Monasterboice is about 13 minutes from Old Mellifont Abbey in County Louth. The site was built in the early 6th century by St. Buite and features two churches, the second tallest of Ireland’s round towers, and three high crosses, including the tallest high cross in all of Ireland.
Monasterboice ruins. Image Credit: Wikipedia
All three of Monasterboice’s crosses date from the 10th century. At 21 feet, the West Cross holds the title of Ireland’s tallest high cross. Over time, however, its ornate carvings have weathered and faded, though some can still be seen.
The West Cross. Image Credit: Megalithic Ireland
The illustrations on Muiredach’s Cross are much more easily visible, and its height of 18 feet is still quite impressive. The site’s third cross, the North Cross, appears to have suffered the most damage over time – its original shaft was replaced at some point in time, and only one depiction appears on its face.
East face of Muiredach’s Cross. Image Credit: Megalithic Ireland
Monasterboice’s round tower stands at 93.5 meters tall, and served as both a beacon for pilgrims and a shelter for the monastery’s monks during viking raids. Its door is only six feet off the ground – much lower than the norm for round towers – leading experts to believe the tower has sunk over the years. With its cap (now missing) and height lost taken into consideration, it would have been much taller than it is today.
Monasterboice’s Round Tower. Image Credit: Megalithic Ireland
In 1097, a fire in the tower destroyed the monastery’s library and many treasures. The site was still in use until around 1142 though, at which point nearby Mellifont Abbey rose to prominence in the area.
Monasterboice. Image Credit: Megalithic Ireland
Guided tours are available upon request, and the site itself is free, open all year round during daylight hours.
Something to keep in mind when visiting the site, however, is that the car park is located a distance away from the site, and cars being broken into is common enough to warrant warning signs. Some recommend visiting in pairs, with one person staying with the car while the other looks around, and all say to take any valuables with you if you do decide to leave your car unattended.
Additional links & Resources:
The Gold Book: Ireland, page 61