The Fassaroe Cross (also know as St Valery Cross, below) is familiar to me from childhood, but I hadn’t realised until recently that it is part of a concentration of four crosses in south County Dublin, all still extant*. We have visited them all now, and this first post will look at these remarkable examples of surviving Irish Early Medieval crosses. In the second post I will study their possible dates, established mainly through association with similar examples from elsewhere in Ireland.
In using the term Fassaroe-type, I am following Padraig Ó hÉailidhe (better known as Paddy Healy) who, in 1958, published Fassaroe and Associated Crosses in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (available on JSTOR). Not only did he lay out what was known about these four crosses at the time, but he included his own wonderful and accurate pen and ink drawings.
Robert included the Fassaroe Cross in his post East Coast Archaeology, so I refer you to that for additional photographs of the cross in its context. It’s easy to see why this cross would have become the diagnostic ‘type’, since it is the most complete.
Standing incongruously at the edge of a traffic roundabout, the cross is an arresting sight. According to Ó hÉailidhe, It was brought from ‘a glen’ some distance away. He also states:
When O’Curry visited the site in 1838,4 he saw, in addition to the cross, a font, pedestal, and quern, which are still extant, a cross shaft which is now missing and part of a baptismal font which had been removed along with another quern to the farmhouse beside Fassaroe Castle. He was furthermore informed that a circular crosshead had also been removed, and that human bones had been dug up on the south side.
The cross has a circular head on a straight shaft which is set into a semi-conical base. On its front face its a crucifixion image, head tilted to the right. The crucified Christ is surrounded by four wedge-shaped quadrants, as if to indicate the hole-and-circle we associate with high crosses. A carved head occupies a space on the outer circle on the lower right.
The back of the circle has two carved heads. Although very worn, Ó hÉailidhe felt their elongated shape pointed to long beards and a mitre. The base has yet one more head. You can view the cross in 3D here, a project of the Medieval Bray Group.
The second Cross is in Rathmichael, just outside Shankill, at the start of a woodland walk. It’s my lead photograph, which shows the context. It was moved here from the ruins of Kiltuck Church which once stood, with its associated graveyard, in what is now the housing estate of Castle Farm on the Bray to Shankill road.
Old photographs taken by Thomas Mason (see Roberts post for more about this photographer) show it before it was moved, in a jumble of stones at Kiltuck.
The two Mason photographs above are from the Mason collection at the National Library of Ireland, and used under license from them.
Apparently the shaft was in the present location and when the cross was re-united with it – it fit! The front of the cross has the crucifixion image carved in relief, while on the back the image is recessed. Like Fassaroe, the recessed head is slightly tilted to the right. Unlike Fassaroe, in which the top of the cross was circular, this one has very short arms.
The base has a small cupmark. Since walkers regularly use this route, some have taken to leaving small offerings, and it’s good to see this cross as valued and respected.
There were two crosses at Kiltuck, and the second one was removed by the Parish Priest of the newly-built Church of St Anne in Shankill in the early 1930s. In recent time the Rathmichael Historical Society, an active local group, sponsored its erection in its current location in front of the church, on a stone plinth.
The front face has a recessed crucifixion image, head slightly tilted to the right. The photograph below was taken in the church yard and shows the urban environment of this cross.
The back of the cross has a head, with the pointed chin such as we saw at Fassaroe. The head of the cross has the same short arms as the Rathmichael cross.
Our final cross is in a most unexpected location – right in the middle of Blackrock. It may have been used in the 15th century as a boundary marker to separate one medieval Dublin ‘franchise’ from another. Here’s what Ó hÉailidhe has to say on his decision to include it with the others:
The newly erected cross at Blackrock (Fig. 5)26 has been included in this group, because it has several features in common with that of Kiltuck, i.e. a human head in exactly the same position on the shaft and some rather irregular chamfering. This cross does not possess any artistic or architectural merits.
The chamfering is most obvious on the Kilmichael cross, while the head is similar to that at Kiltuck. The shape of the cross, however, is entirely different: rather than the head of the cross being circular, this one is, well, cross-shaped.
It’s impossible to make out what’s on the back on the cross, although Ó hÉailidhe tries manfully to illustrate it.
Ó hÉailidhe includes one more cross, from Killegar in Wicklow, now in the National Museum, but I will deal with that one in the next post, when I will review the literature about similar crosses and come to a conclusion about likely dates. Spoiler alert: although there have been claims that these crosses may be as late as 17th century, as you will see, I agree with most authorities that they are 12th century. As such, they represent a very important monument group.