Situated on a slight W-facing slope of a rise on the N bank of the River Boyne with a NW-SE section of the river c. 100m to the SW. St Mary's Augustinian Abbey has been thoroughly described (Potterton 2005, 294-318), and this is summarised here. The Yellow Steeple is a national monument and it can be accessed on foot from High St. to the W by Abbey Lane, or across a footbridge from a carpark at Frenche's Lane beside the castle (ME036-048004-). (Harbison 1970, 198).
The abbey was probably established before the 1140s when it adopted the rule of Arrouaise (Hadcock 1964, 125). In any case it was re-dedicated by Hugh de Lacy before 1186. Many of the abbots are known from the middle of the 14th century onwards (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 195-6). St Mary’s was burned in 1368 and the present structure may have been built after that catastrophe. The church had a fabulous statue of the Blessed Virgin from the late 14th century at least, which was greatly venerated. Miracles were recorded through its intercession, but it was despoiled at the first opportunity by the reformers c. 1538 (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 299-302; Potterton 2005, 306-10). However, the image may have survived until 1641 (MacLeod 1947, 54). The abbey was suppressed in1539 and an extent of 1540 declared the church to be parochial and apparently intact (White 1943, 302-03). The buildings were still intact in 1565 when ‘the church, bell tower, cemetery, cloister, and dormitory’ are mentioned, but only the tower seems to have survived a siege in 1649 (Potterton 2005, 305-6).
At the Suppression the abbey had 100 acres of demesne in the Porch Field just to the E, which is still an open park at the centre of the expanding town of Trim. It owned two watermills on the river and 60 tenements in and around the town. Further afield it had 140 acres at Ladyrath in Rathkenny parish; 140 acres at the Grange of Trim, in Scurlockstown parish; 147 acres in Creroge; 32 in Rathnally; 84 in Freffans; 46 in Ardgreagh; 66 in Chanonton (Shanlothe?); 10 in Stonehall; and smaller holdings in other unidentified locations making a total of over 800 acres. It also held the churches of Kildalkey and Clonard (White 1943, 303-05). By 1542 most of this property was let to Sir Anthony St Ledger, who served as Lord Deputy three times in the period 1540-1556, and by the early 17th century much of it was granted to Sir Thomas Ashe, who is commemorated in a graveslab (ME036-048070-) at St Patrick's church. By the late 18th century the church was reduced to what remains today and had acquired the name ‘Yellow Steeple’. (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 298-305)
Only the E wall and part of the S wall of the church tower (int. dims 6.6m WNW-ESE; 5.55m NNE-SSW; ext. dims c. 10m WNW-ESE; c. 11.3m NNE-SSW) survive to seven storeys and the parapet, with attached towers at each corner. Each floor above the first is recessed internally on the E and W walls to provide a purchase for the floor above and to lessen the weight of the walls. The tower is composed almost entirely of a white limestone with a fine finish. There are five external string-courses, the walls being recessed above each on all the walls. Butler writing in 1854, quoted by Cogan (ibid. 305), says the tower is ‘125 feet high (c. 38m)’, which makes it probably the tallest and finest surviving medieval church tower in the country. The reconstructed doorway on the S side has re-used the head of a twin-light ogee-headed window and this doorway communicated with the church, which was to the S and has been completely removed, by a passage (L 3.6m) through the S wall. There is a long peep-hole or hagioscope through the S wall, which emerges on the S face of the wall in an arched recess for an ornate canopied tomb, but no dressed stone from it survives. This suggests that the tower stands on the N side of the chancel.
The E-W vault over the ground floor of the tower is destroyed, but the SW turret contains a newel stairs to the upper floors, which is permanently locked. A doorway at S from the stairs led to a rood loft. The first floor has a single ogee-headed light under a square hood-moulding in the E wall. At the second floor there is an ogee-headed light in the E wall and a small rectangular doorway in the S wall. This provided access to the wall walk of the church, and a gargoyle drains to the E. The third floor has a plain light in the S wall. The fourth floor has an ogee-headed light on the S wall and lintelled doorways to chambers, probably garderobes or newel stairs, in the NE and SE turrets. The rib of an arch springs from the centre of the E wall but the vault does not survive. The fifth stage is the belfry stage and it has a large pointed opening in the E wall with a mullion and transom, which would be repeated on the other walls. There is a tall, narrow light over the belfry stage in the E wall at the sixth floor, and the N and S walls are corbelling in, probably to support the parapet which does not survive. However, turrets rise over the corners, that at the NE with a lintelled doorway.
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: 17 February 2015Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.