Visitors Now Welcome to See Re-created St Patrick’s Cross
At a special event to celebrate the installation of a replica of St Patrick’s Cross at Down Cathedral on Monday 24 September, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairman, Councillor Mark Murnin welcomed the completion of the project, only a few metres from the traditional site of St Patrick’s Grave, where the original pieces of the damaged Cross were located until 1900.
Councillor Murnin said, “This has been a very special project funded by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, and has been four years in development.
“It all started with cleaning the original fragments of the Cross just inside the Cathedral in 2014, funded by the Lecale and Downe Historical Society and the Friends of Down County Museum, with the enthusiastic support of the Dean and Chapter of Down.
“At the same time, coincidentally, archaeologist Peter Harbison found two drawings of the Cross from 1840 in Dublin, which were purchased for the Museum, and George Rutherford found another two drawings of 1843 in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It seemed possible that the original cross could be recreated.
“The next step was for John Meneely of Queen’s University to scan the Cross to reveal the decoration, and for the artist Philip Armstrong to draw the designs to guide the making of a replica by S McConnell and Sons of Kilkeel, using the same Mourne granite as the original. A master stonemason, Declan Grant, was tasked with carving it. A suitable location for the Cross was chosen, and a planning application was submitted – it required a dig, just in case St Patrick lay underneath!
“The archaeologists from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen’s University didn’t find St Patrick but they did find 14 skeletons of medieval people – this was a popular place to be buried, as it was so close to St Patrick’s resting place. They also found a medieval kitchen and an incredible array of artefacts on the old tennis court site only a few metres away. The dig delayed the installation of the Cross but added immeasurably to our knowledge of medieval Downpatrick.
Councillor Murnin continued, “Finally, the foundations were laid in August, and piles were driven six metres deep to ensure that this five metre high cross is not going anywhere, whatever gale-force winds from the Mournes are thrown at it.
“Three bishops, the Dean and Chapter of Down, and clergy from all parts of the Church, assembled to bless the Cross on the day of its installation to celebrate its re-birth, 12 centuries after its first creation that marked the foundation of a new monastery on this hill. The original may have been the brainchild of King Fiachna of the Dal Fiatach, who ruled here from 750 to 789 AD. Today we wish to thank all those people who were involved in the process of its resurrection.
“The Cross is the last monument to be made from Mourne granite from Thomas’s Mountain above Newcastle. It is fitting that as we look at the Cross from the Cathedral, we can see Slieve Donard and the Mourne Mountains behind the Cross – the source of the granite that made this replica. I invite you all to place your hand in the handprint at the base of the Cross, and to spread the word as far as you can that everyone coming to Ireland must do the same thing.
Councillor Murnin concluded, “On behalf of the Council, I thank all involved in the re-making of this monument, which will contribute significantly to our joint cross-community effort to tell the incredible story of our district.”