Situated on both banks of a NW-SE run of the River Boyne. The town was built around slight hills on the NE bank at St Patrick’s church (ME036-048012-) and at the castle (ME036-048004-) on the SW bank. In 1172 King Henry II granted Meath to Hugh de Lacy ‘as Murrough O’Maelaghlin best held it’ (Otway-Ruthven 1968, 52-3). This king of Meath died in 1153 before the province was dismembered, so in theory de Lacy’s fief, if he could secure it, was as extensive as the modern counties of Meath, Westmeath and Longford with a large part of Offaly. Hugh determined that Trim would be the caput or centre of this vast estate and commenced planning a suitable headquarters for it in a castle that would be defensively strong as well as visually impressive and capable of administering a wide area.
A town would naturally grow up around such an important centre, but there had probably been settlement here for some time. Its Gaelic name Áth Thruim – the ford of the alder trees – suggests that it had long been an important, though possibly overgrown, fording point of the river. This may have been where the medieval bridge (ME036-048001-) and Market Street were later constructed on low-lying ground where the river might have been quite broad. A hoard of Middle Bronze Age axes and other prehistoric artefacts from the town testify to prehistoric traffic at least (Potterton 2005, 29-34). According to an eight century source Lommán, a disciple and nephew of St Patrick, was welcomed at Trim by Fedelemid, the son of King Laoighre, and Fedelemid’s wife who was also British. Fedelemid gave his own dwelling to Lommán for a church in perpetuity, which may be why the land on which the town and castle were built was always regarded as Church land. This was possibly where St Patrick’s medieval parish church (ME036-048012-) was established later, but archaeological confirmation of an early date is not yet established. Fedelemid moved to Clúain Lagen, thought to be Clonylon, on the other side of the river (ibid. 34-40). The monastery was certainly in place by the eight century, and Trim was burnt in 784 (AU), 1128 (AU), 1143 (AFM) and 1155 (AFM). The Augustinian abbey of St. Mary’s (ME036-048021-) could have been established by c. 1140 on the NE bank of the river, perhaps on the site of the St Loman’s foundation.
The earliest recorded charter (MacNiochaill 1964, 74-5) was granted by Walter de Lacy c. 1194 (Hennessy 2004, 2) but the town was undoubtedly already under way by then. While the castle had to be recaptured by Walter from his half-brother William after a seven week siege in 1224 (ME036-048075-), the town seems to have presented no resistance and was probably unfortified. The earliest murage grant in 1290 was extended in 1308 and again in 1316 (Bradley and King 1985, 163), so the town walls (ME036-048005-) might have been in place by 1315, as Edward Bruce refrained from attacking either the town or castle during his Irish campaign (1315-18). Additional murage in 1393, which also diverted the tolls of Athboy, Navan, and Skreen to Trim, testifies not only to the need to refurbish the walls but also to the status of Trim as the centre of the Liberty or lordship that it retained until 1906 when the county council offices moved to the more central town of Navan (Hennessy 2004, 7). In 1422 Dunshaughlin, Dunboyne, Greenoge and Slane replaced the original three towns in the supporting financial role. The town walls and the paving of the streets preoccupied the burgesses throughout the fifteenth century, and the town was one of the principal bulwarks in the defences of the Pale. In 1584 its status as a walled town was used unsuccessfully to promote Trim as the site of Ireland’s first university. Although it is depicted as a walled town on the Down Survey maps (1658) the walls were known to be in a poor condition, and the last recorded repairs were conducted in 1689. Thereafter they were neglected and removed at some crucial points but considerable stretches remain. The Civil Survey (1654) does not provide much detail and does not mention the walls but it lists three castles, eight houses (probably of stone), three mills, and 74 tenements owned by 16 named individuals (Simington 1940, 249-50). The town continued to be administered in an increasingly ineffectual manner by the Corporation until they were replaced by town commissioners in 1840 (Hennessy 2004, 5-7), but it is not certain if there was a town hall or tholsel (ME036-048060-). The composition of the Corporation changed radically after the Suppression of the monasteries in 1540 when so many New English and non-resident property owners came to dominate that body to the exclusion of the Old English and Roman Catholic natives.
The wall encloses a rectangular area of about 20 hectares (c. 50 acres) that is replete with narrow house-plots fronting onto the six principal streets, as recorded on the 1836 edition of the OS 6-inch map. The principal street is High St. on the NE bank running into Bridge St. and Castle St. with Market St. radiating off it to the SW south of the river while Mill St., Church Lane and Haggard St. are offset to the NW north of the river. Watergate and Loman Streets close off the W ends of these thoroughfares. It is an unusual lay-out for a medieval Irish town (Bradley 1985, 430), but would probably have been in place by the end of the thirteenth century. This century was a period of rapid development which saw both the Franciscans (ME036-048025-) and Dominicans (ME036-048022-) establish friaries on the outskirts of the town, and a church dedicated to Mary Magdalen (ME036-027---) was in place SE of the castle before 1335. In contrast, the fourteenth century was a period of economic decline when the ravages of the Bruce campaign were followed by severe flooding of the town in 1330, the first outbreak of the Black Death (1347-9), and the burning of St. Mary’s in 1364. Conditions improved in the fifteenth century when aristocratic houses such as the Nangle (ME036-048003-) and Talbot (ME036-048002-) fortified houses were built at this administrative centre. A suburb developed outside the Dublin Gate in the thirteenth century, and it is detectable in the burgage plots depicted on the 1836 edition of the OS map. The suburb was not walled but is confirmed by the excavation of two medieval houses (ME036-048032-).
The town wall had a circuit of almost 2km with five gateways, but only the ‘Sheep Gate’ (ME036-048011-) between the Augustinian abbey and the Porch Field (ME036-048054-) survives. Archaeological excavations have proved fruitful in many parts of the medieval urban area. Medieval houses (ME036-048035-; ME036-048049-) have been found on both sides of High Street, and the remains of houses and house plots (ME036-048028- to ME036-048031-) have been found close to the river just W of Talbot’s Castle. On the S side between Emmet St., Market St. and Castle St. more than one house has been excavated (ME036-048043-; ME036-048056-) within the town walls, and earlier surface levels of Market St. (ME036-048038-) have been identified. Between Market St., Watergate St. and the river testing on two development sites identified medieval deposits and a N-S medieval masonry wall over layers of riverine silt (Duffy 2007, 2008). A hearth and what might be evidence of industrial activity was found off the W side of Loman’s St. (Coughlan 2007), while three ditches and two masonry features were identified immediately E of St Patrick’s church (Kiernan 2006). There can be no doubt that the town has extensive archaeological deposits.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload: 12 July, 2019Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.