Roughly six miles north of Drogheda, after crossing into Co. Louth, are the 5th century remains of Monasterboice, an early Christian settlement established by Saint Buithe, one of Saint Patrick’s followers. Before the founding of Mellifont Abbey in 1142, Monasterboice was the region’s main centre for religion and learning.
The ruins of Monasterboice include two churches, built sometime in the 14th century, an Irish round tower that measures nearly 115 feet in height, a medieval graveyard and sundial, as well as some fine examples of High crosses. The North and West crosses have suffered from weather erosion over the centuries, but the Muiredach Cross, named after the abbot Muiredach mac Domhnail who died in 923, has stood the test of time well. And, at about 16 feet high, is believed to be the tallest High Cross in Ireland.
The round tower may have previously reached much further than it does now. Layers of earth have risen up so that the door is now almost level with the ground, instead of needing a ladder or stair for access, but it is still not possible to explore inside.
The impressive collection of ruins at Monasterboice attracts visitors from far and wide, as the settlement did in its heyday. An important cultural hub for centuries, before the Cistercians built Mellifont Abbey nearby, despite being captured by the Vikings in 968. The invaders were driven off by Donal, the High King of Tara, and the complex also survived being burned in 1097.
The name Monasterboice comes from the Irish ‘Mainistir Bhuithe’, which translates as ‘monastery of Buithe’.