Located in deciduous woodland and situated in a fold towards the bottom of the steep S-facing slope of Slane Hill, with a NW-SE section of the River Boyne c. 50m to the SW. Sometime before 1512 Christopher Fleming, lord of Slane, and his wife, Elizabeth Stuckly, granted St. Erc’s hermitage to Fr. Malachy O’Bryen and Br. Donagh O’Bryen of the Franciscan Third Order, who were already living there (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 274-5). This suggests that there was an older structure at this location. At the Suppression in 1540 it was described as a church and chancel with a belfry, a cottage and 1 acre of land (White 1943, 313), but it had no other possessions.
The church is almost complete, apart from much of the S nave wall, and consists of a nave (int. dims c. 10.8m E-W; c. 4.65m N-S at E to c. 5.33m N-S at W) and chancel (int. dims c. 8.8m E-W; c. 4.42m N-S) separated by a tower, with a two-storey dwelling (int. dims c. 4.06m E-W; c. 3.5m N-S) attached to the S of the tower. The dwelling appears to be the earliest structure onto which the tower was added, with the nave and chancel built subsequently (Channing 1995, 12). The only feature on the N wall of the nave is a possible window embrasure towards the E end, and the N walls are cut into the hill-slope or retaining slip. All the small lights are round-headed.
Because of the hillslope, the floor levels in the dwelling are lower than the corresponding floors of the tower. The ground floor of the dwelling has a blocked window in the W wall with a doorway at its N end, which may be an insertion (ibid. 11, 14). There is a fireplace and a blocked window in the S wall and a blocked window in the E wall. Its first floor, accessed from the mural stairs in the S wall of the tower, has a window in the W wall, a window in the S wall, a garderobe at the SE angle, and a fireplace in the E wall. Its floor was supported on corbels in the W wall and rebates on the S and E walls. Gables rise over the E and W walls, with an attic light in the W wall.
There is a narrow E-W passage (Wth c. 2.2m) through the tower with a narrow pointed arch or doorway on the W side, flanked by niches to the N and S on the W face of the piers. There is a rounded arch and vault on the E side of the passage rising over the first floor. A lintelled doorway from the chancel leads to a vaulted room in the NE angle of the tower which has a light in the N wall. A lintelled doorway on the S side of the passage leads to the ground floor of the dwelling and to a mural stairs rising eastwards, which gives access to the first floor of the dwelling. There is a hagioscope or squint at the head of the stairs, which provides a view of the chancel, and which appears to be inserted (ibid. 14). On the N side of the passage a lintelled doorway leads to a newel stairs that rises to the first floor under the vault of the tower. The first floor of the tower was supported on four corbels in both the N and S walls and has windows on the E and W walls. A passage at the E end of the N wall leads to a garderobe in the NE angle over the vaulted chamber accessed from the chancel. From the W end of the S wall of the first floor of the tower a mural stairs rises eastwards to the second floor of the tower over the vault, which has evidence of a fireplace at the NW angle.
The chancel has two twin-light ogee-headed windows with external square hood mouldings and glazing grooves and bars. The E window (Wth 1.8m) is destroyed, although Westropp (1901, 428) says it was pointed, and there is an inaccessible vault underneath the floor of the chancel, which is probably related to the Moore tomb. A doorway that was once pointed with a hood moulding, and which is located towards the W end of the S wall is the only feature in the nave, apart from two lights in the W wall and a third at a higher level in the W gable, which may be a single opening in the ivy-covered belfry.
A small carved piece of limestone (L 0.84m; Wth 0.48m; H 0.2-0.32m) with a representation of St. Catherine of Alexandria holding her iconic wheel is in the tower (FitzGerald 1913), and the stone, known as the apostle stone (L 1.75m; Wth 0.4-0.5m; H 0.44m), which Hickey (1975) demonstrates may have come from St. Mary’s abbey in Navan (ME025-024----), is c. 35m W of the church (Channing 1995, 3). Against the N wall of the chancel is the chest tomb of Ellenor Barnwall and Penelope Moore, dated 1667, the first and second wives of Randal Conyngham, Lord of Slane. A fragment of the shaft (H 0.45m) of a late medieval cross with sculptures of a crucifixion, a Madonna or Pieta, an ecclesiastic, and St. Andrew was missing since the 1970s (King 1984, 103), but was rediscovered in 1985 (Irish Times 26/04/1985, 7) and is now in the Slane branch of the Meath County Library (ME019-079----).
A clean-up of the monument in 1994-5 clarified a lot of the structure’s history and excavation (95E0026) at the E end of the nave uncovered paving inside the tower and disarticulated burials in the nave, although there is no formal enclosed graveyard. Paving was also uncovered outside the external doorway in the W wall of the dwelling (Channing 1995, 14-6). (Trench 1976; Bradley and King 1985, 141-44)
The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987). In certain instances the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload/revision: 15 July 2014Description Source: Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage