Mark Irland – Montague County Cross Man (CBS11)

ALVORD, Texas (CBS11) – In the small town of Alvord, Mark Irland whittles away at a bottomless pile of cedar wood in his backyard.

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“It looks like a big stockpile, but you’d be surprised,” says Irland.

He saws the wood into two planks, cutting notches in the center. Irland then sands down each piece and hand carves a name and a date on the front, before sealing and staining the cross.

The work starts anew every Wednesday morning: the day the local paper comes out with the most recent obituaries.

“Everybody is somebody’s child, you know?” Irland says.

In the last several years, Irland estimates he’s made 4,500 to 5,000 of these crosses. Some are several feet high; others, small enough for a child to hold.

Crosses made by Mark Irland (CBS11)

He loads them up in the back of his car and delivers them to farms, funeral homes, memorial services and gravesites. They dot the landscapes in cemeteries across Wise County, Montague County and greater North Texas.

In most cases, Irland does not personally know the recipients, but his heart goes out to them.

“People who lose folks – and everybody knows it – they need loving. They expect love from their family and close friends, but it seems like when they receive something from a complete stranger, it really seems to affect them. They really seem to appreciate it,” Irland explains.

Nia Callan received this anonymous gift, twice.

She lost her stepson, John, in a car crash on November 26, 2016. John was 17 years old, and on his way to an FFA show early in the morning when his truck was involved in a crash. Nine days later, in an unimaginable tragedy, Nia’s husband, Joe, also died in a crash.

Mark Irland anonymously dropped off crosses at the visitation service and included a cross for John’s siblings.

Nia’s Christian faith has helped her through an incredibly difficult time, as has the kindness of friends and strangers.

“You never know exactly how you feel until you go through it, but God has just given me the people I need. Mark is one of them,” said Nia Callan.

She’s never met Mark Irland, but feels thankful.

“[Mark] has given me something I can hold onto and cherish forever,” she says.

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Irland owns a tree service company, so it’s not hard to come across extra cedar. Wood working is a hobby for him, but the cross making became a regular thing seven years ago.

Irland’s daughter, Meg, died in a crash on her way home from the lake, in August of 2010. Meg was driving and her fiancé was in the passenger seat. The family thinks she may have swerved to try to avoid hitting a dog in the road.

Meg Irland was 28 years old.

“It’s enough for us to know that she went quick and relatively painless,” Irland says.

He remembers going to Meg’s gravesite, soon after her funeral.

“All you could do when you got out there was just look down. That’s not where Meg is. Her body is there, but her soul is in heaven,” Irland explains.

That was his motivation to look up.

“It just hit me. I don’t want nobody to go through that,” Irland says.

First, he made a cross for Meg. The cross-making continued in the days, weeks and years since. Irland’s faith is a central part of his life, but he makes crosses for anyone, no matter the cause of death, no matter their life circumstances.

Mark Irland asks for no recognition, no advertisement and nothing in return. The crosses are simply signed, “Montague County Cross Man.”

While most of his work is close to home, for families in Wise and Montague Counties, Irland makes a cross any time a story touches his heart.

He made one for the Little Elm Police Department in remembrance of Detective Jerry Walker. He’s made them for the families of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Earlier this month, he delivered several more to central Texas, in memory of the 13 people who died in a church bus crash.

“It just helps to know I helped somebody. Simple as that. They’re in a time when they need it,” Irland says.

When Nia Callan learned why Irland makes the crosses, it made her appreciate the gift even more.

“It just kind of drops you to your knees how one person can touch so many people’s lives. Not even know you. Never met you. I think he’s a God send for sure,” Callan says.

The Montague County Cross Man plans to continue his work.

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“The biggest display of love that I know of, took place on the cross. I just don’t know how you go wrong by putting crosses out there,” Irland says.