Irish high crosses in peril

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WHILE roads and domestic plumbing were both high-profile casualties of the recent cold spell, some of our historic outdoor artefacts also felt the worst effects of the weather. The high cross known as Muiredach’s Cross in Monasterboice, Co Louth, was recently reported to be in increasing peril having suffered a hairline fracture, caused by water seeping into the sandstone and expanding when the cold spell hit. Muiredach’s Cross dates to the 10th century, and was built in honour of an abbot who lived on the monastic site. It contains 62 carvings from the Old and New Testaments, and was probably built for education purposes.

Co Louth heritage officer Brendan McSherry visited the site last week to see the damage for himself. “There is no visitor centre on the site and the guiding service is run by dedicated volunteers. I had heard previously that there were issues to do with the cross and tourists. When I got there, I saw a guy standing on the base of the high cross with his arm around the cross. When he moved, a girl sat down on top of it. People were climbing and walking by the cross, rubbing their feet against the base of the cross. There is clear evidence of erosion on the base of Muiredach’s Cross which, it must be remembered, is one of the most spectacular high crosses in Ireland.”

Currently, local people are being invited to have their say on the future of the heritage site at Monasterboice. A conservation study was produced for the National Monuments Service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Louth County Council and the Office of Public Works, which suggested several courses of action for the site and its high crosses. The three bodies have called for local people, and interested parties, to give their feedback on the study’s findings at the council’s website,

THE DAMAGE TO the cross has renewed debate about how we should care for and accommodate our infrastructure of remaining high crosses in Ireland, which are some of the most important early medieval sculptures in the world. Experts estimate that there are some 200 high crosses in Ireland, many in graveyards and religious grounds or located on former monastic sites....

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