Ratoath is situated on a locally prominent hill with a W-E section of the Broad Meadow River just to the S. The name, signifying the ‘fort of Thó’ or what is more likely ‘O thuaidh (North)’, is the only indication of a pre-Anglo-Norman presence and a rath may be incorporated into the base of the motte. This area was retained by Hugh de Lacy in the Anglo-Norman settlement of Meath after 1171. He granted the churches of Dunshaughlin and Ratoath to St Thomas’ Augustinian abbey (DU018-020051-) before 1183, and the rectory of Ratoath was still amongst the possessions of St Thomas’ at its suppression in 1540 (White 1943, 35). On Hugh’s death in 1186 Meath was inherited by his son Walter who granted the baronies of Morgallion and Ratoath to his brother Hugh before 1198. The younger Hugh probably built the motte and bailey, and he may have granted a charter to Ratoath c. 1200. This Hugh became the first Earl of Ulster in 1205 after he had taken over the de Courcy lordship. (Orpen 1921, 69)
The castle (i.e. motte) of Ratour or Ratouth is referred to frequently in the thirteenth century. The manor was forfeited by Hugh in 1210 but it was returned to Walter de Lacy in 1215. The lands and castles in Walter’s charge including Ratoath were seized by the King again in 1224 but they were returned to Hugh de Lacy in 1227, when the right to hold a fair lasting thirteen days at Ratoath was also granted. David FitzWilliam, the baron of Naas, had an interest in Ratoath in 1244 through his wife, Matilda, a daughter of Hugh de Lacy. In 1283 Sir Roger de Clifford, a Welsh baron, sold the manor of Raoath to Queen Eleanor, the wife of King Edward I. Ratoath had probably been granted to Roger by King Edward to help Roger raise some ransom money as he was held captive in Wales, and Eleanor almost immediately granted the manor to Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, known as the Red Earl. The manor had passed to the Duke of York with the liberty of Trim before 1449 when it was granted the right to hold weekly markets on Monday, and two fairs, each of two days duration, during the year. (Bradley and King 1985, 123)
An inquisition in 1333 found William de Burgh, a grandson of the Red Earl, possessed of the manor of Ratoath at his death, and he had held it in capite from the King. The manor had no buildings but its site is described as half an acre surrounded by a square ditch, and this suggests that not only the motte and bailey but even this moated site were abandoned as the manorial centre, although two carucates (townlands) and 100 acres were in the demesne. The burghers of Ratoath paid over £6 in yearly rent (Orpen1921, 76), indicating that the settlement may have had over a hundred heads of households. It also had a Hundred or manorial court and there was a mill. About 160 acres are described as Betaghsland, meaning the native Irish settlement, which could be Baytown in Kilbride parish. About thirty five free tenants are named, amongst whom the names Cruys, Tuyt, Cusack, de Bathe, and FitzLeon recur, but the most common name is Bereford. Many of the townlands in the barony can be identified by name. (Orpen 1921)
According to the Civil Survey (1654) in 1641 Ratoath townland had 21 proprietors, but only four of these lived there. However, 82 lettings described as tenements or messuages are dependent on them, and the town had a portreeve or mayor and a sergeant (Simington 1940, 106-07). There was a corn mill in repair on the river called the Gore Water, according to the terrier or commentary on the Down Survey (1656-8) parish map. This was probably on the S side of the river where a mill is depicted on the 1835 edition of the OS 6-inch map. The terrier says that the market for provisions and linen was on Mondays. It describe the motte as at the S edge of the town, and the map shows the 62 acres of the town on the N side of the river. Ratoath had a population of 166 c. 1659 (Pender 1939, 487). However, it maintained its status as an incorporated town into the eighteenth century as it continued to send two members to the Irish Parliament up to its dissolution in 1800. The electors appear to have been the adult males of the manor or parish. By this time the Corballis family were the largest landowners and lived in the Manor House, a seven bay, two storey house which was built c. 1780 and is now a nursing home. It is located c. 170m ESE of the motte, and is possibly on the site of the old moated site that was the centre of the medieval manor.
Apart from the motte and bailey, the site of the medieval church is known as well as the location of the market where the Market cross once stood. The burgage plots as depicted on the 1835 edition of the OS 6-inch map are on either side of the Dunshaughlin Road. There are also plots extending S from Main Street and the sinuous Fairyhouse Road to the W-E Broad Meadow River that is c. 70m S of the motte and bailey.
The town had no defensive wall but this does not preclude an earthwork boundary consisting of an earthen bank and external ditch. Such a ditch (ME044-034012-) was found in archaeological testing of a sewage pipe on the Kentstown road as well as a medieval roadway, a cistern and cut drains that are probably property boundaries. Archaeological monitoring (02E1563) by B. Shanahan of a services trench (D 0.6-0.9m) outside the perimeter of the grounds of the Roman Catholic church NW-NE and west as far as the site of the market cross identified but did not excavate three pits and three ditches of likely medieval date beneath more modern features (excavations.ie 2002: 1516), and other boundaries between plots have been discovered in other excavations within the town.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of upload: 9 December 2021
Description Source: Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage