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The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora by Jack Flanagan

The Doorty Cross

The Doorty Cross, prior to being moved in 2003
The Doorty Cross, prior to being moved in 2003

In the journal of the North Munster Archaeological Society, Vol 1, No 2, January 1910, there are lovely line drawings of some antiquities around Kilfenora by the noted antiquarian T.J. Westropp. One of his drawings he describes as “a very curious monumental stone which we illustrate more easily that we could describe it,” and he also described the head of a cross standing in the sacristy. Then in 1946 Luba Kaftannikoff recognised that the cross head and the monumental stone belonged to the same monument. So, in the mid 1950s Mr. Liam de Paor and the Office of Public Works had the two parts joined together and put standing near the Doorty grave where the slab had lain since 1752, so now it became known as the “Doorty Cross.” We see from Westropp’s drawing that a rude late inscription was added at the base of the slab: “I.H.S. X V n D 1752.” Westropp thought that the initials “V n D” may have stood for V ni Davoren or V ni Dea, but now we know that it stood for V ni Doorty. We don’t see these initials to-day for the end of the cross is set in its concrete base.

Tombstone slab, note date 1752. Head of cross in sacristy.  Drawn by T.J. Westropp, 1909. Now the Doorty Cross.
Tombstone slab, note date 1752. Head of cross in sacristy.
Drawn by T.J. Westropp, 1909. Now the Doorty Cross.

When the cross stood under the arch in the sacristy we could see an oblong cut socket in the top of the cross which was for a capstone or some other feature, though now missing. When the cross stood under the arch the socket on top held some water to which people attributed a cure for sore eyes through the intercession of St. Factnan.

Head of Cross under arch in Sacristy. Photo: Jack Flanagan, 1986
Head of Cross under arch in Sacristy.
Photo: Jack Flanagan, 1986

Mr Brian Mooney is quoted as saying that this is a 12th century cross and is thought to be post-Norse because of its design, including the carvings of the original bishop of Kilfenora, Saint Fachtnan. On each shoulder stands a birdlike creature or angel with pointed wings, and humanlike faces reclining into the arms of the cross. The figure is in long attire with a tall conical cap, suggested to be a tiara as was worn by the eleventh and twelfth century Popes. He holds a rolled headed crook in his left hand turned outwards, which is a sign of jurisdiction. His right hand with two outstretched fingers pointing downwards, imparting a direction to the two figures underneath. The two figures of clerics are linked arm-in-arm, the figure on one’s left holds, with his two hands, a crook-headed crozier of Irish type, while the other cleric, again with his two hands, holds a tua-crozier. The croziers held by these two clerics are driven into a large bird beneath their feet. This bird is standing on two distressed-looking heads and picking with his beak one of the heads. These figures seem to be fighting off the bird, and it is suggested they are holding a small bag in their hands, perhaps money bags.

West Face and North Face
East Face and South Face
West Face and North Face
East Face and South Face

The west face is very faint and worn, making it difficult to see the detail. On the upper part of the cross is the figure of Christ, head erect and in a walking pose. On each shoulder stands a bird (probably doves), their bills resting on the side of the head above the ears, where the crown of thorns was, then under the arms are two more birds, their bills resting at the joint of the arms and the body, those shoulder joints that suffered great agony during the three hours hanging on the cross.

Near the base of the shaft is a depiction of a shingled roof. Standing on the roof is a horse or donkey and a rider sitting sideways. The rider is wearing a tunic and pointed shoes but it’s hard to determine the head details. The hand of the figure holds a band which expands to form a very elaborate interlace.

In the south edge of the shaft is an interlace to form a plait. Beneath this panel is a human figure in long garment, the figures left arm is bent across the body and holds a book-like object, while the right arm is by his side resting on a crooked staff. The feet point downwards. Separated from this figure is a carved head in low relief with protruding ears.

On the north edge of the shaft are two very faint panels of interlace, the top is said to be a pattern of interlocking Greek crosses, the second panel is of large interlace.

Since this cross was re-erected it has aroused much interest by many people. It is featured in many books and literature and some describe it as one of the most interesting of its kind in Munster, although the carvings seem to be the work of unskilled craftsmen in a crude manner. It is, on the other hand, pleasing to look at, but lacks the work seen on other crosses. We read how Brian Mooney compares the horseman to the pilgrim figure of Brian Boru, while I note that Aidan O’Sullivan describes the same scene as a representation of Christ entering Jerusalem, so, by all accounts, the subject matter on both sides of this cross are scenes of debatable contention, which makes the monument all the more remarkable.

It seems that this cross was erected in the second half of the 12th century, as part of the fight which the church and the tribe had to retain the individuality of their diocese, when Kilfenora held its place as an Episcopal See in the Irish Church in 1152. In 2003 the cross was removed from its position by the Office of Public Works to their work-shop in Athenry to undergo restoration work. It will then be housed in the newly-restored Lady Chapel of the cathedral under a glass cover.


The Eastern Cross


The Ballyshanny Cross