I have passed this pile of crosses many time in my life, on the way to Kilmore Quay in Wexford, I was always curious about it, I have now found the answer (Thanks Google!). Today, I decided to stop and take some photos of it, before it vanishes at some point in the future.
This is a mainly South Wexford tradition of people adding a new cross to the pile, as a funeral passed by, on the way to the local Cemetery. The crosses were all locally made and had a point at the end. The Funeral Directors always come to the funeral with two crosses, one for the gravesite, and the other is placed on this pile by the Funeral Director. There are a couple of other piles of these crosses around South Wexford. Cong in Mayo used to have the same tradition, but, not any more.
The only explanation that I could find, seems to come from an event in the year 777. When King Charlemagne of France (742-814) was leading an invading army fighting in Spain, he received news which forced him to leave. While retreating over the Pyrenees, his army was ambushed by the Basques in the Pass of Roncevalles and unfortunately, thousands of his men were killed. To commemorate the dead, Charlemagne had a great wooden cross erected in the Pass. This cross became known as Charlemagne’s Cross. When people passed by, they would add a small wooden cross.
The custom became widespread throughout France and the placing of small wooden crosses near roadside shrines became one of the ways of respecting the dead.
It is thought that the custom spread from the Pyrenees to northern France where the inhabitants of Flanders and Normandy practised it up to very recently. It is also accepted that many of the first Anglo-Norman settlers in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy in south Co Wexford after 1169 were of Flemish descent. The Cistercians and the Canons Regular of St. Augustine who came into Ireland in the twelfth century, were mainly of French origin too. The Cistercians, erected a famous abbey at Tintern, which gradually took over several parishes in the neighbourhood, including those of Kilmore, Killturk and Tomhaggard, all of which are in the immediate vicinity of Tintern, which is near where this practice exists. They also had a base in Cong, which is probably why that is the only place in Ireland outside South Wexford that had this tradition.
I like it when I see that some old traditions are still been observed by people.