Last week, sticking to the ‘stay in your own county’ rule, I visited a corner of Kildare that is a great example of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’.

I was searching for high crosses with the images of two men who lived in Egypt 1600 years ago and never visited Ireland.  Why then were they depicted on Irish High Crosses dating from the 8th century?

The two are Paul of Thebes and Anthony the Hermit. I found them in Moone and Castledermot though they can also be found in places like Monasterboise.  The two are known as the pioneers of the ‘Desert Fathers’  and obviously had a major influence on the early Irish Church.  On one panel they are sharing bread brought to them by a bird and in another two menacing devils are trying to terrorise Anthony.

Why were they so well known in Ireland that they were put on the equivalent of primetime TV? At that time they represented a vision of Christianity that enthused and changed contemporary Irish society. This led to Ireland having a reputation for enlightenment and learning that lasted for the next five hundred years.

My covid project is to find out how they became so well known in Ireland and what attraction they had for the Irish. It gave me a reason to locate the crosses and also to visit a quiet part of the country with an extraordinary collection of historic remains. I made another interesting discovery there that I will share later. In the meantime if you spot any unusual high crosses out there, let me know. If a Chinese person appeared on one of them, now that would be intriguing. 

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