The Valley of the Boyne
Edited extract from 'The Charm of Ireland'
by Burton E. Stevenson, published in 1914
I had one other trip to make in Ireland. That was
to the scene of the Battle of the Boyne
, to the tombs
of the kings at Dowth
, and to the
ruins nearby of two of the most famous and beautiful
of the old abbeys, Mellifont
The car which was to make the round of the Boyne
valley was waiting outside the train station in Drogheda,
we drove down into the town, where another passenger was waiting,
a clergyman with grey hair and blue eyes and white
refined face, Church of England by his garb, and, as
I found out afterwards, Oxford by residence.
Battle of the Boyne Site
We set off westward along the pleasant road, and soon, far ahead,
we saw the top of the great obelisk opposite the place
where Schomberg fell. The road dips steeply into
King William's Glen, along which the centre of the
Protestant army advanced to the river, and then we
were on the spot where the cause of Protestant ascendency
in Ireland triumphed finally and irrevocably and
where the Cromwellian settlements were sealed past overthrow.
William, with his English and his Dutch, had
marched down from Dundalk, and James, with his
Irish and his French, had marched up from Dublin,
and here on either side of this placid little river, where
the hills slope down to the Oldbridge ford, the armies
took their station; and here, a little after ten o'clock
in the morning, brave old Schomberg, led his Dutch guards and his
regiment of Huguenots into the water, across the ford,
and up the bank on the other side. There, for a moment, his troops fell into disorder before the fierce
attack of the Irish, and as he tried to rally them, a band
of Irish horse rushed upon him, circled round him
and left him dead upon the ground. Almost at the
same moment, the white-haired Walker, who had exhorted the defenders of Derry never to surrender, was
shot dead while urging on the men of Ulster. But
though the Irish were able to hold their ground at first,
and even to drive their assailants back into the river,
a long flanking movement which William had set on
foot earlier in the day, caught them unprepared, and
they gave way, at last, before superior numbers and superior discipline.
Long before that, King James had fled the field,
and, without stopping, spurred on to Dublin, thirty
miles away. He reached that city at ten o'clock that
night, tired, hungry, and complaining bitterly to Lady
Tyrconnell that the Irish had run faster than he had
ever seen men do before. Lady Tyrconnell was an
Irishwoman, and her eyes blazed. "In that, as in all
other things," she said, "it is evident that Your Majesty
surpasses them"; and Patrick Sarsfield, who had been
placed that day in command of the king's bodyguard,
and so had got nowhere near the fighting, sent back
to the Protestants his famous challenge, "Change kings,
and we will fight it over again!"
Well, all that was more than two centuries ago;
there is no more placidly beautiful spot in Ireland
than this green valley, with the silver stream rippling
past; but the staunch Protestants of the north still
baptise their babies with water dipped from the river
below the obelisk. And they are not altogether wrong,
for that river is the river of their deliverance ; and per-
haps, in some distant day, when new justice has wiped
out the memory of ancient wrong, Irish Catholics will
agree with Irish Protestants that it was better William
should have won that day than James.
My clerical companion, guide book in hand, had
carefully noted every detail of the field, and it was
evident from his shining eyes how his soul was stirred
by the thought of that old victory. But our driver
sat humped on his box, smoking silently, his face very
grim. This job of driving Protestant clergymen to
must be a trying one for the followers
of Brigid and Patrick! But at last my companion
had seen enough, and closed his book with a little sigh
of happiness and satisfaction; and our driver whistled
to his horse, and we climbed slowly out of the valley.
We had about a mile of hedge-lined road, after that,
and, looking down from it, we caught glimpses of
wooded demesnes across the river, with the chimneys
of handsome houses showing above the trees and they,
too, are the symbols of William's victory, for they are
the homes of the conquerors, the visible signs of that
social order which Boyne battle established, and which still endures.
And then our driver, who had recovered his good humour, pointed out to us a great mound in the midst
of a level field a circular mound, with steep sides and
flat top, and a certain artificial appearance, though it
seemed too big to be artificial. And yet it is, for it
was built about two thousand years ago as a sepulchre for the mighty dead.
