Augustinian nuns had a convent of the Holy Trinity at Lismullin (Hadcock 1964, 130). It was a joint foundation c. 1240 of a brother and sister, Richard and Avice de la Corner (Hall 2003, 60). The foundation of Lismullin may have been part of Bishop Richard’s ambition to tighten episcopal control over the spiritualities of his diocese and it became one of the most successful of the nunneries in the medieval colony of Ireland (ibid. 86-7). The site of Lismullin itself was probably already church property before the arrival of the Anglo Normans, as land that could have been at Lismullin was included in possessions confirmed to the nunnery of Clonard (ME047-021----) in 1195 (Brady 1960, 5). There are frequent notices of the enclosed state of the nuns at Lismullin (Kelly 1961, 54-5) and it may have been a double monastery up to c. 1300 where canons are recorded as conducting the temporal business of the convent, but thereafter attorneys were increasingly employed (Hall 1999, 60-2). In 1260 the nuns were described as being enclosed since their foundation (Hall 2003, 160). In 1427 the Archbishop of Armagh, while on visitation at the convent, ordered the nuns to observe the rules of enclosure, and the gates and other places in the convent were ordered shut (ibid. 161). A complex legal case involving ownership of land at Dunsink, Co. Dublin, where their opponents were the Benedictine house of Little Marvern in England and their priory at Castleknock (DU017-008001-), continued from at least 1297 into the early 15th century when Lismullin secured a new and more secure title to the property (Hall 1999, 61-2). The complement at Lismullin was listed as the prioress with 13 nuns and a total household of 40 around the time of the plague (1349), but it was reduced to the prioress with seven nuns and a total household of 32 in 1367. The nuns were drawn mainly from the local Meath community and the names Cusack, Barnwell, Eustace, and Birmingham feature prominently amongst those of the prioresses (ibid. 67-8). (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 322)
At the dissolution in 1539-40 Margaret Cusack, who had represented the abbess of Odder (ME032-078----) in 1535, was prioress of Lismullin and facilitated its surrender to the Commissioners, who included her brother, Sir Thomas Cusack, later Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He leased from the Crown the nuns’ estate, which was quite extensive (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 386-7). The convent was described as having a church, cloister, dormitory and other buildings as well as 167 acres in demesne at Lismullin. Six closes (small fields) of pasture amounting to 6 acres were called le hyghe parke, le lowe parke, le horse parke, the mote parke, le kyll parke and le woode parke, and were probably close to the church precinct. Sixty acres and a water mill that is well-documented (Kelly 1961, 49-61) were held at Harestown Barrett (Blundelstown), which is just to the W of Lismullin. The manor of Lismullin had four free tenants who held 100 acres in Blundelston, 40 in Loughton and 80 in Balgyth (both now the S part of Monktown townland), and there were 14 cottiers. There were also the unidentified villages of Betaghton (Batterstown? or morel likely Baytown 184 acres) and Cloaghan (120 acres). The manor of Belgrecourt (Belgree) in Kilbride parish, Dunboyne barony, had 134 acres, Powderlough (80 acres), Ballintry (30 acres), Ballymacarney (100 acres) and Irishtown (38 acres). There were other possessions in Westmeath, Louth, Dublin and Kildare. (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 286-7; White 1943, 255-8)
The site of the convent is located in a gently undulating landscape towards the bottom of the gentle N-facing slope of Tara Hill, with a small S-N stream just to the E. Indistinct earthworks were identified on site including a buried cobbled surface (L c. 8m) with the base of a wall at its S end and animal bones, which were visible in a section on the E side of the stream. Extensive earthworks were recently identified on LIDaR coverage (pers. comm. Dr Steve Davis, UCD). A church with a chancel can be identified tentatively, with ranges of buildings to its S on the E, S and W sides of what could be a cloister. Outside this are rectangular paddocks (dims c. 60m x c. 60m), which could be the closes described in the extents and which cover in total c. 16 acres (c. 6.5 ha).
The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987). In this instance the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research.
Compiled by : Michael Moore
Date of revision: 27 January, 2015Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.