Monasterboice, 6km north of Drogheda, has an idyllic rural setting and the remains of its monastic settlement – founded in either the eighth or ninth century – include not only one of Ireland’s finest high-crosses, dating from the tenth century, but one of the best-preserved round towers in the country too. The stocky St Muiredach’s Cross, just inside the churchyard, is the better preserved of the pair. Its elaborate series of carved panels depict a variety of biblical events, loosely arranged in supposed chronological order. The base of its east face begins in the Garden of Eden, before moving upwards to the stories of Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, Moses bringing water to the Israelites and the Magi bearing gifts for the newborn Christ. Above these, the cross’s carved wheel depicts the Last Judgment and the risen multitudes pleading for entry into Heaven. The west face depicts events during the later life of Christ, ranging from his arrest at Gethsemane to the Ascension, though the hub of the cross’s wheel shows Moses with the Ten Commandments. Unusually, both flanks of the cross are also decorated and feature the Flight of the Israelites and saints Anthony and Paul.
The taller West Cross, unfortunately chipped at its top, features another array of biblical scenes, though erosion makes most of them indecipherable without the assistance of the adjacent display board. Certainly, its east face features David and the lion, and the west includes the Resurrection, but much of the remainder is difficult to discern. Adjacent to this cross is what’s reckoned to be the tallest round tower in Ireland, standing at some thirty metres, though it has long since lost its conical cap and cannot be entered for safety reasons. The two ruined churches within the enclosure, which date from the thirteenth century, probably had little connection with the, by then, defunct monastery.