A GRAFFITI attack on a 1,100-year-old Celtic cross has resulted in calls for it to be relocated to a museum.
The ancient work of art was targeted by a vandal using a black marker to daub words on the front and back.
The monument is the most famous of the high crosses in Kells, Co Meath, and is known as the Market Cross.
The sandstone cross was carved by master craftsmen in the 9th century and is a jewel of Ireland's monastic era.
Locals expressed outrage when they discovered the cross had been vandalised.
One of the messages written on the cross appears to wish 'Good luck' to a person. The graffiti, using letters a couple of inches high, was scrawled across the sacred carvings on the base of the cross.
One visitor to the town who contacted the Herald said the defacement was unforgivable.
"I was absolutely appalled. The cross is a glittering jewel in the heritage of the world and it's been defaced," he said.
"More should have been done to keep it safe. Local people have been calling for the Book of Kells to be moved from Trinity College in Dublin back to Kells as a tourist attraction. But if they can't protect the cross why should we trust them with the Book of Kells."
The cross should be moved to a museum and a replica erected in its place, he added.
Town councillor Frankie Lynch told the Herald "a lot of local people are very annoyed".
"It's unbelievable this should happen. I'm very angry about it," he said.
He said the cross was valued by local people and was moved on safety grounds to its present site outside the local heritage centre after it was struck by a bus in the centre of the town.
A local referendum had been held which revealed overwhelming support for the cross to be moved back to the centre of the town when road traffic improvement works were finally completed, he said.
He called for more CCTV monitoring to deter further attacks. It has since emerged a CCTV camera at the heritage centre was not operating at the time of the graffiti incident.
A spokesman for the Office of Public Works, the state agency which maintains national monuments, said the matter would be investigated and the graffiti removed.