Situated on a level landscape on the N bank of the River Boyne, with a NW-SE section of the stream c. 500m to the SW. It was just outside the walls of Trim on the N side. A full record has been made (Potterton 2005, 318-31), of which this is a summary. The Dominican friary, dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was founded in 1263 by Geoffrey de Geneville, who became a friar there in 1308 and was buried there in 1314 (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 230). The Hussey family of Galtrim (ME043-002----) were generous benefactors and were frequently interred here but were not the founders. A synod of the Irish church was held there in 1291 (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 305-6), and Dominican chapters were held there in 1285, 1300 and 1315 (Conwell 1872-3, 388-90). Parliament even met here in 1446 and 1491 (Hennessy 2004, 10). In 1484 a legal case involving 70 acres adjoining the friary that had been granted by Richard, Duke of York, was settled to the friars' satisfaction (Potterton 2005, 323-4).
The friary was than in decline and being dismantled even before the Suppression. An extent of 1540 suggests that the church, cloister, hall, kitchen, garden, the cemetery and an orchard, covering 4 acres in total, were already dilapidated or dismantled. The only land remaining were a close of 3 acres, 63 acres in the commonage of Trim, and 6 acres at Tyllaughard (Tullyard) (White 1943, 308-09). The land was acquired by Sir Thomas Cussack of Cushinstown and Lismullin, who was accumulating other monastic estates in Meath. The Dominicans remained in the vicinity of Trim and early in the 18th century they leased a farm at Donore (ME041-007----) where they continued a community life (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 307-10). (Fenning 1962)
Something of the walls survived down to c. 1760, but Austin Cooper in 1795 could see only a few heaps of stone (Price 1942, 99). An undeveloped green area of about 5 acres (c. 2.2 ha) within the expanding town of Trim has some earthworks, including a double bank and intervening ditch forming the E and N sides of a square, probably enclosing the precinct, while smaller rectangular earthworks with masonry fragments mark the site of the buildings. Archaeological testing (E002398) at the W edge recovered burials and a well (Seaver 2011). Archaeological testing (E004127) beginning in 2010 as part of a research and training program, and guided by a resistivity survey identified the N wall of the church with ancillary walls (H 0.75-1.5m), but the associated deposits related largely to the destruction phases of the friary (O’Carroll 2013).
Since then the annual, community-based excavation seasons, conducted by local people and students from around the world, have revealed much of the S range where the church is located, as well as the E range and the cloister N of the church (Mandal et al. 2015). The church (ext. dims 50m E-W; 8.5m N-S) was divided at the centre into an equally large nave (L 22m) and chancel by an inserted fourteenth – fifteenth century tower, the piers of which survive (H 1.5m). A S aisle and a side chapel were probably added at the same time. A doorway from the S aisle led to the medieval cemetery where burial continued in the post-abandonment period, especially for marginalised members of society, including infants. At least 148 burials have been recorded from the cemetery, or the church where the burial of privileged donors took place. The church would have been a magnificent structure, the walls being plastered inside and out, with painted bands of decoration on the inside. It was roofed with slates, and over 10,000 pieces of window glass has been recovered.
The cloister garth or garden (dims c. 20m x c. 20m) was bordered by a wall supporting the arcade, with a path 8 feet (2.44m) wide around it. The arcade, dating to the late thirteenth century, was supported on pilasters of polished Purbeck marble from Dorset. The chapter house on the E side of the cloister was extended in the fourteenth century when a scriptorium was added to the N of it where a decorated book clasp, a bone pointer and other implements connected with writing were found. A second courtyard, as large as the cloister, was added to its N, and the area between these and the boundary of the friary precinct (ME036-048024-) to the E was divided into four plots defined by earthen banks. These were the vegetable gardens of the friary, and evidence of wheat, barley, oats, rye, beans, peas, wild mustard and weeds of cultivation have been found. (O’Carroll 2020)
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: 20 March 2015
Amended: 18 November 2020
This monument is subject to a preservation order made under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2014 (PO no. 4/1972).
O’Carroll, F. 2020 Black Friary, Trim, Co. Meath. Archaeology Ireland Heritage Guide No. 90. Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.