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The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora by Jack Flanagan

The Cross on the Hill

The south cross is the cross on the hill, which is the high point, south of the village. The site is situated some few hundred yards east of the old Parochial House, now a private residence. There is a large mound of earth on which the tall cross stood, so from here one could view a large area of the parish. George Petrie said that this cross stood at the south of the Ennistymon road - a quarter of a mile from the present extremity of the town - that it fell in 1820 and was sent to Killaloe in 1821 at the desire of the Bishop of Killaloe and re-erected there. Dr Richard Mant was appointed Bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora in 1820, so in that year he set out on a visitation of his two diocese. In early August he arrived in Kilfenora which he described as “the worst village that I have seen in Ireland and in the most desolate and least interesting country,” so the history of this cross is of its removal to Killaloe.

Kilfenora Cross in Killaloe Cathedral
Kilfenora Cross in Killaloe Cathedral

The minister in Kilfenora at that time was the Rev Richard Brew, who lived at the Deanery with his mother, sister and two brothers. So, it was Mr. Brew who proposed to Bishop Mant that he would send him one of those crosses, which he said might be done without difficulty or of the danger of giving offence. Bishop Mant wrote a letter to a friend concerning the removal of the cross which we read in Canon Dwyer’s “Diocese of Killaloe.”

“On a visit to Kilfenora in 1820 where there had been five or six stone crosses I found two or three broken and laying on the ground, neglected and over-grown with weeds. On expressing my concern that these remnants of ecclesiastical antiquity were left in such a state, a clergyman of the parish proposed to send me one of them, which he said might be done without difficulty or danger of giving offence, as when they were brought to that state the people had no regard for them. One was accordingly sent to Clarisford, and I caused it to be erected among some trees in a picturesque spot, between the house and the canal, having inlaid the shaft with a marble tablet bearing the inscription annexed below. When my daughter was at Clarisford about three years ago, the cross was still standing, being considered “an ornament to the grounds.”

Later, Bishop Ludlow Tonson had the cross moved to the far side of the canal which runs beside Clarisford, but it was removed and re-erected again within the Palace grounds about 1850. It is thought it was blown down in storm. Again in 1934 it fell and was broken and so at this time it was erected within the Cathedral of Killaloe for its better protection. It now stands against the west gable inside the door, therefore one cannot view the rear of the cross. Attached to the front is a brass plate with a Latin inscription, so I give the English translation:

“R.M.S.T.P. (Bishop’s name and title) of both diocese, being solicitous for church antiquity, took care to erect at the See of Killaloe this cross which you see, and which collapsed at Kilfenora lest it entirely disappear through neglect, and by reason of the site A.D. 1821.”

Concealed face of the Cross on the Hill
Concealed face of the Cross on the Hill

It’s interesting here to note what Richard Hayward wrote about this cross in his book “Munster and the City of Cork”. He described its removal from Kilfenora, and then said: “Without doubt it should be returned to Kilfenora to take its proper place amongst its remarkable fellows.”

When I got interested in the crosses about 1946 I wrote to Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, enquiring if this cross in Killaloe could be returned to Kilfenora. My letter was sent to the Office of Public Works, and I received a reply from Mr. H. C. Leask, who was the Inspector of National Monuments as follows: “As to the cross at Clarisford there is no doubt that it was brought there and erected in the demesne at some distance from the house itself by Bishop Mant. It was at that time church property and there is no doubt that the bishop had full legal right to take the action he did. It is presumably now the property of the Representative Body C[hurch] of I[reland]. and so I do not think it likely that a re-transfer to Kilfenora will be called for. Personally I should not advise any interference, it being in many pieces; the taking down and reassembly would cause further damage.”

From a historical point of view one wonders was the cross, when in Kilfenora, standing on Church property, for it was some distance from the Cathedral grounds. Could this open field have been in private property then, as it is today?

This cross in Killaloe is a solid-ringed type of cross being over four metres in height, and tapering slightly from base to top. It was broken in three places, so holes were drilled through the shaft to repair and fix it to the wall. The exposed figure of Christ is the main feature of the cross. It is not a crucified figure, as some might suggest, for the figure stands erect, the arms fully extended and the feet point downwards. It is dressed in a long robe with long sleeves and around the figure are three triangular knot patterns, while the fourth is a motif ending in beasts’ heads. In the area over the figures’ heads is a rectangular area of knotwork, while beneath Christ’s feet is a square panel of fretwork. The remainder of the shaft is blank.

Detail on front of cross
Detail on front of cross
Detail on front of cross

This cross has again been on the move, for in 1998 it was re-erected a short distance inside the Cathedral door, after being repaired by the Office of Public Works at their shop in Galway, so now one can view both sides of the cross, and we can see at the top of the cross a lightly carved area of knotwork and plaitwork. If the cross is ever moved again we hope it will return to its birthplace.


The High Cross


The Ballykeal Cross