The medieval parish church of Athboy was dedicated to St. James, and the names of many of its clergy are known (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 164-5). It was probably established by 1200, but the earliest direct references to St James’ date from c. 1400 (Bradley and King 1985, 20). A church at Athboy is listed in the ecclesiastical taxation (1302-06) of Pope Nicholas IV (Cal. doc. Ire. 5, 256). Ussher (1622) describes the church as ruined but the chancel was repaired (Erlington 1847-64, 1, lxxxii), and Dopping (1682-5) describes the church as repaired since 1679, but of the chancel, only its walls were standing. Three bells had been hung and the graveyard was enclosed (Ellison 1972, 9). The graveyard is a subrectangular or D-shaped area (max. dims c. 90m NE-SW; c. 70m NW-SE) defined by masonry walls, that on the straight SE side having part of the town wall (ME029-023001-) at its base (L c. 75m). The present church is cross-shaped with pointed windows and was built in 1772, according to an inscription in a porch (Moore c. 1975, 12). However, the round-headed windows of the nave and western vestry may belong to an earlier period of building. The hood-moulding and decorated labels of the E window and the stone head over it probably came from the medieval church.
The tower (ext. dims 6.75m E-W; 6.45m N-S) with a base-batter and a projection (dims 2.75m N-S; 2.5m E-W) at the NE corner to carry the newel stairs is situated just to the NW of the present church, which probably occupies the site of the medieval one. The tower has five floors and the E-W vault over the ground floor has wicker-centring, but its only light is from a round-headed window in the W wall. There is a string-course externally over the second floor and a grotesque head that is almost eroded away is on the outer face of the N wall. A vault of stone and brick is built over the third floor. The large pointed twin-light openings at the fourth or belfry stage are modern, and the bases of these openings have been filled in. The plain battlements above are also recent. A fragment of wall (L 2.7m E-W) S of church may be part of the older structure. (Bradley and King 1985, 20-1)
An early 16th century double effigy tomb and three fragments of its surround (Hunt 1974, 202-03) that were in the graveyard beside tower have been taken into the church and are now displayed in the vestry. There is a 17th century graveslab (dims 2.3m x 1.15m; T 13cm) of James Talbot in the graveyard, although the inscription (FitzGerald 1908-09, 420) is no longer legible. The chest-tomb of Cusack and Lutwidge, dated 1702 abuts the fragment of wall in the graveyard (ibid. 420-1). Other graveslabs that were recorded in the 1740s (Butler 1892-4, 165) cannot be identified. Cogan (1862-70, 1, 163) noted a font in the graveyard that is no longer present, but the font now in church appears to be modern (Roe 1968, 109). There are the remnants of a field system (ME029-023008-) just S of the town wall.
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: 2 January 2014Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.