Saint Patrick’s high cross is found in the seaside village of Carndonagh, County Donegal. It is one of the oldest high crosses from the early Christian Period to be found anywhere in the British Isles. The cross is richly decorated with impressive Celtic artwork. This, combined with the millennia of history behind it, is sure to leave a lasting impression long after you leave the sleepy Irish seaside town.

Donegal has stunning beaches, shame about the weather!

Visiting Donegal

Whilst you are in the area, it would be a perfect time to explore Donegal. Whether you are an adventurer itching to explore the rugged seaside cliffs of Slieve League, or just want to take a lazy road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way this county truly has something for everybody. The stunning sea cliffs of Slieve League are almost three times the size of The Cliffs of Moher and almost twice the size of the Eiffel Tower and are a great place for an impressive instagram backdrop.

If the great outdoors isn’t really your thing, then you might just simply want to enjoy a nice creamy pint of Guinness or a fresh cup of tea next to a raging turf fire in one of Donegal’s many small cosy little pubs. Donegal has a diverse range of hidden places to explore as well as many great activities suited for everybody. It is truly a county for everyone, dearly loved by all except maybe folk from the nearby county of Tyrone.

Donegal is a great starting point to explore the Wild Atlantic Way

Visiting Carndonagh

The town of Carndonagh originated as a monastic settlement founded by Saint Patrick and his followers. The monastery was built on the site of an ancient Celtic burial site hence its name in Irish is carn donmhnach, which means cairn or mound of the church. The monks most likely chose this spot to build their monastery as it was close to the sea, which provided not only a valuable food source but it was also a means of transportation for the monks as there was very few roads in those days and those few were laden with bandits and thieves.

Colorful painted houses of Carndonagh

Saint Patrick who founded the monastery was born in Roman Britain. At that time the Gaels had small colonies on mainland Britain, so it is very likely that st Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and brought back to Ireland to work as a shepherd in modern-day Armagh. The holy man escaped and found his way back to Britain. Saint Patrick had a dream that God was calling him back to Ireland to convert the native Irish to Christianity, so for the rest of his life, St Patrick spread Christianity throughout the island of Ireland.

The Celtic Cross of Carndonagh

The cross dates back to the earliest days of the monastery and is believed to have been sculpted in a town near the monastery. The cross depicts a crucifixion scene and was probably used as a means to teach locals about the bible, as very few people would have been able to read or write in those days. The two pillars surrounding the cross depicting a pilgrim, a warrior, Saint David and a fish possibly a reference to the parable of Jonah and the whale.

The Saint Patrick’s high cross is one of the many fruits to have been reaped from this monastery. Standing three meters tall, it is the highest cross in Ireland. The cross dates back to the earliest days of the monastery. On the actual cross, as well as the two stone pillars on either side, are richly decorated Celtic artwork carved into the stone still visible after all these years. The carvings are fantastically preserved. So be sure to look out for it if you ever find yourself wandering around this sleepy Irish town.

Saint Patricks Cross Carndonagh
Detailed carvings are visible on the face of the cross of Carndonagh

The cravings on St. Patricks high cross, as well as the stone pillars beside them, have a lot of meaning behind them. As I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, unless you were a monk or a member of nobility you most likely would have been illiterate. Decorative crosses like St. Patrick’s high cross are littered all over Ireland. They usually depict scenes from the bible.

The Detail of The Cross

The artwork is definitely unique to its time period so we will now take a closer look at the carvings. A common feature on the cross is an interlacing ribbon. This Celtic knotwork feature is thought to represent the tree of life. In the middle of the cross, there is a crucifixion scene that depicts Jesus Christ not suffering or slouched but standing tall, a victor over death. The cross also depicts a fish or a whale which was likely used to teach locals about Jonah and the whale. There is also King David playing the harp, a nasty looking demon possibly used to teach locals about hell, and a warrior or pilgrim. Its beautiful artwork is stunning, so be sure to leave with your camera roll full of snapshots and closeups of the cross.

Cross of St. Patrick Carndonagh
Cross of St. Patrick Carndonagh Necklace

Our replica Celtic cross necklace of Saint Patrick, Carndonagh recreates all the exquisite detail of the original high cross. Learn more on the symbolism and meaning of the Celtic Cross.

Donegal’s Natural Beauty

There are no shortage of wonderful Instagram worthy shots along the stunning Donegal coastline.