Standing tall and proud on the summit of Skreen Hill, overlooking the more famous Hill of Tara, is the site of an ancient church associated with St Columba. From the hill there are spectacular views of the plains of the ancient kingdom of Meath.Located on the summit of Skreen Hill with wide views out in every direction; the S-N ridge of Tara is the most prominent feature visible c. 3.5km to the W. An early monastery was established at Achall (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 44), which was named after a daughter of Cairpre Nia Fer, a mythological king of Tara. According to the late 10th or early 11th century Dindsheanchas Érann a rath, by which is probably meant a mound, was built over her grave on a hill east of Tara (Bhreathnach 1996, 38-9). At some point the shrine of St Colum Cille, or a part of his relics which had been brought to Ireland from Iona for safe-keeping, was kept here. As a consequence the name changed to Scrín Colum Chille, from which the name Skryne or Skreen is derived. Under this name it was plundered in 974 by Domnaill Mic Muircertaigh, who was attempting to dominate Meath and secure the High Kingship for himself (ibid. 41-3). The monastery was attacked or plundered in 986, 1037, 1058, and in 1127 when the shrine was stolen but returned soon afterwards (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 152-3). The monastery was sacked by the Uí Briuin in 1157, but the community continued even under Adam de Feipo, who had been granted the barony of Skreen by Hugh de Lacy c. 1172. Adam founded a church of St Nicholas at Skreen (ME032-047010-), perhaps in opposition to the old foundation, and endowed it on his brother, Thomas. When Thomas joined the Cistercians of St Mary’s in Dublin (DU018-020048-) c. 1186, all the tithes and privileges of the large parish of Skreen were transferred to the monks (Hickey 1952; O'Neill 2002, 12-4). Skreen and its successor parishes were still amongst the possessions of St Mary's at its dissolution in 1540 (White 1943, 17-20). The old monastery dedicated to St Columba seems to have become the parochial centre soon after, and St Nicholas’ is not recorded again after a charter of Adam’s son, Richard, and it probably became a chapel attached to the motte (ME032-047001-) and tower house (ME032-047002-). Around 1400 the Skreen estate passed to Thomas Marward by marriage to the heiress, Katherine de Feipo, and c. 1600 it came into the possession of William Nugent when he married Janet Marward (Hickey 1973). A house of Augustinian friars dedicated to the Holy Trinity was established at Skreen in 1341 by Francis de Feipo, and there are references to it in the 15th century (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 301-02). At the Suppression in 1540 the church had already been thrown down, and only the belfry and a dormitory survived, but it had hardly any other property (White 1943, 306-07). The location of this site is not known but it may have been a chantry attached to the parish church of St Columba. In 1533 Peter Wallis was the rector of the parish and the abbot of Skreen (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 274-5), Ussher (1622) describes the parish church and chancel as a ruin (Erlington 1847-64, 1, lxxvi), and Dopping (1682-5) says the church was unroofed but the chancel was repaired. It had a full supply of liturgical necessities including a font, and the graveyard was enclosed, half with a masonry wall and half with an earthen bank (Ellison 1972, 6). Isaac Butler writing c. 1749 describes the chancel as roofed (1892, 22), and Grose (1791, 2, 16) depicts the roofed chancel as wider than the roofless nave. The chancel was probably used for Protestant worship until a new church for the Skreen union was built at Lismullin (ME032-022----) in 1809-11 (Lewis 1837, 2, 559). The church is a National Monument (Harbison 1970, 191) and is within a subrectangular graveyard (dims c. 55m E-W at S to c. 85m E-W at N; c. 65-75m N-S) defined by masonry walls. It is an undivided nave and chancel structure (int. dims 36.3m E-W; 6.47m N-S) with a mural stairs to a rood screen and an arched tomb recess (Wth 2.5m; D 1.18m) in a projection (dims 6.9m E-W; 0.72m N-S) on the outer face of the N wall. The screen would separate the nave (int. dim. 21m E-W) and chancel (int. dim. 13.3m E-W), and the pointed doorway (Wth 0.854m; H 1.92m) to the stairs is highly decorated. There are opposing doorways in the N and S walls towards the W end of the nave, that on the S with some of the decorated architrave. Three pointed window embrasures survive on the S wall with evidence of a fourth, but there were none on the N wall. (Westropp 1894, 229-31) The W tower (ext. dims 6.05m E-W; 4.3m E-W) has a base-batter and is vaulted over the ground floor, which is accessed from the nave through a pointed doorway that is kept permanently locked. A newel stairs at the SE angle leads to the first floor, entered through a lintelled doorway from the stairs. This floor has three lights and a blocked doorway to the roof space of the nave. A mural stairs in the S wall leads through a lintelled doorway at the SW angle to the second floor that has small lights in the W and N walls. The third stage is the belfry stage, which originally had two openings on each wall, but only the N ones survive complete, with a re-used cross-slab in the mullion. (Bradley and King 1985, 134-5) The cross-slab (dims 1.4m x 0.18m; T 0.2m) has been modified to be used as part of the mullion, and is the only physical evidence of the early church. The decoration is part of a Greek cross within three incised circles (ext. diam. 0.34m) (Fenwick 1996). A miniature sculpture of an ecclesiastic that was in the graveyard is now over the S doorway and is dated by Hunt (1974, 1, 213) to the 14th century. It is probably from the pier of a cloister arcade. A graveslab with the head of a man in relief is inside the ground floor of the tower and can be dated to the first quarter of the 15th century (ibid.). The ground floor of the tower also has a sandstone font, which is damaged but appears to be rectangular with chamfered angles (dim. c. 0.6m; H c. 0.5m). However, it morphs into a circular form at the bottom of the basin, so that the panels on the large sides appear to be D-shaped, suspended from the rim. There is a simple cross (H 1.5m; span 0.4m) with a rectangular cross-section (dims 0.28m x 0.16m) in the graveyard. The arms are short (L 0.06m) and there is a worn crucifixion in relief on the W side. The cross is probably 16th or 17th century in date. Isaac Butler, writing c. 1749, describes the Marward graveslab (dims 2.23m x 0.91m; T 0.15m) as within the church (1892, 22), and it is now against the surviving E wall of the chancel. It was commissioned by William Nugent and his wife Janet Marward to commemorate her father, Walter, who died c. 1564, and her grandmother, Maud Cusack, nee Darcy. Maud’s first husband was James Marward and she was the mother of Walter, but later she became the wife of Sir Thomas Cusack, whose monument is at Trevet church (ME038-017----), c. 5km to the SE. During his lifetime Sir Thomas acquired a large estate from the dissolution of the Lismullen nunnery (ME032-024----) c. 2km to the WNW of Skreen. The stone was sculpted by John Cusack, the fourth son of Sir Thomas and Dame Maud, in 1611. (Hickey 1973) 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 the attached view of the S doorway and sculpted stone; and general views from the NE and S. Compiled by: Michael Moore Date of revision: 23 January 2015
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.