Though synonymous with the Duleek Cross, which was erected
in the ninth century, the history of Duleek dates back to
the time of St. Patrick and a monastery established by his
disciple St. Cianan.
The Irish High Crosses are part of Irelands legacy
to Western European Art of the Middle Ages and the one at
Duleek, though only 1.82 metres high, merits particular
High Crosses or Celtic crosses are found throughout the
country on old monastic sites. Some were probably used as
locations for religious ceremonies while other simply marked
The earliest crosses were made of wood and metal and were
probably much smaller than the great stone monuments that
survive today. The stone crosses are believed to date back
to the ninth century and imitate the wood and metal one
that predated them.
What makes the Duleek Cross special is that it contains
elements from so many different Celtic art themes
knots, spirals, mazes and has been an inspiration
to jewellers and artists around the world.
The features on the cross combine Celtic and Christian themes.
On its west face are a number of figure sculptures, most
notably a crucifixion scene as well as scenes depicting
the early life of the Virgin Mary. Another scene may represent
the Holy Family, perhaps the Presentation of Jesus at the
On the same face an event from the history of the monastery
is also depicted. Adamnan, a monk, visited the tomb of St.
Cianan where the latters body uncorrupted. Despite
warnings to the contrary he touched the saints body
and subsequently lost an eye.
Adamnan fasted in penance and miraculously his eye was restored.
This event is depicted on the top panel of the cross.
The south side contains a winged creature while the east
face and the sides of the cross have some interesting geometrical
The centre of the cross has seven raised spirals believed
to represent the dance of heavenly bodies around the sun,
long before Copernicus put forward his heliocentric theory.
This sandstone cross was constructed in the 9th century
and at the time it was believed that there were five planets
plus the sun and the moon.
The Duleek Knot, named after the pattern found on the south
cross, is found in many old druid and pre Christian patterns.
Its symbols represent the sun and the forces of nature
earth, air and water, while a cross indicates a integration
of Christian and druidic beliefs.
Also known as the Protection Knot with interlocking triquetras
(symmetrical triangular interlaced arcs used in metalwork
and stone crosses) indicating unity and perpetual strength.
Duleeks significance predates this cross by about
four hundred years. It founded by St. Patrick who sent his
disciple St. Cianan here to build a church and establish
a monastic settlement.
Its name in Irish, Daimhliag Chianain translates as "the
churchstone of St. Cianan". His church was regarded
as the first stone church in Ireland and unfortunately no
trace of it remains.
Cianan was baptised by Patrick around the year 450 and died
Due to its proximity to the eastern seaboard, Duleek was
attacked many times by the Vikings. In terms of importance
as a monastic settlement it was on a par with Armagh, Clonard
and Clonmacnoise. The settlement included a hospital, almshouses
Duleek is situated in area rich steeped in history. A few
miles to the north are the famous chambered cairns of Newgrange,
Knowth and Dowth, which are reckoned to be more than 5,000
Tara, the seat of the High Kings is a little over ten miles
to the south west, while the ancient monastic settlement
of Kells is about 20 miles to the west. The Hill of Slane
where St. Patrick lit the famous Paschal Fire is only about
eight miles away.
Monks accompanying the body of Brian Boru and his son-in-law
to Armagh for burial after his death at the Battle of Clontarf
in 1014 have rested here. Some time later the OKelly
family built an Augustinian Priory at Duleek.
In the late 12th century the Norman, Hugh de Lacy built
himself a castle nearby and granted Church of St. Cianan
to the Augustinians of Gloucestershire, just a few short
years after the Normans themselves had ransacked the priory.
Another cross of note in the middle of the village is a
wayside cross, known as the Dowdall Cross. It was erected
by Dame Jennet Dowdall in 1601 as a memorial to her first
husband, William Bathe. The cross, which was repaired in
1810, is one of a series of crosses constructed by Dowdall
in memory of Bathe and includes the Athcarne Cross about
three miles south-west of Duleek.
In 1690 the famous Battle of the Boyne between Williamite
and Jacobite forces took place a few miles to the north
of Duleek. It is believed the final skirmishes took place
near the village before the army of King James was defeated.
Furthermore, it is said that the victorious King William
is said to have slept peacefully at Duleek the
night after his victory. Interestingly, this pivotal battle
in the course of history of Western Europe is believed to
be the last occasion when opposing monarchs played an active
A bridge over the River Nanny to the south-east of the village
bears a plaque with the date 1587 set into the parapet.
The defeated Irish Jacobite Army is said to have retreated
over this bridge after the Battle of the Boyne.
In his topographical survey of Ireland in the late 1830s,
Samuel Lewis noted that Duleek was on the mail coach road
from Dublin to Belfast and that its parish had a population
of 4470 of which 1217 lived in the village.
He also noted that the manufacture of ticking, a strong
durable material used to cover mattresses which was once
manufactured in great quantities in the locality was by
then greatly diminished.
On a more positive note was the presence of an extensive
corn and flour mill in the village as well as another one
at Beaumont, "the latter recently erected and fitted
up in a very complete manner with improved machinery",
The survey gave a detailed description of Duleek and its
surrounds. "On the hill of Bellewstown is a course
where races are held the last week in June; they are generally
well attended. The market has been discontinued; but fairs
are held on March 25th, May 3rd, June 24th and Oct. 18th.
A penny post to Drogheda and Ashbourne has been established;
there is also chief constabulary police station."
Lewis went on to note that the land in the area was of good
quality adding that about two-thirds of it was under tillage
and that the eastern part of the parish contained excellent
Limestone was plentiful in the area and was quarried for
both building and agricultural purposes. A spacious mansion
at Platten owned by "R. Reeves Esq." was built
on the site of ancient castle of the DArcy family.
According to the survey, Athearne Castle on the banks of
the Nanny, "the seat of J. Gernon Esq." previously
belonged to the Bathe family and was "a perfect specimen
of the Elizabethan castellated style".
Lewis goes on to say that "it is a massive pile of
building, with a still more massive keep defended by quadrangular
embattled towers, and the whole was formerly surrounded
by a fosse: the present proprietor has made some additions
Duleek was later served by rail with the opening of the
Drogheda-Navan line in 1850. The line runs adjacent to the
cement works at Platin is also used to ferry ore from Tara
Mines to Dublin.
Duleek has a long rich heritage and the popularity of the
its Cross will ensures it will continue.
Taken from Royal County