Irish alter crosses were at one point a prized possession for the churches across the entire island. Many of these crosses, now considered national treasures, were constructed and put to use in the Dark Ages and Early Middle Ages. The Tully Lough Cross is not any different. The cross is a wooden cross that is encased in iron and covered in symbolic designs, portraying Jesus and the story of “Daniel in the Den of Lions.” It is estimated to be from the 8th or 9th century, associated with the Church of Kilmore in the northern county of Roscommon. In this county, lies a body of water known as the Tully Lough. The discovery of the cross in this lake gives the cross its name, while also telling much more about the history of Ireland.
In 1986, a diver found the cross lying at the bottom of the Tully Lough and it was finally put in possession of the museum in 1990. Many of the designs were missing from the cross and it was damaged long before it was lost (or thrown) in the water. This story of the cross is incredible for a few reasons. First, we really do not know much about such a historic item – who used it, what it originally looked like, or how it came to be at the bottom of a lake. Moreover, it is incredible microcosm of Irish history – the religious divide, the pillaging and destruction of valuable artifacts, and the relatively new discovery of the history.
The Tully Lough Cross would have been shown off and used in special ceremonies and religious occasions. It is believed that it was lost along with other valuable items in the waves of Viking attacks. It was lost at a time when the relationship between church and state was extremely contentious. Now it is held and displayed in the National History Museum for all to appreciate, which, again in symbolic fashion, shows the modern wave of Irish history.