For all this left bank of the river was the so-called
Brugh-na-Boinne, the burying-ground of the old
Milesian kings of Tara
; and two great tumuli are left
to show that the kings of Erin, like the kings of ancient Egypt and the kings of the still more ancient Moundbuilders, were given sepulchres worthy of their greatness. Yet there is a difference. The tombs of
the Moundbuilders were mere earthen tumuli heaped
above the dead; the pyramids of the Egyptians were
carefully wrought in stone. The tumuli of the ancient
Irish stand midway between the two. First great
slabs were placed on end, and other slabs laid across
the uprights ; and in this vaulted chamber the ashes of
the dead were laid; and then loose stones were heaped
above it until it was completely covered. Sometimes
a passage would be left, but that would be a secret
known to few, and when the tomb was done it would
seem to be nothing more than a great circular mound of
stones. As the years passed, the stones would be covered gradually with earth, and then with grass and
bushes, and trees would grow upon it, until there would
be nothing left to distinguish it from any other hill.
Only within the last half century have the tumuli been
explored, and then it was to find that the Danes had
spared not even these sanctuaries, but had entered
them and despoiled the inner chambers. Nevertheless, they remain among the most impressive human
monuments to be found anywhere.
This first tumulus we came to is the tumulus of
, and a woman met us at the gate opening into
the field where it stands, gave us each a lighted candle,
and led the way to the top of an iron ladder which
ran straight down into the bowels of the earth. We
descended some twenty feet into a cavity as cold as ice ;
then, following the light of the woman's candle, we
squeezed along a narrow passage made of great stones
tilted together at the top, so low in places that we had
to bend double, so close together in others that we had
to advance sideways blessing our slimness; and finally
we came to the great central chamber where the dead were placed.
It is about ten feet square, and its walls, like those of
the passage, are formed by huge blocks of stone set on
end. Then other slabs were laid a-top them, and then
on one another, each slab overlapping by eight or ten
inches the one below, until a last great stone closed
the central aperture and the roof was done. In the
centre the chamber is about twelve feet high. Many
of the stones are carved with spirals and concentric
circles and wheel-crosses and Ogham writing yes, and
with the initials of hundreds of vandals !
In the centre of the floor is a shallow stone basin,
about four feet square, used perhaps for some ceremony
in connection with the burials sacrifice naturally suggests itself, such as tradition connects with Druid worship; and opening from the chamber are three recesses,
about six feet deep, also constructed of gigantic stones,
and in these, it is surmised, the ashes of the dead were
laid. From one of these recesses a passage, whose
floor is a single cyclopean stone eight feet long, leads
to another recess, smaller than the first ones. When
the tomb was first entered, little heaps of burned bones
were found, many of them human for it should be remembered that the ancient Irish burned their dead be-
fore enclosing them in cists or burying them in tumuli.
There were also unburned bones of pigs and deer and
birds, and glass and amber beads, and copper pins and
rings; and before the Danes despoiled it, there were
doubtless torques of gold, and brooches set with jewels
but the robbers left nothing of that sort behind them.
Nobody knows when this mound was built; but the
men who cut the spirals and circles and in one place
a leaf, not incised, but standing out in bold relief
must have had tools of iron or bronze to work with;
so the date of the mound's erection can be fixed approximately at about the beginning of the Christian era.
For the rest, all is legend. But as one stands there in
that cyclopean chamber, the wonder of the thing, its
uncanniness, its mystery, grow more and more overwhelming, until one peers around nervously, in the dim
and wavering candle-light, expecting to see I know not
what. With me, that sensation passed ; for I happened
suddenly to remember how George Moore and A. E.
made a pilgrimage to this spot, one day, and sat in
this dark chamber, cross-legged like Yogin, trying to
evoke the spirits of the Druids, and just when they
were about to succeed, or so it seemed, the vision was
shattered by the arrival of two portly Presbyterian preachers.
