hidden heritage

One of Ireland's best high crosses is 1,200 years old and hidden in a small Kildare village

Archaeologist Neil Jackman explores a medieval house in Cork and a remarkable high cross in Kildare.

IN THE LATEST edition of the Hidden Heritage series, I have more suggestions for great historical sites to visit around the island of Ireland. In this edition, we explore the atmospheric ruins of Coppinger’s Court in Cork, and we pay a visit to one of Ireland’s true historic treasures – the stunning High Cross of Moone in Kildare.

As ever, I’m hoping to feature sites from all over the island of Ireland, and I’d love to hear your suggestions. If you have a favourite heritage site please do leave a comment below.

Coppinger’s Court, Co. Cork

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Coppinger’s Court, near Rosscarbery in Cork, is one of Ireland’s finest examples of a late-medieval fortified house. This style of building appeared during the early 1600s – a period that bridged the end of the medieval era with the dawn of the modern age. Fortified houses combined elements of the defensive castles or tower houses with the more practical, palatial and grand country houses that had become fashionable during the Elizabethan era.

Coppinger’s Court (also known as Ballyvirine Castle) was built by Sir Walter Coppinger some time around 1616. Sir Walter was a wealthy merchant in Cork and built his fine house to stand some four storeys high over the basement. The house is rectangular in plan, with two square towers flanking the central structure.

Notable features include a series of projections that protrude from the top of the outside walls, similar to machicolations in earlier castles though at Coppinger’s Court they appear to serve a decorative rather than defensive function. However, a number of gun loops are positioned at strategic points at ground level, indicating that however palatial, the house would still be a tough proposition for any attacking force.

Local folklore states that the wealthy Sir Walter had the house constructed with a chimney for every month, a door for every week and a window for every day in the year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to count them all, but the old adage doesn’t appear to be too far out!

unnamed (2) Neil Jackman Neil Jackman

There are a number of conflicting stories about Sir Walter, with some painting him as a villain who was an avaricious moneylender and vicious landlord who hanged his enemies from a gallows on a gable at Coppinger’s Court. Other sources state he took the rebels’ side in the lead up to the rebellion of 1641. However, it was during the turbulent years of the rebellion that Coppinger’s Court was burned down by rebel forces. The house fell into ruin soon after.

Sir Walter’s descendants are said to have been supporters of King James during the Williamite Wars. Following King William’s victory, the Coppingers paid the price for their loyalty to James and forfeited their estates. Coppinger’s Court was never rebuilt. Today it is only home to ravens and crows and stands as an evocative and atmospheric ruin that is well worth exploring.

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To find Coppinger’s Court, head southeast on the N71 from Rosscarbery for around 250m, then turn right onto the R597. Travel down the R597 for 1.6km then turn left. Go up this small road for 700m then turn right. Travel along this road for a further 650m and you will see the grand ruins of Coppinger’s Court on your right. You can find it at co-ordinates: 51.572189, -9.067866. Please note that this site is on private farmland, so take care to close all gates behind you. If you plan on visiting Coppinger’s Court, consider taking a short drive to see the lovely Drombeg Stone Circle that I featured in a recent article.

Moone High Cross, Co. Kildare

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The small village of Moone in County Kildare has one of Ireland’s true historic treasures, the Moone High Cross. This remarkable piece of early medieval artistic craftsmanship is believed to date from around the 8–9th century. It is sculpted from granite, and it is carved in a truly unique style. At over 5 metres tall, it is the second-tallest in Ireland.

High crosses were built as symbols of ecclesiastical prestige but were also monastic boundary markers. Additionally, their detailed carvings were used for religious instruction with the symbols serving as visual aids and prompts to convey biblical stories to the largely illiterate population of the time. The top of the cross is ringed in a typical Irish style. It has a long square shaft and a large rectangular base with a truncated pyramid on top. The numerous figures that decorate this high cross are a marvel to study. The decoration consists of panels with scriptural scenes carved in false relief.  They mainly depict scenes from the Old and New Testament, such as the crucifixion, Daniel in the lion’s den, the sacrifice of Isaac, the flight into Egypt as well as fantastical monsters like this one that possibly depicts the Beast from the Book of Revelation.

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In the 6th century, the monastery was dedicated to St. Colmcille.  He was also known as Columba and is associated with numerous sites across Ireland and Scotland. Together with Patrick and Brigid, he is considered one of Ireland’s most renowned saints. In the Martyrology of Donegal and the Book of Lismore, the monastic settlement here was called Maoin Colum Cille or the property of Colmcille.  It is from this that the name Moone is derived.

It is said that Christianity was originally brought to Moone by the Roman bishop Palladius, who arrived in Ireland before St. Patrick.  Later legends state that when Patrick set out to visit the Moone area, the local Laoighis tribe planned to ambush him as they considered him a heretic as his teachings differed from that of Palladius.  Patrick was warned by a woman called Brígh and changed his route to avoid the attack.  As he passed, he blessed Brígh and her brother Fionán and cursed Moone saying no-one born there would ever assume the rank of king or bishop.

The remarkable state of preservation of the cross, despite it being at least 1,200 years old, is due to the fact that it remained buried for several centuries. It was discovered in 1835 near the south-eastern wall of the abbey church. In fact, only the base and top of the cross were uncovered initially and it was re-erected in 1850 with the support of the Duke of Leinster. The shaft was unearthed later and the entire structure was reassembled in 1895. In the 1990s, it was placed inside the medieval church to provide protection from the elements.

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Apart from the remarkable high cross, Moone contains portions of three other high crosses. Fragments of the head of a holed stone cross have been reassembled within the medieval church. The upper part of the shaft, the lower portion of the head and one arm of this cross can be viewed, and it is also possible to decipher carvings of some animals, including serpents, on the fragments. There are also interpretive drawings showing what this unique cross would have looked like in its original state. Within the graveyard, there are two bases of high crosses, one to the south of the church, the second to the east. Taken as a whole, the presence of these remarkable features point to the significance of Moone as an ecclesiastical centre over many centuries.

The Moone High Cross features as one of the stops on our free app – The Kildare Monastic Trail, that leads you around some of the wonderful atmospheric ruins of Kildare’s many ancient monasteries. Moone village is situated on the R448 road, which was formerly the main route between Dublin and Kilkenny. As you enter the village from the direction of Castledermot, turn left in the village centre and follow the signs to the High Cross. It’s on a pretty bad bend with limited parking, and it is easy to miss as the entrance is through a small stile (next to a green gate) in a large stone wall. You’ll find it at co-ordinates 52.979346, -6.826105.


Fancy exploring some of Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites this weekend? Please visit my blog where I have more suggestions for great places to visit. You can also download audioguides from my website, where we have 25 guides that tell the story of Irish heritage and the majority are absolutely free to download.

If you’d like to keep up with daily images and information about Ireland’s fantastic heritage sites please consider following Neil’s company Abarta Audioguides on Facebook , Twitter  and Instagram.

More from Neil Jackman:

The best medieval statue in Ireland is 8ft tall and in a ruined church in Kilkenny > 

Ireland’s largest Norman castle was built by a womaniser who ended up being decapitated > 

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