St. Cianán’s parish church (ME027-038013-) developed on the site of St. Cianán’s church (ME027-038003-) and the cartulary of Llanthony Secunda, dated 1381, makes it clear that the saint’s grave, i.e. the remnant of his church, was incorporated into the N part of the chancel (Brooks 1953, 295). The church had a nave and chancel and a S aisle was added to the nave, so there was presumably a N aisle also. Only the S aisle and the tower that was added W of the nave survive. A close analysis of the remains (Leask 1933-4) assigns part of the nave walls to the 13th century but the arcade of four pointed arches of undressed voussoirs was inserted, probably in the 14th century when the aisle was built. The S wall of the aisle (int. dims 20.8m E-W; 5.9m N-S) has a destroyed doorway with a destroyed stoup and three pointed window embrasures, one now blocked, but all the tracery has been removed. The easternmost pier of the arcade has the beginning of a newel stairs, indicating a rood loft over the nave. The W wall of the aisle is reduced to foundations, and the E window, consisting of three elliptical-headed lights was built in 1587 according to an inscription beneath it with the Bellew and Nugent arms. The inscription reads: THIS WINDOW WAS / MADE BY SIRR JOHNE / BELLEWE KNIGHT AND DAME ISMAY NUGENT / HIS WIFE IN THE YEAR OF / OVRE LORD 1587.
The tower (ext. dims c. 8.1m N-S; 6.9m E-W) survives complete to four stories with good quoins, battered walls and a projecting stairs turret at the SW angle. The stepped battlements have lost much of their crenulations. The vault rises over the first floor and is directly open to the W end of the nave. There is an aumbry on the S wall of the ground floor with a stone head in the N wall opposite it. There is a destroyed and rebuilt doorway in the W wall with an inserted four-light elliptical-headed window above it at the first floor level. The crease of the nave roof rises above the second floor and a window in the E wall looks into the nave or the roof space above it. On the W wall is a twin-light ogee-headed window with a crest below it on the outer face of the wall, and there is a stone head at the NW angle of the stairs tower. The third storey is the belfry stage and has twin-light transom windows on the E and S walls; those on the W area robbed and there is one light on the N side. There are look-outs over the angles, approached by steps on the inner sides of the battlements. The look-out at the SW angle is the highest over the housing of the stairs. The round tower survived into the high middle ages and is visible now as a concave hollow (C 3.5m; H 14.3m) that tapers as it rises on the N side of the tower at the W end of the parish church. At the top a pointed doorway leads to the second floor of the church tower (Leask 1960, 3, 25; Barrow 1979, 169-70).
The surrounds of the Preston – Plunkett tomb (dims 2.14m x 1.21m; H 0.67m), dating from c. 1450-1500 are in the S aisle. Six niches on the N side display crests of local families on the N and one is devoted to symbols of the Passion. The S side has similar niches with arms of Birmingham and FitzGerald. There is a Crucifixion with John and Mary over St. Michael with shield and dragon on the E end-stone, and the W end has four saints or ecclesiastics. The cover (dims 1.39m x 0.67m; T 0.1-0.14m) is not the original and commemorates John Bellew, who died in 1692. (Hunt 1974, 114-5)
The graveslab (dims 2.3m x 1.13m; T 0.13m) with images of a bishop on both sides is thought to be that of Dr. James Cussack, Catholic Bishop of Meath (1679-88), who had served as a parish priest of Duleek (Cogan 1862-70, 1, 129-40). A gargoyle decorated as a human head (dims 1.12m; max. Wth 0.23m) is kept in the S aisle, but the face-corbel (dims 0.42m x 0.23m; H 0.18m), the hair of which morphed into interlace bands and which indicates that the church was rebuilt in a Romanesque style in the 12th century, has been removed for safe-keeping after it was damaged by vandals in June 2014. The church and its associated features were conserved by OPW in 1899-1900 and it is a National Monument (Harbison 1970, 182-3).
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 upload/revision: 14 August 2014
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.