Situated on a broad, low hill with the W edge of the reclaimed Little Lagore Lough, an oval, reclaimed area (dims c. 1.25km E-W; c. 0.5km N-S), c. 500m to the E. The headwaters of an E-W stream that leads into the SE-NW Skane River are c. 400m to the SW. The S-N Main Street of Dunshaughlin village curves from S-W-NE of the church, which suggests that an ecclesiastical enclosure (diam. c. 200m) has become fossilised in the street-pattern. This is an early church site founded by Seachnall or Secundus, who was sent to assist Patrick in AD 439 (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 35), and the name ‘Dunshauglin’ is derived from Domhnach Seachnall – the church of Seachnall. The name Maolseachnail – servant of Seachnall – became a common one amongst the Uí Neill kings of Meath, becoming McLoughlin, and it was sometimes transformed into Malachy. Seachanall was a son of Restitutus, a Lombard, and Lubaid, who is thought to have been a sister of Patrick. He was renowned as a poet and musician who composed a praise poem for Patrick, and when he died in 447 he was reputed to be the first bishop to be buried in the country (Ó Riain 2011, 552-3).
The names of abbots are recorded with some certainty in the 9th century beginning with Ruamnus who died in 801, and continuing to Scannal mac Fergil, described as a princeps, who was murdered in 886. Erenachs and coarbs of Seachnall are recorded in AD 952, 1027 and 1040. The monastery at Dunshaughlin was burned in AD 1026, 1142 and 1143 (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 54-7). This was probably the church of the Síl nÁedo Slaine kings of Lagore crannog (ME028-027----), c. 1.7km to the E, but there is little physical evidence of the early church structure, apart from an orans stone (H 0.57m; Wth 0.25m; T 7cm) found in the graveyard in 1969. This depicts a figure praying with raised arms, which Roe (1970, 212, 220) would date to the 6th to the 8th centuries. Also present is a Crucifixion scene (Wth 0.34m; H 0.32m) carved in false relief over the lintel (dims 1.5m x 0.5-0.7m; T 0.15m) of a doorway (Wth 0.74m). This stone is a thin slab that would have been set upright over the outer face of the W doorway of a 10th or 11th century, pre-Romanesque church. It is now kept in the present church for safe-keeping.
After the Anglo-Norman settlement Dunshaughlin became a seigniorial manor of Hugh de Lacy (Graham 1974, 42) and the earthwork (ME044-033001-) c. 700m to the S of the church could be a motte built by him. Thereafter, the church became parochial. A church at Denclynschael is listed in the ecclesiastical taxation (1302-06) of Pope Nicholas IV (Cal. doc. Ire., 5, 254). Ussher (1622) describes the church and chancel of Donshahlen as ruined (Erlington 1847-64, 1, lxx). According to the Dopping (1682-5) and Royal (1693) visitations the church was in good repair, the roof was slated, the widows glazed and the floor was clay. At that time the graveyard was fenced (Ellison 1971, 38). Isaac Butler, writing in 1749, describes the church and steeple, by which he meant a tower, as in good repair, but the chancel was ruined (1892, 16).
The present Church of Ireland church was built in 1813 (Lewis 1837, 1, 589) N of the older structure within a rectangular graveyard (dims c. 60m N-S; c. 60m E-W) defined by masonry walls, with trees inside the perimeter at N and E, and a bank inside the perimeter at N. The headstones date mostly from 1743 to the present, but a graveslab (dims 1.05m x 0.97m) commemorating Noah Webb dated 1696 is at the SW angle of the graveyard (McClenaghan 1910), although it had been in the chancel of the medieval church (Butler 1892, 16).
Dunshaughlin is thought to have been incorporated as a town at some point (Lewis 1837, 1, 589), although its history cannot be elucidated (Bradley and King 1985, 60). The remains of the parish church, consisting merely of one pointed arch and two piers of an arcade, suggest that its nave had aisles and therefore that it was a large church catering for a large, urban population. Some fragments of multi-cusped window-heads are in the graveyard, suggesting a 15th or 16th century date for the later church. An octagonal limestone font (ext. dim. 0.64m; H 0.42m), still functioning in the present church, has a circular basin (diam. 0.49m; D 0.24m) and chamfered under-panels. The basin rests on an octagonal shaft (H 0.24m) which rests on a rectangular base with chamfered upper edges (total H 0.77m). Five of the upper panels on the basin are decorated, one with a man’s head in relief, the others, consisting of a plain shield and animals, are in false relief (Roe 1968, 57-9).
Archaeological testing (91E0099) outside the N perimeter of the graveyard identified nine ditches curving E-N-W in two bands roughly centred on the church (Meehan 1992). A substantial ditch (Wth 3-4m; D 1.7m plus) occurring in all trenches c. 60m N of the graveyard and centred on it, can be interpreted as the fosse of an ecclesiastical enclosure (diam. c. 160m). Medieval pottery and a spindle whorl were recovered, and the area roughly inside the ditch is maintained as a green area. (Meehan and Cassidy 1991)
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: 7 April, 2015
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.