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Within the Greenan of Ailleach.
Within the Greenan of Ailleach. Photo by W. A. Green © National Museums of Northern Ireland..

The Carndonagh cross.

There is wonderful collection of early Christian cross-slabs within the Inishowen Peninsula, concentrated around the village of Carndonagh.

The Carndonagh cross.
The Carndonagh cross.

The main monument, the Carndonagh cross is one of the earliest and most beautiful examples of an Irish high cross. The cross is carved from sandstone slab, nearly 3 meters tall is covered with incredible Celtic knotwork. The cross is believed to be one of the first examples, possibly dating from the eighth century, and represents the transitional period when the cross-pillar becomes a true high cross.

The Carndonagh cross by W. A. Green.
The east face of the Carndonagh cross by W. A. Green.

The artwork is a close relative of the borders in the Books of Kells and Durrow. There is a crucifixion scene on the east face of the slab. On early crosses the figure of Christ is portrayed in triumph after defeating death. Later crosses tended to emphasise the Crucifixion. The west face is covered by a large, intricate and complex abstract panel. A series of figures, possibly the apostles are carved in a band along the edges of this amazing monument.

West Town on Tory Island, photographed by Robert Welch.
West Town on Tory Island, photographed by Robert Welch.

The cross was taken to Dromahair for conservation by the O. P. W. When it was returned, a roofed structure was erected over the cross and pillars to protect them from the elements.

Figure with bell, Carndonagh.
Figure with bell, Carndonagh.

Two smaller pillars are set to each side of the Carndonagh cross. On one there is an engraving of King David playing his harp, probably the oldest carving of a harp in Ireland. The opposite side has a wonderful carving of an ecclesiastic carrying a bell. Another carving has some kind of horned figure, while the last has an abstract panel of knotwork.

The Marigold Stone at Carndonagh.
The Marigold Stone at Carndonagh.

In the churchyard nearby is a beautiful pillar stone known as the Marigold Stone. This cross-pillar may be a representation of the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Eden. There is a beautiful seven petalled flower design at the top of the tree, and a figure stands on each side.

The Carndonagh Cross.
The Carndonagh Cross.

There is another fabulous cross slab to the south of Carndonagh, in the village of Fahan. The Fahan Mura cross is easy to find in the village graveyard. Again, it is covered with wonderful knotwork and has a crucifixion scene. There is an early Latin engraving on the edge of the slab.

View from the Greenan.
The top of the ramparts at the Greenan of Ailleach offers a wide, sweeping view across the surrounding countryside.