A Spectacular Replica
of the Cross of the Scriptures
By CATHOLINE BUTLER
THE NEW OREGON Irish Potato Famine Memorial is modelled on the ancient Cross of the Scriptures from Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, Ireland, which was carved in 916 A.D.
DETAIL on Portland's new Irish Potato Famine Memorial which was commissioned by Portland's Ancient Order of Hibernians.
IRISH PRESIDENT Mary McAleese.
PORTLAND, OR - It began as a simple idea by the Portland, Oregon Ancient Order of Hibernians - erect a memorial to the Irish who died in The Great Hunger, and honor those Irish who left Ireland and traveled west on the Oregon Trail in the wake of the Famine.
While most folks don't think of Oregon as a final destination for the emigrating Irish, they did represent a huge percentage of the population from approximately 1845 through 1920.
Because of the growing number of Irish coming to Portland in those days, a chapter of the AOH was established in 1877 and flourished for many decades. The Portland AOH even hosted the National convention in 1910.
Evidence of Oregon as a final destination for the Irish was published in the Waterford Freeman newspaper on April 1st, 1846:
"The tide of emigration has already set in at this port. Early in the season as it now is, numbers of persons intending to quit old Ireland to seek the means of existence denied them, in the backwoods of America, or perhaps, in the disputed territory of Oregon, have left this city per the steamers to take shipping at Liverpool."
Not a group to do things half-heartedly, the Portland Hibernians chose as their Memorial a recreation of the most famous Celtic Cross in all of Ireland - the Cross of the Scriptures of Clonmacnoise.
Challenging themselves even further, the AOH chose to recreate the massive cross to look as it did the day it was hand-carved by monks around 900 AD - not as it looks today in its aged and weather-beaten condition.
The original Cross of the Scriptures, located in Co. Offaly, does not stand over the remains of any great saint, or a king, or even a fallen Celtic warrior. It was not constructed to be a grave marker.
Its only purpose was to stand as a symbol of the faith of the Irish in God. Oregon's Memorial to the Great Famine will stand for the next 1,000 years as a symbol of our faith in Ireland.
The Portland AOH chose the Celtic Cross because it is a universally recognized cultural Symbol of Ireland; and The Cross of the Scriptures is an example of Ireland's Golden Age.
The imagery it contains has such breath; combining the symbols of various cultures such as Christian, Celtic, Classical Greek, and Roman. It is also the only cross that contains the image of a woman - Mary Magdalene. It also contains a portrait of the High King of Ireland, Flann Sinna.
The location of the memorial is in Portland's historic Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery located two miles from Downtown. Situated near the crest of a hill, the Cross has command of the street intersection below it, and the cemetery before it.
As for the method used to re-create the massive structure, the AOH chose to use blocks of sandstone supplied by a Donegal quarry. The only caveat was that the cross must be re-created using only hand-held tools, just as the original cross was carved along the banks of the River Shannon over one thousand years ago.
Luckily for the Portland division, stone sculpting remains a vibrant art form in Ireland, and a young sculptor from Donegal Town named Brendan McGloin was chosen to carve the Memorial.
McGloin had an established sculptural business in the Donegal Craft Village, and had already spent years studying Graphic Design in Letterkenny, neo-classic stone building in Australia, and in New Zealand where he carved dry stone walls using the local volcanic pumice stone. He also spent time honing his skills at the Leitrim School of Sculpture.
Reproducing the most famous High Cross in Ireland was a labor of love for the sculptor. "Nothing like this has been done before," exclaimed McGloin. "There are over 20 separate panels on the cross and the sheer scale of the piece creates logistical problems in the workshop. Because of the size and weight, I had to treat it like a baby."
McGloin had to meticulously recreate scenes from the original Cross of the Scriptures including the crucifixion, the last judgment, and even the High King of Ireland. Standing 13 feet tall, it was originally carved out of stone around 900 AD, over 1100 years ago, and had as its patron Flann an Ri, the High King of Tara.
There is probably no greater symbol of Ireland than the Celtic Cross especially if you consider its origin. The pagan Celtic Irish venerated the features and forces of the natural world; the forest, the rocks, the rivers, the sun.
Then along came the Christian Celtic Irish who would combine the sun, a symbol of their native religion, with the cross, the symbol of Christ. The Celtic cross was born.
Another decision made by the Portland Division was to have the new cross follow the same route to the United States from Ireland as the Irish emigrants took so many years ago.
The cross, crated and packed snuggly in a shipping container, left Dublin, Ireland on the vessel, Belxan, on November 24, 2007.
It arrived in Antwerp, Belgium where it was transferred to the vessel, Y.M. Milano. On the Feast of Saint Nicholas (December 6, 2007), the ship began its voyage to the U.S.
After 11 days at sea, the Y.M. Milano docked in New York - but the journey was far from over. The next leg of the voyage was by rail, and the container was subsequently transferred to a boxcar on a Union Pacific train headed west.
Finally, on a rainy Tuesday night, January 15, 2008, the train carrying the cross pulled into Portland's Union Station.
This project was the culmination of an incredible amount of planning, effort, and sacrifice on behalf of Portland's Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Famine Memorial Committee. It is without a doubt the finest work of sculptured art in the State of Oregon, perhaps the entire West Coast.
The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, will arrive in Portland on December 13, 2008 to dedicate the famine memorial.
For more information, visit: www.oregonirishclub.or.