There is another entrance to the tumulus, about half
way up, which opens into smaller and probably more
recent chambers; and after a glance at them, we clambered to the top. Far off to the west, we could see the
hill of Tara, where the old kings who are buried here
held their court and gave great banquets in a hall seven
hundred feet long, of which scarce a trace remains ; and
a little nearer, to the north, is the hill of Slane, where,
on that Easter eve sixteen centuries ago, St. Patrick
lighted his first Paschal fire in Ireland, in defiance of a
Druidic law which decreed that in this season of the
Festival of Spring, no man should kindle a fire in
Meath until the sacred beacon blazed from Tara. You
may guess the consternation of the priests when,
through the gathering twilight, they first glimpsed that
little flame which Patrick had kindled on the summit
of Slane, just across the valley. That, I think, is
easily the most breathless and dramatic moment in
Irish history. The king sent his warriors to see what
this defiance meant, and Patrick was brought to Tara,
and he came into the assembly chanting a verse of
Scripture : "Some in chariots and some on horses, but
we in the name of the Lord our God." And so his mission began.
On the other side of the mound, across a field and
beyond a wall, I could see what seemed to be an ivy draped ruin, and I asked our guide what it might be,
and she said it was the birthplace of John Boyle O'Reilly. It was but a short walk, and my companion
said he would wait for me; so I hastened down the
mound and across the field and over the wall, and found
that what I had seen was indeed a tall old house, draped
with ivy and falling into ruin. Just back of it is a
church, also in ruins, and again its wall is a granite
monument to O'Reilly, more remarkable for its size
than for any other quality. There is a bust of the
poet at the top, and on either side a weeping female
figure, and a long inscription in Gaelic, which of course
I couldn't read; and which may have been very eloquent. But if it had been for me to write his epitaph,
I would have chosen a single verse of his as all-sufficient :
Kindness is the Word.
Then, as I was wading out through the meadow to
get a picture of the house, I met with a misadventure,
for, disturbed by my passage, a bee started up out of
the grass, struck me on the end of the nose, clung
wildly there an instant, and then stung viciously. It
was with tears of anguish streaming down my cheeks
that I snapped the picture opposite the preceding page.
Dowth Castle is not the ancestral home of the
O'Reillys; that stood on Tullymongan, above the town
of Cavan, of which they were lords for perhaps a
thousand years. Dowth Castle, on the other hand,
was built by Hugh de Lacy, as an outpost of the English pale; but it came at last into the hands of an
eccentric Irishman who, about a century ago, bequeathed it and some of the land about it as a school
for orphans and a refuge for widows. The Netterville Institution, as it was called, came to comprise
also a National school, and of this school John Boyle
O'Reilly's father, William David O'Reilly, was master
for thirty-five years. He and his wife lived in the
castle, here in 1844 the poet was born, and here he
spent the first eleven years of his life. What fate
finally overtook the castle I don't know, but only
the ivy-draped outer walls remain. The trim
modern buildings of the Institution cluster in its shadow.
I made my way back to the car, where my companion, who was not interested in O'Reilly, was awaiting
me somewhat impatiently, and I think he regarded the
bee which had stung me as an agent of Providence.
But we set off again, and the car climbed up and up
to the summit of the ridge which overlooks the river;
and presently we were rolling along a narrow road
bordered with lofty elms, and then, in a broad pasture
to our right, we saw another mound, far larger than
the first, and knew that it was Newgrange.
Four mighty stones stand like sentinels before it.
The largest of them is eight or nine feet high above
the ground and at least twenty in girth; and they are
all that are left of a ring of thirty-five similar monsters which once guarded the great cairn with a circle a
quarter of a mile around. Like the tumulus of Dowth
this of Newgrange
is girdled by a ring of great stone
blocks, averaging eight or ten feet in length, and laid
closely end to end ; and on top of them is a wall of un
cemented stones three or four feet high. Behind the
wall rises the cairn, overgrown with grass and bushes
and even trees; but below the skin of earth is the pile
of stones, heaped above the chambers of the dead.
The entrance here is a few feet above the level of
the ground, and is the true original entrance, which
the one at Dowth is not, for the level of the ground
there has risen. This little door consists of two upright slabs and a transverse one.
