shape with each end curving up into a spiral.  There may be a trace of shingles on the sloping ‘roof’.”  (Harbison, 1992, pp. 172-3) 

The Monastery:  

Some of the history of the Tihilly site is described in an article entitled “The Old Graveyards in Durrow Parish” written by Sterling de Courcy Williams in 1897.  Piecing together information from many sources Williams tells us that Tihilly (Teach-Telli) was founded by St. Fintan.  The remains include the church, the ruins of which can be seen in the photo below, the high cross, visible in the foreground, and two cross slabs illustrated above in illustration one.

Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, Ireland

Later, “the Holy Virgin, Cera, who was said to be the daughter of Dubhe, and of an illustrious family of Muskerry in the new county of Cork, applied to St. Fintan for a situation on which to establish a nunnery, and he is said to have assigned to her the place where he had been himself, afterwards called Teach-Telli.”  (Williams, 1897, p. 133)  More on these two saints below.

The Annals of the Four Masters notes that Teagh-Tilli was burned in the year 670.  

In 723 note is made of the death of Rubyn, chief scribe of Munster and the son of Bryan of Tihill.

The Annals of Clonmacnoise tell of the death in 741 of an Abbot of Tihilly.  

In 865 we are told of the death of Cosgrach, scribe and anchorite of Teach-Teilli.  

In 884 the annals tell of the death of a St. Maelruain, Abbot of Dysart Dermott, Killeaghie and Tihellie.”   

In 898 the death of Scannall of Teach Teille is noted.  (Williams, 1897, p. 133)

The last note on Tihilly that Williams found was for the year 936 when Robhar tach of Teaoh-Teilli died.  (Williams, 1897, p. 134)  The Monastic Map of Ireland lists Tihilly as a men’s monastery that probably did not have a community after the 10th century.  (Monastic Map of Ireland)  The monastery appears then to have had a community from the early 7th century through the 10th century.  At least during the time Cera was Abbess, it was a nunnery or perhaps a double house (with both men and women).

Williams goes on to conclude “Tehilly evidently did good work in its day as a centre of light and learning.  Like many other religious houses, it had its anchorite cell.  In its day its scribes, no doubt, gave the world manuscripts like the ‘Book of Durrow’.  It sent forth missionaries who were not only full of zeal, but men of erudition, whose theological training gave good material on which to base their fervid eloquence.”  (Williams, 1897, p. 134)

The Saints of Tihilly:

It is generally agreed that Tihilly was founded by St. Fintan Munnu, who also founded a monastery at Taghmon in County Wexford.  Fintan later gave the monastery over to St. Cera, a Holy Virgin.  And so, a little background on both of these saints.

St. Fintan Munnu was an Irish saint of  some reputation.  He is said to have studied under Sinnell of Cluaininis, an island in Lough Erne.  He is described as “fair, with curly hair and a high complexion.  And in temper and disposition, even though he was a saint, he is described as rough.  (Williams, 1899, p. 66) 

I don’t know the provenance of the photo to the left.  It was found at, 3/2014)

Fintan’s story is told by Adamnan, ninth Abbot of the Monastery at Iona in his Life of Columba, written sometime in the early 7th century.  There we read “St. Finten, who was afterwards very well known throughout all the churches of the Scots (Irish), having, by the grace of God, preserved from his boyhood purity of body and soul, and being devoted to the study of divine wisdom had nourished from his youthful years this one resolve in his heart, that he would leave Hibernia and go abroad to St. Columba.”   (Adamnan, book 1, chapter 2)  He arrived at Iona shortly after the death of Columba in 597.  He presented himself to Abbot Baithene, successor of Columba, and requested to become a monk in the Abbey.  Baithene told him no and explained why.  Some time before, Columba had given Baithene a prophesy, “shortly after my welcome and earnestly longed-for departure from this world to Christ, a certain brother from Scotia (Ireland), named Finten, son of Tailchan, of the tribe Mocumoie, who is now carefully guarding his youthful years with a good life, and is very well versed in sacred studies, will, I say, come to thee, and humbly ask thee to receive and enroll him with your other monks.  But this has not been appointed for him in the foreknowledge of God, that he should become the monk of any abbot, for he has long since been chosen of God to be an abbot of monks and a leader of souls to the kingdom of heaven.”  (Adamnan, book 1, chapter 2)  And so, with a blessing from Baithene, Fintan returned to Ireland.

