Ray cross: Folklore, Archaeology and Historical Context

HeritageWeekLogo255An tSean Bheairic
Thursday 27th August at 8.00pm

Brian LaceyFor Heritage Week 2015, Dr. Brian Lacey will give a lecture on the importance of Ray Cross in Irish & Scottish history, and its connection to Colmcille.

This extraordinary 5.5m high cross stands inside the ruins of Ray Church. It was found broken in the graveyard, then rebuilt and erected inside the church walls for protection. Because the cross has no decorations or carvings, it’s not possible to date it but it is very similar to the late 8th century St John’s Cross on Iona. A number of abbots of Iona in the 7th century came from this area of Donegal.

Ray CrossRay Church was rebuilt or repaired some time after 1622 and the graveyard contains gravestones dating back to the 18th century. Many members of the Olphert land-owning family of Ballyconnel are buried here.

A local legend explains how this cross came to be at Ray:-

The stone for the Ray cross was cut out from Muckish Mountain, the flat-topped mountain that dominates the landscape behind Ray. Colmcille had travelled from the mainland to Tory Island with his two companions Saints Fionán and Begley. Once they arrived on the island, Colmcille realised that he had left his prayer book on the mainland. He asked his companions if one of them would return to find the prayer book. Whoever returned would be given anything he desired. St Fionán went back to the mainland and found an eagle sheltering the prayer book from the rain with his wing. Fionán took the prayer book back to Tory and asked for the Ray cross in return. Colmcille is said to have been displeased but kept his promise by granting Fionán his wish.