Museum’s High Cross Extension Opens its Doors
A brand new extension housing the Downpatrick High Cross and many other treasures was officially opened on Tuesday 15 September at Down County Museum. The project benefited from a generous grant of £484,000 from the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Cross Border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. The new facility is the result of over seven years of planning, with the help of the East Border Region, and includes three stunning new exhibitions and a new tearoom with a fabulous view of Down Cathedral at the rear of the Museum complex.
The centre-piece of the new extension is the 1100-year-old Downpatrick High Cross, which was moved from outside the east end of Down Cathedral and conserved with the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Down Cathedral, and with consents and financial assistance of almost £50,000 from the Historic Environment Division of the Department of the Environment. Surveyors from the Department also carried out specialist recording of the cross’s carved panels. The original High Cross was successfully replaced by an exact replica, made from the same type of 56 million-year-old Mourne granite, by S McConnell and Sons of Kilkeel, just before Easter in 2014.
The Right Rev Henry Hull, Dean of Down, who, with the Chapter of Down Cathedral, agreed to the long-term loan of the High Cross to the Museum said: "For some years we were concerned about the deterioration of the Town Cross due to pollution and weathering. Hence we are very grateful to be able to lend it to Down County Museum for safe display and are thrilled with the replica now outside the Cathedral. I think the new gallery and interpretive displays are magnificent and will give those who visit a greater appreciation of the High Cross and our Celtic Christian Heritage.”
Minister for the Environment Mark H Durkan officially opened the new extension and expressed his support for the new tourism facility, “It is fitting that the birthplace of Irish Christianity is hosting an exhibition which now houses one of our most ancient crosses. It is the culmination of a project which has involved very careful planning, painstaking conservation and recording work. Historic carved stones are a valuable but highly vulnerable heritage resource and protecting and preserving them can be extremely challenging. Projects such as this lead the way in saving them from damage and setting standards for future work. Ancient craftsmen created this cross to be viewed and interpreted by local people and visitors to the Hill of Down. The new exhibition allows those aims to be achieved in a sympathetically designed environment. ’Raising the Cross in Down‘ is a valuable and important new addition to the St Patrick’s Trail tourism product.”
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Cllr Naomi Bailie added: “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is proud to open this new high cross extension at the Museum for the benefit of local people and tourists to the area, to tell captivating stories from our shared history, especially the story of our local Patrician and Early Christian heritage which is recognised world-wide.”
Welcoming the official opening of the European Union funded High Cross Extension, Paul Boylan, Manager with the Special European Union Programmes Body said, “This new extension and associated exhibition will not only help to safeguard an important historic relic but will also act as a much needed boost to the local tourist industry. This was one of the main objectives of the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme as it provided a high level of financial assistance to innovative tourism initiatives, on a cross-border basis. As the current Programme comes to a close it is important to reflect upon the impact that it has had and on the contribution that projects like this will make for many years to come.”
Councillor Peter Savage of Louth County Council, Chairman of East Border Region, congratulated all involved in the project, “This facility has been funded as part of the East Border Region Tourism Development plan, an ambitious cross border project which has enhanced the tourism offering across our region by investing almost €3 million in new and existing facilities. The project recognises the need for cross border collaboration and Partnership working to enable us to compete with other tourism “honey pots”, and this facility is certainly a flagship tourist attraction and one which East Border Region are delighted to have been in a position to support with financial assistance from the EU INTERREG IVA Programme.”
The extension was designed by HIP Architects and constructed by Maghera Developments, with exhibition designs by Haley Sharpe Designs and fit out my Marcon Ltd. The Downpatrick High Cross Extension Project is a partnership project with the Church of Ireland and the Department of the Environment and is part-financed by the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Cross Border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.