Duleek's Cross

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 Ireland’s legacy to Western European Art of the Middle Ages and the one at Duleek, though only 1.82 metres high, merits particular attention.

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 out boundaries.
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 Temple.

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 latter’s body uncorrupted. Despite warnings to the contrary he touched the saint’s 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 designs.

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.

Duleek’s 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 in 488.

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 and sanctuaries.

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 years old.
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 O’Kelly 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 military role.

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 it’s 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", Lewis noted.

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 grazing land.

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 D’Arcy 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 and improvements."

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
December 2003