Situated at the S edge of a level landscape, and at the crest of a SW-facing slope down to a WSW-ENE section of the River Boyne. In 1206 Bishop Simon de Rochford founded the Augustinian priory of SS Peter and Paul at Newtown by Trim within the protective ambit afforded by the castle (ME036-048004-) at Trim. In 1216 a synod was held there, and Simon was buried in it in 1224 (Conwell 1872-4, 383). Since Clonard, which had been the diocesan centre, was burned in 1200, the church at Newtown began to fulfill that function. Although a licence to build a cathedral was granted in 1255 to Bishop Hugh de Tachmon, one was never constructed, and the church of the canons assumed the place. An attempt to replace the canons with a Dean and chapter of secular clergy in 1397 failed. The priory was of the congregation of St Victor, who maintained a stricter rule, and the names of many of the priors are known (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 312-15). Bishop Edward Stapples, who was appointed in 1529, supported the policy of suppressing the monasteries, but he was replaced by William Walsh under Queen Mary in 1554, to be replaced by Hugh Brady under Elizabeth in 1563. By then the priory was dissolved and the church in ruins. (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 97-8; 190)
According to an extent made in 1540 materials from ‘the cross church’ had been used to repair Portlester Castle (ME035-020----) or sold, and what was left was only fit to repair the nearby church of Newtown by Trym (ME036-049005-). The demesne contained over 170 acres, largely in Kiltoome (104) and Clonboynagh (33), and had a mill on the Boyne. There was a total of over 300 acres in Moyvally, Co. Kildare, Enneskoe (Enniscoffey, Co. Westmeath), and the unknown Ballyhake and Keynghan. The income from the churches of Newtown Clonbun, Kilbeg with Robertstown, Enneskoe, Churchtown, Rathayn (Rataine), Athse (Assey), Rathregan, and others not identified belonged to the priory. (White 1943, 292-8)
The church was one of the most impressive structures in the country when it was built in the early 13th century and it is aligned ENE-WSW, parallel with the river. It is an undifferentiated nave and chancel structure (ext. dims 45.9m E-W; 12.9m N-S) with putlog-holes in the walls. There was a transept to the N (int. dim. 8.1m E-W; ext. dim. 10.75m E-W) of unknown length, and a S transept (int. dim. 11.5m N-S; ext. dim. 13.25m N-S) whose W wall is incorporated into the graveyard wall but the E wall is not visible. The S wall of the S transept is visible as a foundation and there was a newel stairs at the SE angle. A dwarf wall E of the crux separates the chancel (int. dims 23.7m E-W; 9.25m N-S) from the nave. The chancel was vaulted over three very high lancet windows in both the N and S walls where the scars of the vaults are visible. Originally the E wall probably had three lancets, one of which can still be seen blocked up at its S end, but these were replaced with a large decorated window (Wth c. 2.75m) that has led to the collapse of most of the wall. There is a string-course beneath the windows internally and a large arched tomb recess (Wth 2.2m; H 1.9m; D 0.85m) and blocked round-headed doorway (Wth 1.05m; H 1.8m) are in the N wall. There is a double round-headed sedilia in the S wall. A dwarf wall 3m inside the E wall indicates that the altar was raised on a dais.
The nave probably had similar windows to the chancel and there are inter-mural passages at two levels in the long walls. The original church was shortened at the W end when a new W wall with a decorated pointed doorway (Wth 1.7m) was put in with a large rectangular window of some form overhead that is now removed. Traces of fan-vaulting survive in the nave, probably dating from this second phase of development. There are north and south doorways just W of the junction with the transepts, but there is no evidence that this National Monument had aisles (Harbison 1970, 198-9).
The S transept led directly to the E range of the priory that has completely disappeared apart from its W wall which incorporates the base of the original doorway (Wth 1.7m) to the chapter-house decorated with three orders, and a large garderobe chute that would have served the dormitory overhead. Only the S and W walls of the S range (ext. dims 29m E-W; 14.6m N-S) survive consisting of the vaulted undercroft that is now destroyed and what would have been the refectory on the ground floor. A two-storey structure (ext. dims 13.85m E-W; 9,15m N-S) on the W side of the cloister garth has an E-W barrel-vault, now destroyed, and a newel stairs a the NE angle. It could be a tower house. (Conwell 1872-3, 386-7)
The Cathedral is at the W edge of a large triangular graveyard (max. dims c. 140m ENE-WSW; c. 65m NNW-SSE) defined by masonry walls with the apex at E. It shares the graveyard with the parish church of Newtown (ME036-049005-), which is c. 55m to the ENE. Major conservation was undertaken on the Cathedral in 1891-2 and it is maintained as a National Monument since then. The effigy of a bishop that is missing the head and was once displayed in the parish church (ME036-049005-) (Anon 1906, 449; Ellison 1964, 137) is now in the chancel of the Cathedral. It is thought to represent Bishop Rochfort and dates from the early 13th century (Hunt 1974, 1, 211, No. 197).
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.