Life wasn’t meant to be easy.
These were the infamous words of a former Opposition leader of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, back in 1975 as he engineered the dismissal of the Labour Government of Gough Whitlam and had himself installed. That’s not really important here but his words came to me as I scoured up and down the wet, foggy hills of Westmeath looking for a High Cross.
I had no particular reason to seek out this cross and I knew nothing about it but my trusty road atlas has a spot marked called Twyford Cross and it wasn’t much of a detour so I thought I would visit.
First though, it is nowhere near Twyford. It was closer to Baylin on the map, so I went there to start my search. Google Maps has no mention of it so I was in the dark but I thought the gods were with me because as I approached the village there was one of those nice brown signs for naïve tourists like me which said Baylin Cross.
That’ll do. I headed down the lane until it stopped abruptly at two locked gates, after just a few hundred metres. No sign of anything that resembled a High Cross. How could I have missed it? I drove back and forth a couple of times. There was nothing that would indicate a cross. This was just a rural, suburban street.
Ok time to Google it. I found a couple of brief descriptions of the Bealin Cross, which I assumed was the same. One seemed helpful. It described at length, how this guy went on a goose chase looking for it until he asked someone, who told him to cross a stile and it was on a hill behind the houses. This guy found it, why couldn’t I? I went up and down a couple more times looking for a stile. No stile. It was wet and foggy and miserable (have I already mentioned that?) and I saw no one around to ask. Not wanting to give up I pulled off the road to have a think. In front of me was a spanking new cattle drenching pen and a bright red gate to the side. Cattle drenching pen? Stile? Just maybe!
So on a hunch I went in there. Round the corner and aah there’s a hill. Fifty metres further walking I saw the cross.
I know I have been long winded but I just wanted to stress that sometimes if you want to find something in Ireland, it can require persistence and a dose of luck. I love it that there is heritage everywhere. Megalithic monuments, ring forts, dolmens, ruined castles, abbeys and crosses. That of course is one of the reasons to visit Ireland. The Irish have preserved these monuments and are generous with access to them. Many are on the major tourist itineraries and have bold signage, car parks, interpretive centres and entrance fees. Many do not. These are the ones I like to visit. But as in the case of the Bealin Cross it can be a challenge. It almost seems to me that while farmers and the ‘authorities’ are happy to allow you access, they are not going to make it easy for you by telling you where it is; so no parking, no signs and definitely no interpretive centres.
So Bealin Cross. Was it worth the effort? It is called the Bealin (Baylin) Cross because it was once in Baylin but it was moved to the townland of Twyford. It is around 2 metres high it is beautifully decorated though somewhat worn. After all it is believed to have been constructed in around 800AD. Yes I haven’t left a ‘1’ off the front. It is 1,200 years old. It is thought to have been built originally for nearby Clonmacnoise. There are interlaced creatures with birdlike heads running up the East side and a stunning celtic knot at the centre.
Though they are hard to make out other images include a hunting scene with a dog biting a deer’s leg. Each side has different images.
Personally I find it remarkable that it still exists and sits on a hill exposed to the elements. Not hidden away in a museum or church but in its ‘natural’ environment for anyone to discover and enjoy (if they have suitable orienteering skills).
The photos are pretty ordinary as was the weather and once I found it, my time there was short as the heavens opened up.
Of course it was worth it but on this occasion perhaps the journey was more interesting than the destination.