• A newly discovered stone cross at Baltyboys, Co. Wicklow

    While it has always been suspected that the old graveyard at Baltyboys was the site of an early medieval church site, there has yet to be any confirmation of its antiquity. It is mentioned in late medieval documents as Kilpatrick (a name that is now obsolete) which certainly implies that this must be a much older church site.

    The graveyard is situated near the top of the Baltyboys ridge that formerly divided the River Liffey and the King’s River. Today there are fine views across the Poulaphuca Reservoir towards the Wicklow Mountains.

    On a recent visit to the site I was determined to find some evidence that would prove the antiquity of the site. As luck would have it, local man Fergus Cassidy had been strimming the tall grass in the graveyard, making the features much easier to see. Within minutes I spotted a stone cross that immediately stood out from several 19th century stone crosses that mark graves throughout the cemetery.

    The granite cross measures 56cm across, while the upper transom is 28cm wide and 19cm high above the cross arms. The shaft is slightly wider that the upper transom, measuring 33cm across.

    At the intersection of the arms, on both faces of the cross, is a domed, circular bosse. On one face this bosse is 16cm in diameter and raised 4cm. It is enclosed by a raised ring, 25cm in total diameter and 1cm high. On the opposite face, is a very similar bosse, though it is more weathered, which measures 16cm in diameter, also enclosed by a ring (23cm in total diameter).

    The cross is clearly not in its original position, and may have been placed here as a grave marker. It almost certainly had a separate granite base, but the remains of this are not evident at the site today.

    This cross is quite modest in terms of its size, and it many respects its antiquity may not be obvious at first glance. However, the encircled bosses on this cross are very distinctive, and are peculiar to this area. They are a feature of two quite different stone crosses nearby, namely, the wheel headed cross at Ballymore Eustace, and the massive cross known as St Mark’s Cross that stands in the new cemetery at Burgage outside Blessington (which formerly stood near the medieval church tower, situated on what is now the shore of the Poulaphuca Reservoir). The date of these crosses is not clear, but they most likely date to about the 10th century. There is no doubt that the cross at Baltyboys is related to these crosses, and may even have been carved by the same mason. However, in the absence of any historical documentation about any of these sites, what may be more significant is that these crosses echo important ecclesiastical and political links between these churches. It is probably no coincidence that Baltyboys Upper, Ballymore Eustace and Burgage were all intimately associated with the River Liffey. Equally, the small scale of the Baltyboys cross may reflect that this church was of a lower status than either Ballymore Eustace or Burgage, and may have been subservient to one or both of these sites in the early medieval period. During the later medieval period (some two centuries after these crosses were carved), Ballymore Eustace was firmly at the centre of the Archbishop of Dublin’s manor, which included Baltyboys and Burgage.



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