An ancient cemetery, the ruins of two churches and a remarkably high round tower characterize the image of the former monastery. But the actual highlights of the complex are three impressive high crosses. One of them, Tall Cross, is considered the highest high cross in Ireland and Murdoch’s Cross the most beautiful in the country.
The monastery was founded at the end of the 5th century by Saint Buite. The saint is also believed to have given the river Boyne its name. In its long history, the monastery is said to have temporarily fallen into the hands of the Vikings. The round tower, which housed the monastery’s treasures, burned out completely at the beginning of the 11th century. The monastery never recovered from this devastating fire and was soon abandoned.
As mentioned at the beginning, the high crosses are the real attraction of Monasterboice. Murdoch’s Cross (10th century) is 5.5 metres high and is regarded as an outstanding example of Celtic art due to its filigree decoration. The cross is full of biblical scenes and Celtic ornaments. The figurative representation once served to bring the Bible closer to the people. The name “Murdoch’s Cross” comes from the inscription on the pedestal: “A prayer for Murdoch, for whom the cross was made.”
Near the round tower is the West Cross, also known as “Tall Cross”. At 6.5 metres, it is the highest Celtic cross in the country. This cross also shows biblical scenes, but they are more weathered than Murdoch’s Cross.
Another high cross, the North Cross, has a simpler design and was probably demolished by Cromwell’s troops.
The early evening hours are an ideal time to visit the monastery, when the sun is already flat in the sky and the engravings on the crosses are particularly vivid.