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Monasterboice is one of Ireland’s earliest Christian sites, the name derives from the Irish ‘Mainistir Bhuithe’ (monastery of Buite). St. Buite was an Irish monk and follower of St. Patrick, it is said that in 480, St. Buite on a return trip from Rome raised Nechtan Morbet, the King of Pictland (Scotland), from the dead.
At Monasterboice today you can see the Round Tower, the magnificent High Crosses and the the remains to two churches. Although round towers were originally thought to have been places of refuge from Vikings, the Irish name ‘cloic theach’ meaning a bell house suggests they also served as bell towers. The tower at Monasterboice was burned in 1097, destroying the monastic library and other treasures. However, it is still in excellent condition, though without its conical cap. It is the second tallest round tower in Ireland.
The Vikings occupied the site for a period until they were routed by Domhnall, King of Tara, in 968. St. Buite’s monastery remained an important centre of spirituality and learning for many centuries until the establishment of the nearby Mellifont Abbey in 1142.
At Monasterboice there are two of the finest High Crosses (Celtic Crosses) in Ireland – the South Cross (or Cross of Muiredach) and the West Cross (or Tall Cross) – which date from the 9th century. The sandstone crosses are finely carved and depict biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Today the image of the High Cross is recognised internationally, not merely as a religious icon but also as a symbol of Irish cultural heritage.