History of Monasterboice & Kells
Monasterboice, near Drogheda, was founded in the 5th century by St. Bhuithe, one of St. Patrick’s original followers. Today the ruins are known for one of Ireland’s best collections of high crosses. The graveyard contains a round tower, a sundial and two churches. The South Cross or Cross of Muiredach, the Tall Cross or the West Cross Today the impressive set of ruins contains a graveyard, two churches, a sundial and a round tower.
The site is best known for its collection of High Crosses. The three crosses include the South Cross (or Cross of Muiredach) and the West Cross (or Tall Cross). The northeastern corner of the graveyard is home to the simpler North Cross, which was probably smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. It has only a few carvings compared to the first two.
These crosses depict stories from the Old and New Testament that it is believed would have been used to educate early Christians, as there were no books or bibles at that time. Local volunteers will give you a tour of the site and take you through the images carved into these majestic crosses. These guides will also tell you the local legends such as on one side of the South cross head there is an image of a hand local tradition says that if you stand under the hand God will answer your prayers.
The West Cross has a well-preserved head but the stem is quite damaged. It is believed that the head of the Cross may have been stored indoors which has helped to preserve it as you see it now. The missing pieces are still considered a mystery but locals believe that those emigrating during the Great Famine took a chip of the stone to take a piece of Ireland with them.
History of Monasterboice & Kells
There is evidence at Monasterboice that prior to its ‘founding’ by St. Bhuithe in the late six is said to have been founded by St. Buithe in the late 5th century it was a significant place for pagan Celts.
Vikings captured the settlement in 968 AD, and were expelled by Donal, the Irish high king of Tara. St. Bhuithe’s Monastery was an important center of spirituality and scholarship until the Cistercians arrived at nearby Mellifont Abbey in 1142, after which Monasterboice became neglected.
Monasterboice has many interesting features to explore, but the clear highlight is its superb high crosses. Like murals and church sculptures, these magnificent examples of Celtic art brought the Bible to life for those who could not read (which was most people).
Monasterboice’s round tower is over 30m (110 feet) tall and was divided into four or more stories inside, connected with ladders. As with other round towers in Ireland, this was used as a belfry, watchtower, and a refuge for monks and valuables during times of Viking attack. Records indicate that the interior went up in flames in 1097, destroying many valuable manuscripts and other treasures. The tower is currently closed to the public
Most people have heard of the Book of Kells, which was found at the Abbey of Kells it remains one of Ireland’s greatest mysteries as to where it was created. Some believe it was made in Iona Scotland at the monastery established by St. Colmcille. The 9th century period was rife with Viking attacks and it is believed that the monks relocated to Kells in Ireland perhaps bringing the book with them.
Kells Abbey is one of Ireland’s greatest monastic settlements. Gaelic Irish for Kells means “great residence,” and it was a royal residence much like the famous Hill of Tara. It wasn`t until the 6th century that Kells came to fame as a monastic settlement. St. Colmcille or Columba was granted Kells by the High King, Diarmuid MacCarroll, who was a cousin of Colmcille and it is said that the two often fought and argued and the King gave Kells to him to make up for his actions against him.
Kells is most famous as the home to “Ireland`s finest treasure,” the Book of Kells. The book comprises of the four Gospels of the New Testament; it is a masterwork of western calligraphy with complex and extravagant illustrations and ornamentation. The manuscript is brought to life with figures of humans, animals, mythical beasts, Celtic patterns and vibrant colours. The actual Book of Kells is now far too valuable to be left in an unguarded location so you can see it at Trinity College in Dublin where it is on display year round. If you are interested in learning more about the Book of Kells read Maria’s account of her visit to Trinity College and the viewing of the book here.
Colmcille and Finnian (a fellow monk) were the unwitting contributors to the world’s first copyright laws. The two fought over the practice of transcribing of the first complete bible brought to Ireland by Finnian. Colmcille copied the book in secret so it could be shared but this angered Finnian who brought the issue to the King at Tara. This resulted in Diarmuid ruling against Colmcille and stating on the record, “to every cow belongs its calf, to every book its copy.” Essentially every copy of the book made belonged to the owner of the original book.
The monastery in Kells flourished and was hailed by Columban monks as the “Splendour of Ireland”. During this time many items that are integral pieces of Irish history were created here from the stone crosses, the Round Tower,“Columcille’s House“ and the completion of the Book of Kells in the 9th century.
Generally, monastic settlements were surrounded by a circular boundary wall called a vallum, which acted as a frontier between the holy world within and the secular world outside. They often contained a church, graveyard, high crosses, monk`s cells and from the late 10th century round towers were built to house surplus goods, act as a refuge and a belltower. Both Monasterboice and Kells have a vallum wall around them.
Kell’s round tower is roofless and stands at over 25 metres and in 1076 Murchadh Mac Flainn, who was fighting for the High Kingship of Ireland, was murdered in the tower.
The Market Cross of Kells, which dates from the 9th century and depicts scenes from the Old and New Testaments, can be seen at the junction of the Navan & Dublin road’s and the Slane road in front of the Kells Heritage Centre.
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