Below it is placed a great stone, covered with a rich design of that spiral
ornamentation peculiar to the ancient Irish emblematic, it is said, of eternity, without beginning and
without end. The stone above the door is also carved, and
my photograph, opposite this page, gives a very fair
idea of how the entrance looks.
found a woman waiting for us she had heard
the rattle of our wheels far down the road, and had
hastened from her house nearby to earn sixpence by
providing us with candles; and she led the way through
the entrance into the passage beyond. As at Dowth,
it is formed of huge slabs inclined against each other.
But here they have given way under the great weight
heaped upon them, and the passage grew lower and
lower, until the woman in front of us was crawling on
her hands and knees. The clergyman, who was behind
her, examined the low passage by the light of his
candle, and then said he didn't think he'd try it.
"Oh, come along, sir," urged the woman's voice.
" 'Tis only a few yards, and then you can stand again.
If you was a heavy man, now, I wouldn't be advisin'
it; I've seen more than one who had to be pulled out
by his feet; but for a slim man the likes of you sure it is nothing."
He still held back, so I squeezed past him, and went
down on hands and knees, and crawled slowly forward
in three-legged fashion holding my candle in one hand,,
over the strip of carpet which had been laid on the
stones to protect the clothing of visitors. As our
guide had said, the passage soon opened up so that it
was possible to stand upright again. I called back
encouragement to my companion, and he finally crawled
through too ; and then, as I held my candle aloft, I saw:
that we had come out into a great vaulted chamber at
least twenty feet high. Here, as at Dowth, the sides
are formed of mammoth slabs, and the vault of other
slabs laid one upon the other, each row projecting beyond the row below until the centre is reached. Here
too there are three recesses; but everything is on a
grander scale than at Dowth, and the ornamentation is
much more elaborate. It consists of intricate and beautifully formed spirals, coils, lozenges and chevrons; and
here, also, the vandal had been at work, scratching his
initials, sometimes even his detested name, upon these
sacred stones. There was one especially glaring set of
initials right opposite the entrance, deeply and evidently freshly cut, and I asked the woman how such
a thing could happen.
"Ah, sir," she said, "that was done by a young man
who you would never think would be doing such a
thing. He come here one day, not long since, and with
him was a young woman, and they were very quiet and
nice-appearing, so after I had brought them in, I left
them to their selves, for I had me work to do ; but when
I came in later, with another party, that was what I
saw. And I made the vow then that never again would
I be leaving any one alone here, no matter how respectable they might look."
We commended her wisdom, and turned back to an
inspection of the carvings. It was noticeable that
there was no attempt at any general scheme of decoration, for the spirals and coils were scattered here
and there without any reference to each other, some
of them in inaccessible corners which proved they had
been made before the stones were placed in position.
Evidently they had been carved wherever the whim of
the sculptor suggested; and so, in spite of their delicacy and beauty, they are in a way supremely childish.
But there is nothing childish about the tomb itself.
Nobody knows from what forgotten quarry these great
slabs were cut. Wherever it was, they had to be lifted
out and dragged to the top of this hill and set in position and many of them weigh more than a hundred
tons. The passage from the central chamber to the
edge of the mound is sixty-two feet long; the mound
itself is eight hundred feet around and fifty high, and
someone has estimated that the stones which compose
it weigh more than a hundred thousand tons.
For whom was it built? Perhaps for Conn, the
Hundred Fighter, for tradition records that he was
buried here, and he was worthy of such a tomb. If it
was for Conn and of course that is only a guess
it dates from about 200 A. D., for tradition has it that
it was in 212 that Conn was treacherously slain at
Tara, while preparing for the great festival of the
Druids. Conn's son, Art, was the last of the Pagan
kings to be buried in the Druid fashion, for Art's great
son, Cormac, who came to the throne in 254, chose another sepulchre. He seems to have got some inkling of
Christianity, perhaps from traders from other lands
who visited his court. At any rate, he turned away
from the Druids, and they put a curse upon him and
caused a devil to attack him while at table, so that the
bone of a salmon stuck in his throat and he died. But
with his last breath he forbade his followers to bury
him at Brugh-na-Boinne, in the tumulus with Conn and
the rest, because that was a grave of idolaters ; he worshipped another God who had come out of the East;
and he commanded them to bury him on the hill called
Rosnaree, with his face to the sunrise. They disregarded his command, and tried to carry his body across
the Boyne to the tumulus; but the water rose and
snatched the body from them, and carried it to Rosnaree; and so there it was buried. From Newgrange,
one can see the slope of Rosnaree, just across the river;
but there is nothing to mark the grave of the greatest
of the early kings of Erin.
