One of the finest examples of the Irish High Cross in Ulster, can be found at Ardboe (Arboe/Ard Bo - height of the cow) County Tyrone, located on a small hillock close to the west shore of Lough Neagh.

Ardboe High Cross, which dates to the ninth/tenth century AD, is all that now remains of a sixth century monastery, which was established at Arboe by St. Colman Muchaidhe. The monastery was burned in 1166, destroying any early wooden structures. Nonetheless, Ardboe endured as a centre for Christian worship, later becoming the site of a medieval parish, and in the nearby graveyard stands the remains of a seventeenth century church erected for Protestant worship - abandoned in the eighteenth century for the current Church of Ireland location. Also located in a nearby field to the north is another ruined church known as the "abbey".

The Cross, made of sandstone, stands exceptionally high, about eighteen feet, and is a characteristic local variation, consisting of a taller more narrow shaft with a small cross head - also discernible at the nearby High Cross in Donaghmore, County Tyrone. Although slightly weathered and damaged - emigrants in the earlier part of this century often took with them a small chip of stone from the cross - Ardboe High Cross is a superb example of figure carving incorporating twenty two panels of sculpture of biblical events.

The east face of Ardboe High Cross.

The east face of the Cross - facing the graveyard- is decorated with Old Testament scenes - Adam and Eve, the Sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the Lionís Den and the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace. Old Testament carvings also adorn the south side - Cain slaying Abel, David (or Samson) and the Lion, David slaying Goliath and the Desert Saints Paul and Anthony, fed by the raven. The north side is read from top to bottom and portrays the early life of Christ, concluding in His Baptism at the bottom. The west face depicts the Adoration of the Magi, the Miracle at Cana, the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and Christís entry into Jerusalem. Carved on the west face of the head of the Cross are scenes from the Passion of Christ, centred on the Crucifixion. While the east face of the head of the Cross bears scenes of Christís Second Coming and the Last Judgement.

The west face of Ardboe High Cross.

The cross symbol was of immense significance in Christian Ireland, used in all aspects of insular Christian art and ecclesiastical writing. Crosses served a diversity of purposes being used to commemorate people and events, and delineating boundaries or places of sanctuary. In addition, they served as a centre for prayer, penance, preaching, confession and even sealing agreements. The High Cross was a visual account of the Bible.

However, the origin of the High Cross in Ireland and Britain is obscure, with no known parallels in Europe. Yet, once established the High Cross remained a significant part of stone carving up until the middle of the twelfth century.

The High Cross at Ardboe would appear to be the only example where the shaft and head belong together originally, thus it has a distinguishing "collar" on the shaft where the two sections of stone are attached.

In the north west corner of the graveyard stands a dead beech tree-stump, said to have been blessed by a monk. A number of coins have been embedded into the tree trunk - which eventually resulted in killing the tree - each coin indicates a wish, or prayer for a cure. It is said that to remove a coin from the tree will transfer the illness to whoever removes the coin. The practise of leaving a coin at the tree in return for a wish is still practised by local children. Also, according to local legend a small grey monk is said to wander through the church ruins in the graveyard.


Donnelly, Colm J. 1997, Living PlacesBelfast, Institute of Irish Studies, The Queenís University of Belfast.

Harbison, Peter. 1992, Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland Dublin, Gill and Macmillian Ltd.

Mallory, J. P. & McNeill, T. E. 1995, The Archaeology of Ulster. Belfast, Institute of Irish Studies, The Queenís University of Belfast.

Weir, Anthony. 1980, Early Ireland: A field Guide. Belfast, Blackstaff Press.