THE gasps were audible as the black sheet was removed and the priceless Cross of Cong was revealed to a large crowd at Turlough Park, Castlebar.
The 12th century relic was back in Mayo after a gap of 170 years and those gathered for the official unveiling at the National Museum of Country Life were amazed.
And it is no surprise. For not alone is the Cross impressive from an aesthetic point of view but its history is simply overwhelming.
To witness first hand a cross that has survived for 900 years and was commissioned by a man who made Connacht one of the eminent forces in western Europe, the then High King of Ireland Turlough O’Conor, does send a tingle down the spine.
Dr Kieran O’Conor, a direct descendant of Turlough O’Conor, spoke eloquently about why the people of Connacht should feel immensely proud of such a treasure.
“The past is not a foreign country. This cross was commissioned by our ancestors, not by strangers. There is a tendency since the 18th century to see Connacht somehow as a backwater.
“Things like the famine had a terrible impact in Connacht but we can look at the Cross of Cong and the achievements of Turlough O’Conor, not on his own, but with the people of Connacht. He and the people of Connacht made the province a great force in western Europe. It should be a symbol of what we can achieve in this province. I would urge everyone in Connacht to come and see this - it is your Cross, your heritage.”
Dr O’Conor and Dr Patrick Wallace, Director of the National Museum, performed the official unveiling and Dr Wallace hinted that the Cross could remain at Turlough Park for longer than the provisionally planned one year - if demand justified it.
“How long is it going to be here? Well that on depends on you, the people of Connacht and that is the challenge we are putting to you. We will just see how well it goes down in Connacht,” said Dr Wallace.
Chairman of the National Museum, Dr John O’Mahony, described the wonder of the Cross eloquently.
“I’m reliably told that it is the finest procession cross in the whole western hemisphere. See it, behold it, adore it, love it.”
The Cross of Cong is on public display at the National Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday and from 2pm to 5pm on Sundays.
Facts about the Cross of Cong
The Cross was made in Roscommon in 1123 as a shrine to house a fragment of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified
It was commissioned by the High King of Ireland, Turlough O’Conor, father of Rory O’Conor, the last high king of Ireland, to be housed at the Cathedral Church in Tuam
It was kept for centuries at Cong Abbey by the Augustinian monks and this is how it got its name
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