Round Cormac spring renews her buds ;
In march perpetual by his side,
Down come the earth-fresh April floods,
And up the sea-fresh salmon glide.
And life and time rejoicing run
From age to age their wonted way;
But still he waits the risen Sun,
For still 'tis only dawning Day.
The road to the ruins of the abbey of Mellifont
back from the river, up over the hills, past picturesque
villages, through a portion of the Balfour estate, and
then dips down into the valley of the Mattock, on
whose banks a company of Cistercians, who had come
from Clairvaux at the invitation of the Archbishop of
Armagh, chose to build their monastery.
it Mellifont "Honey Fountain" and the buildings
which they put up were a revelation to the Irish builders, who had been contented with small and unambitious churches, divided only into nave and chancel.
Here at Mellifont was erected a great cruciform church,
with a semi-circular chapel in each transept, as at Clairvaux; and to this were added cloister and chapter-
house and refectory, and a most beautiful octagonal
building which was used as a lavatory. It marked, in
a word, the introduction of continental elaborations
and refinements and luxuries into a land where, theretofore, austerity had been the ruling influence.
That was in 1142, and there is not much left now of
that mighty edifice a portion of the old gate-tower,
some fragments of the church, and a little more than
half of the octagonal lavatory. Five of its eight sides
remain, and they show how beautiful it must once have
been. Another thing may be seen in that photograph the corner of a huge, empty, decaying mill, such
as dot all Ireland, symbols of her ruined industry!
A clean, pleasant-faced old woman, who opened the
gate for us, intimated that we could get lunch at her
cottage, which overlooked the ruins ; but my companion
had brought his lunch in his pocket and presently sat
down to eat it, while I made my way alone up to the
cottage. There was a long table spread in one room,
and while the tea was drawing, I told my hostess and
her daughter about my encounter with the bee, and
asked if I might have some hot water with which to
bathe the sting. They hastened to get me a basin of
steaming water and a clean towel, and then they talked
together a moment in low tones, and then the old
woman came hesitatingly forward.
"If you please, sir," she said, "I have often been
told that with a sting or bite or anything of the sort a
little blueing in the water works wonders, and indeed
I have tried it myself, and have found it very good.
Would your honour be trying it, now, if I would get
my blueing bag?"
"Why of course I would !" I cried; "and thank you a
thousand times for thinking of it!"
Whereupon, her face beaming, she snatched the blueing bag from her daughter, who had it ready, and gave
it to me, and I sloshed it around in the basin until the
water was quite blue, and bathed my face in it; and
whether it was the heat of the water or the blueing I
don't know, but the sting bothered me very little after
that, except for the swelling, and that was not so bad
as I had feared it would be.
I sat down finally to a delightful lunch of tea and
bread and butter and cold meat and jam; and then I
got out my pipe and joined my hostess on the bench in
front of the house, and her daughter stood in the door
and listened, and we had a long talk. As usual, it was
first about herself, and then about myself. Her husband was dead and she suffered a great deal from rheumatism, which seems to be the bane of the Irish; but
she had her little place, glory be to God, and she picked
up a good many shillings in the summer time from visitors to the ruins, though many that came to see them
cared nothing for them nor understood them. Indeed,
many just came and looked at them over the gate, and then went away again.
And just then I witnessed a remarkable confirmation
of this; for a motor-car, with two men and two or
three women in it, whirled up the road below and
stopped at the gate outside the ruins. My hostess
caught up her keys and started hastily down to open
it, but before she had taken a dozen steps, the man on
the front seat spoke to the chauffeur, and he spun the
car around and in another moment it had disappeared
down the road in a cloud of dust. I confess that I was
hot with anger when my hostess, with a sad little smile,
came back and sat down again beside me, for I felt
somehow as though she had been affronted.
