The abbey of St. Mary at Navan may have been founded before the Anglo-Norman settlement of Meath, as an abbot witnesses a charter of 1174-84 and it seems to have been well established by then. John de Courcy confirmed the church of St. Mary’s to the Augustinian canons in 1189, and abbots are mentioned sporadically thereafter. In 1450 abbot John Bole obtained indulgences to fund the adornment of the abbey and the following year managed to appropriate the church at Ardbraccan in an effort to restore its finances. He became archbishop of Armagh in 1457 when Peter White succeeded as abbot. In 1488 abbot Richard Nangle was implicated in the Lambert Simnel fiasco but received a pardon. (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 224-9; Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 189-90).
At the Suppression in 1539-40 the church was declared to have been parochial from time immemorial, although the buildings were ruinous, including a fortified structure that was integral to the defences of the town. It owned three mills and 140 acres in demesne. They held a castle at Newcastle and 14 named cottiers provided rents and service on the demesne. A further 60 acres were held in demesne at Robinrath. Sixty acres were owned at the unknown manor of Angevylston (Allenstown?), 110 acres at Foghan Hill and 40 acres at Knockamore (Knockumber?). There were smaller individual properties, and they had the profits of the churches of Navan, Ardbrackan, Kilshine, and Liscartan. They also held property in Co. Louth. Although much of this was waste, in terms of land ownership St. Mary’s was one of the wealthiest abbeys in Meath (White 1943, 250-55).
The abbey was located N of Navan, between the town and the NW-SE River Blackwater. Although the Visitation Books of bishops Montgomery in 1615 and Ussher in 1622 describe the church in good repair (Ellison 1963, 34) bishop Dopping’s Visitation (1682-5) records the church as in ruins since 1641, although surrounded by a stone wall (Ellison 1972, 10). In 1693 Dopping records the inscriptions of many monuments in the church (Reynell 1888-91). It was transformed into a cavalry barracks subsequently, and Cogan (1862-70, 1, 228) deplores the abuse it suffered at the hands of the military. However, Hickey (1975) avers that carved stones from the graveyard could have been moved to Slane (ME019-021----; ME019-026001-) and some others are in the grounds of St Mary’s Roman Catholic church (ME025-044020-). The font (Roe 1968, 89-91) is now in St Mary's Church of Ireland church (ME025-044009-). No trace of the abbey can now be identified, although its site is known. (Bradley and King 1985, 99-100)
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 revision: 17 December, 2014Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.