In 1142 the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland was founded at Mellifont (LH023-002----), c. 5km to the NNE, and by 1157 the monks were in possession of land at Knowth. Anglo-Norman settlement in Meath began once Hugh de Lacy sub-infeudated the province of Meath after 1172. He granted the barony of Slane to Richard Fleming who established his caput or headquarter at Slane but as Knowth was held by the Cistercians it would have been outside his fief. Nevertheless, there is a reference in the Miscellaneous Annals to the construction of a castle at Cnogba in 1176 (Kenny 2008, 150). At the great mound, after the abandonment of the houses of the open settlement in the eleventh century, two short sections of ditch were dug or re-vamped on the E side of the mound (Eogan 2012, 172-5). This seems to have been a temporary or incomplete measure but 10 twelfth century coins and two from the fourteenth were recovered from their fill. More significantly a stony layer (T 0.3-0.7m) with quantities of thirteenth – fourteenth century ceramics was laid over the top of the mound as a prepared floor for an enclosure and at least one house.
The enclosure is rectangular (int. dims 34m NE-SW; 22.5m NW-SE) but very little survives as the central area had been quarried in the nineteenth century. It was defined by a mortared wall at SE and SW (Wth 1m), and the mortar stain from the other walls was still evident. The main entrance (Wth 6m) was on the SE side, utilising the ramp entrance of the rath, with a smaller entrance (Wth 3.5m) at the W end of the NW side. A refuse area outside the latter suggests that this opening might have been an outlet for a drain. Outside the NE boundary a rectangular stone-lined pit (dims c. 3m x 1.9m) open to the NE is described as a ‘bastion’ but could be interpreted as the outlet of a very large garderobe or latrine.
There was a large paved area (dims c. 12m x c. 8m) supporting 5 hearths inside the boundary at SW with an internal parallel wall (L 2.5m; T 0.8m) 2.6m from it which could have formed a lean-to structure against the enclosure wall. Another hearth survived on an area of paving against the SE enclosure boundary, and a mortar stain inside the NW boundary at the N end indicates walling on three sides of a rectangular area (dims 8m NW-SE; 5m NE-SW) and could represent another structure. The outline of the rectangular enclosure is conserved on top of the mound. (Eogan 2012, 177-80)
Thirty four fragments of dressed medieval masonry of thirteenth century character have been recovered from the mound and its vicinity (O’Keefe 2012), and many came from its summit. At least 5 windows are represented, including one lancet and one twin-light rounded window-head. The location of such a structure is not known but it is clear that a medieval building of high status was in the vicinity of the mound, and there are post-medieval documentary references to a church (ME019-030066-) at Knowth.
Because of the central quarry on top of the mound and the fragmentary quality of the remains it cannot be known how many structures were in the enclosure or what their nature was. The excavator regards it as 'an enclosed courtyard farm' (Eogan 2012, 171-80) but Stout (2002, 86-8) suggests it represents the remains of a Cistercian grange dating from the late 12th century, in which case it would have had a church. O'Keeffe (2012, 623) came to the conclusion that the excavated remains belonged to a 'fourteenth-century secular, courtyard farm, possibly built by a leasee of lands from the Cistercians'.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
O’Keefe, T. 2012 7. 5. 3. 1. Medieval architectural pieces. In Eogan 2012, 619-26.
Date of upload: 26 November 2013
Amended: 18 September 2020
See the attached illustration:
_1 Plan of the medieval enclosure, from Knowth 5, Fig. 5:4
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.