It was not long after that Fintan established the monastery at Tihilly.  The date was not long after 602.  He remained at Tihilly for about five years.  His time there ended when he turned the place over, lock, stock and barrel, to St. Cera.  He apparently went from Tihilly to establish the monastery at Taghmon with which he is primarily associated.

 Saint Cera of Kilkeary was a woman of noble birth, a native of Muscraidhe Thire in County Tipperary.  She was known for her sanctity and a number of miracles have been associated with her in the hagiographies.  She was led to erect a nunnery now known as Kilkeary, near Nenagh.  As this nunnery grew in numbers, Cera and some of her nuns sought out a place to establish a second house.  This, as it turned out, would be at Tech Telle [Tihilly].  (Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae)  The image to the right could be any saint but serves to reflect the purity and holiness of Cera.  (  3/2014)

One day, Cera with five companions, came to Tihilly.  She said to the steward “Tell the strong man who owns the place to give it to me, for he and his fifty youths are stronger than I and my five maidens are, and let him build another house for himself.”  (Williams, 1899, p. 66)  Whether this is factually true or not, it suggests that Cera was a very direct and assertive woman.

“Fintan complied with her request, ordering his pupils to bring only their axes, books, charisma’s, with their ordinary clothing and the two oxen which drew the wagon with the books; but he refused to bless her, and told her that the church would not be associated with her name but with that of Telli, son of Segin.”  (Williams 1899, p. 66)  It is interesting to speculate on what combination of divine direction and political pressures caused Fentan to comply with Cera’s request.  The story suggests he did so with some resentment as he refused to bless Cera and her companions.

It is unclear how long Cera remained at Tihilly.  She is recorded to have returned at some point in time to Kilkeary.  She died on 5 January, 679.

 Getting There:  

Tihilly Cross, County Offaly, IrelandMy Story:  This was a difficult cross to find.  Part of the difficulty was that I had yet to discover the National Monument Service website.  It would have pinpointed the location for me.  It turns out it is located about half way between Tullamore and Clara off the R420.  Even without the help of the National Monument Service, getting within a few kilometers of the site was easy.  

I stopped at a nearby B&B to ask for directions.  B&B owners typically know every point of interest within miles of their location.  Unfortunately, this proprietor said he had never heard of the cross.  He did, however, offer me a life line.  He called a friend who was able to give us directions.  

I was told the cross is in a field on the Robinson farm.  Thinking like an American, I assumed that meant there was a sign that said “Robinson Farm”.  Of course there isn’t.  After figuring that out, and remembering the Robinson Farm was supposed to be the first on the right after I turned onto the R420, I was fortunate to find Ms. Robinson at home.  Without her assistance I probably would never have found the cross.  She guided me through the farm yard, past several barns and through a gate into the proper field.  Of course the passage of cows and recent rains made passage through the gate and into the field an adventure of sloshing through mud.  Ms. Robinson also told me, along the way, that she wanted to call her husband on her cell phone to see if “the bull” was in the field.  It was, but she suggested I could skirt around and approach the cross from the opposite side.  Even then I was a little concerned as I was wearing a red jacket.

At long last I reached my destination. The cross stands in a small grove of trees at one end of the pasture and the trees sheltered me from the bull.  The two trees that predominate the scene are, according to Offaly Tourism two of the oldest trees in the county.  (  The photo above shows the trees with the ruins between them and the shaft of the cross just visible to the right of the trees  It is a sandstone cross about six feet in height.  The ruins of a small Medieval Church is nearby, also in the grove of trees.  Together the cross, the ruined church and the ancient trees reflect a certain nobility and remind us of the faith of a great cloud of witnesses long dead but ever present.

Directions:  See Road Atlas page 34 3 E.  The site is in a field northeast of the R420 about midway between Clara and Tullamore.  Stopping to ask for local guidance is a must.  Because there may be bulls in the pasture, getting permission from the land owners is wise.

Resources Cited:

Adamnan, Life of Columba, Medieval Sourcebook:, 3/2014, Fordham University

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.

National Monument Service:

Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae:

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

Sill, Gertrude Grace, A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art, 1975, Touchstone, New York.

Williams, Sterling de Courcy, “The Old graveyards in durrow Parish”, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. VII, Fifth Series, 1897, University Press, Dublin.

Williams, Sterling de Courcy, “Tihilly, Parish of Durrow, King’s County”, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1899, pp. 65-66, Dublin.

 Barney McLaughlin 2012