The town of Athboy is situated in a level low-lying landscape on the W side of a NNW-SSE section of the Athboy River, and close to the headwaters of the river which flows into the Boyne c. 3km above Trim. It is located about half way between the towns of Kells and Trim. The name is derived from the Gaelic Ath Buidhe – yellow ford – so the crossing point of the river was an important part of its development, and it may have had old associations with the prehistoric earthworks on Tlachta (Hill of Ward) c. 2 km to the ENE (ME030-001001-). Ath Buidhe Tlachtga was the scene of a battle between the Norse of Dublin and Maelseachlainn, King of Meath, in 1022 (AFM), which the Norse lost, and a Church synod, convened by Ruaraí O’Conchbhair King of Connaught, was held here in 1167 (AFM). (Bradley and King 1985, 16)
During the period of the Anglo-Norman settlement Athboy became the centre of the barony of Lune, which was granted by Hugh de Lacy to William de Muset in the 1170s, and it passed on his death in 1213 briefly to the Tuites. The de Loundres (London) family held it until 1386 when it was divided between the Preston and Brown families (ibid. 16-17). A castle, probably a motte, was being fortified at Athboy in 1211-12 but its location is not known (Graham 1974, 43; 1980, 47). The ‘Castletown of Athboy’ is constantly referred to in the Gormanston Register but the location of a castle is not known. The date of the foundation of the town is not known with any certainty. A grant of murage was made in 1306, but the first mention of the borough is in 1337-8. However, a provost - one of a town’s officials - is recorded in 1329 and in 1407 the provost and commoners received a Charter from Henry IV granting particular privileges, including the right to form a guild of merchants. This was an important concession as the town was at the edge of the Pale and in 1423 twenty shillings in expenses were collected for the defence of the town against O’Connor Offaly. The town was burned by O’Connor in 1443, and in 1446 and 1462 further murage grants were made. In 1598 Athboy was listed amongst the walled towns of Meath, and in 1643 it was captured by Owen Roe O’Neill. There are few details available about the subsequent history of the town but it may have been quite prosperous. The Civil Survey (1654) describes it as having thirteen castles, which are probably merchants’ houses, 73 holdings and gardens, an abbey, a church, a bridge and one stone house (Simington 1940, 210). (Bradley and King 1985, 17-18)
The town occupied a considerable area of at least 10 ha (c. 25 acres), judging by the burgage plots depicted on the 1836 edition of the OS 6-inch map, and these were all built on either side of the NE-SW main route through the town, consisting of Upper Bridge Street, Main Street or Market Street and what is now called O’Growney Street, formerly Chapel Street. The course of the town wall was probably at the distal ends of the burgage plots fronting onto this thoroughfare, which is unusually wide for a medieval street in the central, Main St. part, where the markets were undoubtedly held. A section of town wall (L c. 100m; H c. 2-3m; T 0.9m) survives on the SE side, SW of the graveyard of St James’s Church, with one open-backed tower (int. diam. c. 2.45m; ext. diam. c. 4.4m) projecting from it. A fosse outside the wall (L 26m; Wth of top 3.6m; ext. D 2.6m) could be a recent feature but it is probably on the line of an original one. Just W of the surviving tower the wall turned WNW to O’Growney Street as recovered in excavation as a robber trench (O’Hara 2004). No other towers or gates are known, but gates would have been needed to access the town from the NE, NW, SW and SE along the main roads (Bradley and King 1985, 19-21). Within the town are the remains of the parish church (ME029-023003-) and there was a Carmelite friary (ME029-023014-) at Athboy, but its location is not even known. Excavation within the town has produced some evidence of settlement in the form of pits (ME029-023011-) inside the line of the town wall (O’Hara 2004) and evidence of medieval occupation has been found on the E bank of the river (Campbell 1998).
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload: 28 February 2019Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.