I went back to tie ruins presently, and my new friend
came along, finding I was interested, and we spent half
an hour wandering about them, while she pointed out
various details which I might otherwise have missed.
Next to the lavatory, the most interesting feature of
the place is a beautiful pavement of decorated tiles
which is preserved in St. Bernard's chapel. The whole
church was at one time floored with these tiles, and a
few detached ones may still be seen at the base of the
pillars. There also remain many details of sculpture
which show the loving labour lavished on the place
when it was built the individual work of the artisan,
embodying something of his own soul, which gives
these old churches a life and beauty sadly wanting in most new ones.
The cemetery is near the bank of the river; but potatoes are raised there now, in a soil made fertile by
royal as well as sacred dust; for here Dervorgilla, the
false wife of Tiernan O'Rourke, chose to be laid to rest,
in the hope, perhaps, that in the crowd of holy abbots
and monks which would rise from this place, she might
slip into heaven unobserved.
miles away from Mellifont stand the ruins of
another abbey, centuries older and incomparably greater
in its day an abbey absolutely Irish, with rude, small
buildings, but with a giant round-tower and two of the
loveliest sculptured crosses in existence on this earth.
it is called Mainister Buithe, the abbey
of Boetius and the way thither lies along a pleasant
road, through a wooded valley which, fertile as it
is, is not without its traces of desolation, for we passed
more than one vast empty mill, falling to decay.
Then, on the slope of a hillside away ahead, we saw
the round tower, or what is left of it, for the top of it
is broken off, struck by lightning, perhaps. But the
fragment that remains is 110 feet high ! And seeing it thus, across the valley,
with the low little church nestling at its base, one is inclined to think that
Father Dempsey was not altogether wrong when he said he cared nothing about the
theories of antiquarians concerning the round towers, for he knew what they were
the forefingers of the early church pointing us all to God.
My companion and I were discussing these theories,
when our jarvey saw the opportunity to spring a joke,
which I have since discovered to be a time-honoured one.
"Your honours are all wrong," he said, "if you will
excuse my sayin' so. It has been proved that the round
towers was built by the government."
"Built by the government'?" repeated my companion. "How can you prove that?"
"Easy enough, your honour. Seein' they're no manner of use and cost a lot of money, who else could have
And this, I take it, was his revenge for the Boyne battlefield.
We stopped presently beside a stile leading over the
stone wall at the side of the road, and here there was
waiting another old woman, to unlock the entrance to
the tower. We clambered over the stile and made our
way up through the grass-grown, unkempt graveyard,
first to the tower one of the mightiest of these monuments of ancient Erin, for it is seventeen yards around
at the base, and tapers gradually toward the top, and
the only entrance is a small doorway six feet above
the ground ; and it takes no great effort of imagination to fancy the monks clambering wildly up to it, clutching the treasures of the monastery to their bosoms,
whenever word came that the raiding Danes were in
the neighbourhood. Ladders have been fixed so that
one can climb to the top, but we did not essay them.
No trace remains of the monastic buildings which
clustered at the tower foot; for, unlike those at Mellifont and in England and on the continent, these were
not wrought of stone, but were mere shacks, as in every
truly Irish abbey, scarcely strong enough to screen from
wind and weather the groups of scholars who gathered
to study here. They lived a strait and austere life,
and the only permanent structures they built were the
churches. Here, as usual, they were small, the largest
one being only forty feet in length; and the walls that
remain prove how bare and mean they must have looked
beside the carved and columned splendours of Mellifont.
But Monasterboice has one glory, or rather two,
beside which those that remain at Mellifont are as
nothing; and these are the huge Celtic crosses, the most
perfect and beautiful in the land. One of them is tall
and slender and the other is short and sturdy, and both
are absolute masterpieces.
The high cross, as the tall one is called, stands near
the tower-foot and close beside the crumbling wall of
one of the old churches. It is twenty-seven feet high,
and is composed of three stones, the shaft, the cross
with its binding circle, and the cap. The shaft, which
is about two feet square and eighteen feet high, is divided into seven compartments on either face, and in
each of them is an elaborately-sculptured representation of some Bible scene, usually with three figures.
