Located on a level landscape. The fortified parish church of Rathmore is within a subrectangular graveyard (dims c. 60m E-W; c. 50m N-S) defined by masonry walls. A church at Rathmore is listed in the ecclesiastical taxation (1302-06) of Pope Nicholas IV (Cal. doc. Ire. 5, 256). The manor of Rathmore was held by the Verdon family at the end of the 14th century but it passed by marriage to Sir John Cruise, who possessed it in 1406. Through the marriage of his daughter Mary with Sir Thomas Plunkett, the third son of Christopher Plunkett of Rathregan, it passed into the hands of the Plunketts, and this family held it into the 17th century when it passed to the family of Bligh. The present church was built in the 15th century, but the foundations of a narrower church were encountered in conservation works (Leask 1933, 156). The porch on the N side of the nave was added in 1519 by Sir Christopher Plunkett and his wife, Catherine Preston, according to an inscription incorporated in it (ibid. 153-4). Ussher (1622) describes the church and chancel as in ruins (Erlington 1847-64, 1, lxxxi). A list of pastors extends to 1678, suggesting it was used until then, after which Rathmore parish was united with Athboy. According to Dopping’s Visitation (1682-5) the church was dedicated to St. Lawrence, and this dedication is recorded as early as 1406 in a patent roll of Henry IV when Thomas Fourneys was rector (Pers. Com. Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich, 05/05/2021). The church was unrepaired according to Dopping, although the walls were standing and the font was present, but no comment is made about the graveyard (Ellison 1972, 12). The church was conserved in the 1930s (Leask 1933) and it is now a National Monument (Harbision 1970, 190).
The church survives almost complete, and is a divided nave (int. dims c. 13.1m E-W; c. 7m N-S) and chancel (int. dims c. 11.75m E-W; c. 7m N-S) structure, although the chancel arch (Wth 2.77m) is destroyed. The nave and chancel were constructed separately as part of a single project. There is a belfry tower (int. dims c. 2.1m x c. 2.1m; H c. 12m) attached to the W end of S nave wall, whose belfry stage with single plain opes at E and W and two pointed openings at N and S may be a later addition. The sacristy (int. dims c. 5.35m E-W; c. 3.35m N-S) is a three-storey building vaulted over the ground floor and attached to the N wall of the chancel. A mural stairs from the ground floor in its W wall leads to a priest’s dwelling overhead, with rectangular windows in the N and E walls and a hagioscope on the S wall, providing a view of the altar. From the S end of the W wall at the first floor a mural stairs mounts to the second floor, which is lit by small rectangular windows in the N and E walls. The floor of the second floor was supported on beams set directly into the N and S walls.
The W window of the church does not survive, but the nave has pointed chamfered doorways (Wth 1.03m) towards the W end of the N and S walls, that at the N with the porch (int. dims 2.12m N-S; 1.42m E-W) which was added in 1519, although only part of the W wall with its dedicatory Latin inscription in gothic lettering on a memorial plaque (Wth 0.98m x 0.38m) survives. There are two windows in the S nave wall, but only one, of two lights, in the N wall. The nave windows are all robbed. A mural stairs rising eastwards in the N wall gave access to a rood loft over the easternmost windows of the nave, evidenced by three beam-slots in the N and S walls and a window in the S wall. From the loft a newel stairs continued in the N wall to the wall-walk, which was continuous around the nave and chancel, interrupted only by the belfry tower, but only traces of the fortifications survive.
The chancel has a three-light decorated window in a pointed embrasure in the E wall with three cusped ogee-headed lights of equal height and further decoration above. Externally three crowned heads act as the stops on the hood moulding. There are twin-light cusped ogee-headed windows at the W end of the N and S walls of the chancel, both with square hood mouldings, that at S being blocked by the Bligh memorial. There is a smaller ogee-headed window towards the E end of the S wall, together with a triple sedellia that has fan-vaulting in three bays in its ceiling, and a piscina. The altar is attached to the E wall, and some side-panels decorated with ecclesiastics and eight heraldic shields, including those of Plunkett, Fitzgerald, Talbot, Eustace, Bellew, Birmingham and Fleming, are present. The stem (diam. 0.38m; H 0.55m) of a highly decorated font was in the church until it was stolen but quickly recovered in May 2013, and it is not present at the moment, although part of the bowl is affixed to the N wall of the nave. The eight panels of the stem depict the baptism of Christ along with ecclesiastics and saints in ogee-headed niches (Roe 1968, 92-99).
The double effigy (dims 2.15m x 1.15m) of a lady and her knight is reconstructed in the sacristy. It is damaged and the inscription on its chamfered edge is too poor to read, but it is probably a representation of Mary Cruise and Sir Thomas Plunkett (d. 1471) (FitzGerald 1908, 429; Hunt 1974, 211-12). The graveslab (dims 2.07m x 1.08m) of Lady Ann Marwood (d. 1485) and Sir Alexander Plunkett (d. 1503) is in front of the sedillia. The graveslab (dims 2.04m x 0.91m) of Sir Christopher Plunkett (d. 1531) and Katherine Preston is a large stone with a stepped Calvary, the symbols of the Passion and two heraldic shields. It is adjacent the N end of the altar. The Bligh chest tomb is reconstructed in the SW angle of the chancel. The slab (max. surviving dims 1.45m x 0.86m) is broken and commemorates John Bligh who obtained the lordship of Rathmore in 1657 and died in 1666. A unique stone is the labyrinth stone (dims 0.45m x 0.37m; T 0.16m), one of the few such representations in Ireland, and now on the N wall of the nave. Outside the N wall of the church is a cross erected by Sir Christopher Plunkett and his wife, Katherine Preston, in 1519. It consists of the base (dims 0.6m x 0.5m; H 0.33m) with an inscription and parts of the lower shaft (dims 0.22m x 0.15m; H 0.44m) with three figures in niches, and upper shaft (dims 0.32m x 0.2m; H 0.32m) with raised mouldings that might be from another cross (King 1984, 101-02).
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.
See attached view from the W.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of revision: 24 June, 2014
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.