Ancient Abbey of Holy Cross

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VI (10) | Start of Chapter

In company with Mrs. W——, and her sister, Mrs. Burke, I took a ride of three miles to visit Holy Cross. On our way we passed a splendid estate, now owned by a gentleman who came into possession suddenly by the death of the former owner, for whom he acted as agent. Last Christmas they had been walking over the premises in company; on their return, the owner met with a fall, and was carried home to die in a few hours. It was found he had willed his great estate to this agent, who is much elated at his happy exaltation. Holy Cross was the most venerable curiosity I had yet seen in all Ireland. We ascended the winding steps, and looked forth upon the surrounding country, and the view told well for the taste of O'Brien, who reared this vast pile in 1076. The fort containing the chapel is built in the form of a cross; the perpendicular part was that which we ascended. The architecture, the ornamental work, and the roofs of all the rooms displayed skill and taste. The apartments for the monks, the kitchen where their vegetable food was prepared, but still more, the place where repose so many of their dead were objects of deep interest. "Here," said the old woman, who interpreted for us, "is the place of saints," pointing to the graves. "Here lie my husband and two children, and many a dark and hungry day have I seen since I laid 'em there." Some of the inscriptions on the monuments were so defaced, that they could not be decyphered, and the gravestones were so huddled upon one another, that it was quite a confused mass. Pieces of skulls and leg-bones lay among the dust which had lately been shovelled up; and as I gathered a handful and gave them to the old woman, she said, "This cannot be helped. I pick 'em up and hide 'em when I see 'em and that's all can be done; people will bury here, and it's been buried over for years, because you see, ma'am, it's the place of saints. People are brought many miles to be put here; the priests from all parts have been buried here, and here, is the place to wake 'em," showing a place where the coffin, or rather body, was placed in a fixture of curiously wrought stone. The altars, though defaced, were not demolished; the basins cut out of the stones for the holy water were still entire; and though many a deformity had been made by breaking off pieces, as sacred relics, enough remains to show the traveller what was the grandeur of the Romish church in Ireland's early history.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.