Although much worn, it is still possible easily to decipher some of them, for there is Eve accepting the
apple from the serpent while Adam looks mildly on,
and here they are fleeing from Paradise before the angel
with the flaming sword, and next Cain is hitting Abel
on the head with a club while a third unidentified person watches the scene without offering to interfere. At
the crossing there is a splendid crucifixion, with the
usual crowded heaven and hell to left and right; the
binding circle is beautifully ornamented with an interlacing design; and the cap-stone represents one of those
high-pitched cells or churches, such as we saw at Killaloe and Glendalough.
Beautiful as this cross is, it is surpassed by the other
one, Muiredach's Cross, from the inscription about its
base: "A prayer for Muiredach for whom this cross
was made." That inscription gives us its date, at least
within a century, for two Muiredachs were abbots here.
One of them died in 844 and the other in 924, and as
the latter was the richer and more distinguished, it is
presumed that the cross is his. That would make its
age almost exactly ten centuries.
And yet, in spite of those ten centuries, the sculptures
which enrich it from top to bottom are as beautiful
to-day as they ever were. Look at the picture opposite
this page it is not my picture, though I took one, but
there is an iron fence about the cross now which spoils
every recent photograph and you will see what a
wonderful thing it is. It is a monolith one single
stone, fifteen feet high and six feet across the arms
and every inch of it is covered with ornamentation.
It is the western face the picture shows, with the crucifixion occupying its usual position. Below it are three
panels of extraordinary interest, for they show Irish
warriors and clerics in the costumes of the period, all
of them wearing fierce mustachios. In the upper
panel are three clerics in flowing robes, the central one
giving a book to one of his companions and a staff to the
other; in the central panel are three ecclesiastics each
holding a book; and in the lower panel a cleric in a long
cloak, caught together at the throat with a brooch,
stands staff in hand between two soldiers armed with
Danish swords. At the foot of the shaft two dogs lie head to head.
On the other side, the central panel shows Christ
sitting in judgment, with a joyous devil kicking a
damned soul into an already crowded hell. The
method of separating the blessed from the damned is
shown just below, where a figure is carefully weighing
souls in a pair of scales a subject familiar to every one
who has visited the Gothic cathedrals of France, where
almost invariably a devil is trying to cheat by crouching
below the scales and pulling down one side. The lower
panels in the cross represent the usual Scriptural subjects the fall of man, the expulsion from Eden, the
adoration of the magi, and so on; and again at the base
there are two dogs, only this time they are playing, and
one is holding the other by the ear. All of this sculpture is done with spirit, with taste and with fine artistry;
and another glory of the cross is the elaborate tracery
of the side panels, and of the front, back, inside and
outside of the circle.
Who was he? Was he sad or glad
Who knew to carve in such a fashion?
Those questions we may never answer. All we can
say certainly is that he was a great artist; and his is the
But he is dust ; we may not know
His happy or unhappy story:
Nameless, and dead these centuries,
His work outlives him, there's his glory!
We tore ourselves away at last from the contemplation of this consummate masterpiece, and drove slowly
back to Drogheda, through a beautiful and fertile country, which, save for the thatched cottages, and gorse-
crowned walls and hedges, did not differ greatly in appearance from my own. And I was very happy, for
it had been a perfect day. Nowhere else in Ireland is
it possible to crowd so much of loveliness and interest into so short a space.
E N D
Burton Egbert Stevenson (1872–1962) was an American author.
He was born at Ohio and attended Princeton University 1890–1893.
Stevenson wrote numerous novels, including four young adult's novels,
edited others' works, and created numerous anthologies of verse, familiar quotations, and the like.
New Grange and the Hill of Tara
John L. Stoddard published an account of his visit to New Grange and the Hill of Tara in 1901.
Tara: "On every side the country falls away in gentle undulations to the distant horizon,
and one looks off on an unbroken circuit of as soft and beautiful scenery as even Ireland can reveal."