The Cross of Cong in Co. Mayo

This magnificent piece of 12th century craftsmanship is regarded as one of the finest of its era. It is called the “Bacall Bui” (yellow crozier) and was commissioned by the king, Turlach O’ Connor and was made in Roscommon in 1123.

Made of oak and standing 30 inches high with arms extending 19 inches, it is covered with silver and bronze plates washed with gold. Its edges were studded with precious stones and a large crystal in the centre covered the relic enshrined in the cross. The cross is richly decorated with designs of intricate interlacing and the carved heads of animals, even the nail heads used are shaped in the head of an animal, evidence of the Scandinavian influence in Irish art.

There are several inscriptions on the cross, one in Latin which was sent from Rome to Turlach, which reads, “the Cross on which the Creator of the world suffered was enshrined in the Bacall Bui”. The Gaelic inscriptions ask for prayers for Turlach O’ Connor, King of Eirinn, for two church dignitaries of the family of O’ Duffy and for the Irish artist who created the cross, Maoiliosa O’ Echan.

The cross was guarded by the Augustinians of Cong and was placed on the altar only on very special occasions. The 16th century brought persecution and hardship to the religious orders in Ireland and the Augustinians were forced to leave Cong. One abbot remained as the parish priest and this situation continued until 1829 when the last abbot died. Dean Waldron was the successor and on taking over the Abbot’s house he found several treasures hidden within. The Bacal Bui was among them, in 1839 the Dean sold the cross to the Royal Irish Academy for 100 guineas, this was not a popular act with the people of Cong.

His successor Fr Pat Lavelle was appointed in 1869, he was a well known Fenian sympathiser and a rebel within the religious order. Fearless of repercussions he condemned the then leader of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Cullen and delivered many orations in favour of the patriotic cause. On his appointment as parish priest of Cong he travelled to Dublin and at The Royal Irish Academy asked to see the Bacall Bui. He snatched the cross and returned it to its rightful place, Cong.

It has since been transferred to the National Museum in Dublin where it is kept with other national treasures.

By Bernie O'Malley

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