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Churches with Round Towers in Northern Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp

Dysert O’Dea: St Tola’s Cross

The White Cross of Tola,[32] called Crusha baunala (‘ala’ for Thola) by the peasantry (whence the popular name of the Saint, Banaula or Manaula, attached to the crosier of Dysert) stands on a low mound in a field east of the ruins, near an old road leading towards the lake. It rests on a base of several blocks, 2 feet 3 inches high, by 3 feet 9 inches east and west, and 4 feet 8 inches north and south.

The north and south sides have panels cut in key patterns; the former has also a small interlacing deeply cut; the corner mouldings end in snake-knots. Above this base is a single block, 1 foot 9 inches high, tapering from 4 feet 2 inches to 2 feet 9 inches north and south, and from 1 foot 10 inches to 1 foot 2 inches east and west. It has to the north a very crude carving of an interesting subject, two men swearing on a staff before another man and a bishop, with a crook-headed crosier (of a similar type to the ancient bronze crosier of Dysert, to be described below, and, perhaps, an early representation of it); all wear tunics reaching to the knee.

Some may interpret this scene as setting up the first post of a wooden church. The east side has a rich interlacing nearly effaced. Below appears, in raised capitals, ‘THIS CROSS WAS NEWLY REPAIRED BY MICHAEL O | DEA SON OF CONNOR CRONE O DEA IN THE YEAR | 1683.’ On the south is carved a man holding a snake-knot in each hand (p. 156). Underneath is cut, ‘Re-erected by Francis Hutcheson Syn | ge, of Dysert, 4th son of the late Si | r Edmund Synge, Bart., and Mary Helena | his wife, in the year 1871.’

Cross, Dysert O’Dea. (East face)
Cross, Dysert O’Dea. (East face)

On the west panel are two heads; the bodies and much of the surrounding interlacings are broken away. The cross consists of three blocks forming the cap, head, and shaft. On the east side is the figure of Christ, wearing a garment down to the ankles, and with the arms at right angles to the body. Below is a large figure of Tola, wearing apparently a conical cowl and long robes, and holding a spiral-headed pastoral staff. The west face has in the head five raised lozenges forming a cross, they and the background being covered with foliage and spirals. The rest of this face and the two sides have alternate panels of geometric and interlaced designs. Two wolves struggle in the south bottom panel, and two dragons in that to the north. The shaft measures 6 feet 2 inches by 2 feet 1 inch, and the head is 3 feet 6 inches high.

Cross, Dysert O’Dea (West face)
Cross, Dysert O’Dea (West face)

The latter has no circle, but only rolls under the scallops of the arms (as at Dromcliff, Sligo). The shrine-like top, once ‘an infallible cure for toothache,’ till set high above the reach of old women, shows no trace of ornament. I cannot confirm or contradict the statement [33] that the head of one of the figures on the east side is movable.

Tola, or Tolanus,[34] ‘Bishop of Clonard, a good soldier of Christ,’ the founder and patron of this church, also of Dysert-Tola, in the King’s County, and of the still more noted Clonard, was son of Donchad, and died between 733 and 737.[35] His life is given by Colgan, but I cannot find any detailed account of his sojourn in Thomond, where his day was observed on March 30th, the very ‘feast of pious Tola’ in the Calendar of Oengus.


Dysert O’Dea Church and Round Tower


Dromcliff Church and Round Tower