Baron Trimlestown is one of the oldest titles in Ireland, created in 1461 for Sir Robert Barnewall. The family were of Norman origin, their name originally de Berneval (from the small seaside town of Berneval-le-Grand, where Oscar Wilde stayed following his release from Reading Gaol in June 1897). Having first moved to England, following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, they followed Richard de Clare to Ireland, the first to do so, Sir Michael de Berneval, landing in Cork in 1172. Rising to power in the Pale, they were responsible for building Drimnagh Castle, now in a suburb of Dublin, and then gradually acquired substantial land holdings in County Meath. Here in Trimlestown, a few miles west of the town of Trim, they erected a mighty castle, probably in the 15th century and perhaps around the time that the title of baron was granted to Sir Robert Barnewall.
The core of Trimlestown Castle is late mediaeval, rising three storeys and with a massive square tower in the south-west corner. The main block is some 114 feet long and 40 feet wide, internally dominated by a two-storey vaulted great hall that faces towards the river Trimlestown: the exterior of this side is marked by massive corner buttresses. On the south-east side of the tower there is (or perhaps was) a shield bearing the arms of the Barnewall and Nugent families – the two had intermarried – but whether it remains in place is impossible to tell due to vegetation covering much of the walls. Considerable alterations to the building were undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a large addition was made on the northern section of the site. It is likely that at this time towers similar to those on the river front were demolished and a modern house built, the most notable feature of this being a large bow-front with views to the east. Similarities with the work undertaken during the same period at Louth Castle (see Saintly Connections, August 28th 2017) have led to suggestions that Richard Johnston might have been the architect responsible in both instances. This may have happened around 1797 when the 14th Lord Trimlestown, then aged 70, married a woman less than a third of his age: the suggestion is that she got a new house in return for an old husband. Soon afterwards, her husband also inherited Turvey, County Dublin from a distant cousin and in due course the family moved there, leaving Trimlestown Castle to slip into decay.
For much of the 18th century, although the Barnewalls held onto the greater part of their lands, they were unable to use the title Baron Trimlestown. Their problems had begun in the 1640s when Matthias, eighth Lord Trimlestown, had supported the royalist cause, deprived of his estates by Cromwell and banished to County Galway. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he regained the greater part of his original property, but remained true to the Roman Catholic faith, as did his son Robert who sat in James II’s parliament in 1689. The next couple of heirs, because of their support for the Jacobite cause and their loyalty to Catholicism, were not allowed to use the old title. They lived in France and it was only in 1746 that Robert Barnewall (who claimed the title of twelfth Lord Trimlestown) returned to Ireland and took up residence in the old castle. It is likely to have been during his lifetime (he died in 1779) that the building was first modernised. As an ardent supporter of the Catholic cause, it must have been a blow to him when his heir Thomas conformed to the Established Church (thereby reversing the government attainder and allowing him to be acknowledged after his father’s death as the 13th Lord Trimlestown). Thereafter one generation succeeded another, although more than once the title had to go to a cousin as there was no direct heir. However while there is still a Lord Trimlestown – the 21st – he has no known heirs. It seems likely that after more than 550 years one of Ireland’s oldest peerages will go the same way as the castle from which its name was derived, and fall out of use.
The former flour mill located on the north bank of the river Boyne at Slane, County Meath. A joint enterprise between three parties, Blayney Townley Balfour I of Townley Hall, William Burton Conyngham who lived at Slane Castle, and David Jebb, a local miller and engineer, it was constructed 1763-66 at a cost of £19,187 (including the erection of a fine miller’s house). When the English agronomist Arthur Young visited the site in 1776 he described it as ‘138ft long, the breath 54ft and the height to the cornice 42ft, being a large and handsome edifice, such as no mill I have seen in England can compare with it.’ He recorded the mill’s output as being upwards of 17,000 barrels of flour (20 stone each) per annum and the granaries capable of holding 5,000 barrels, making it one of the largest such operations in Europe at the time. The mill was operated by only 10-12 people despite then being the largest of its kind in Europe.
The truncated remains of Causetown Castle, County Meath. Otherwise known as Lisclogher, this late-mediaeval tower house is believed to have been built for the Dowdall family, settled in the area since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans.
The building has curved angles on two sides and a pair of circular towers on the other pair, that to the south-east, which contained garderobe closets, being in better condition and rising three storeys, as no doubt once did the whole castle. However, at some date the upper portion was lost so that now the interior contains little other than a ground floor barrel-vaulted chamber.
What remains of Fennor Castle, County Meath. Situated on ground above the Boyne, the building looks north across the river to Slane village. It was constructed in two phases: that section closest to the Boyne looks to have been a tower house, perhaps dating from the 15th or early 16th century. A three-storey, six-bayed gable-ended house was added to the south-side of the earlier structure, perhaps in the late 16th or 17th century when the tower house may have been adapted to accommodate a staircase. There appears to be little information about the castle’s history: it was already a ruin when drawn by George Victor du Noyer in the mid-19th century.
Second the remains of St Columcille’s church at Skryne, County Meath. Intended for Anglican worship, this was built in the early 19th century: in 1809 the Board of First Fruits provided £500 towards its construction costs. At the time there were some 67 souls who worshipped here but, as was the case across the country, numbers declined during the last century and the church closed in the 1960s. Today only the squat tower with its diagonal buttresses remains on the site.
First the remains of St Columba’s church at Skryne, County Meath. The place name derives from Scrín Choluim Chille (Colmcille’s Shrine): in the ninth century the relics of St Columba, otherwise Columcille, were brought here from England for safe keeping and a monastery established. The ruins likely date from a 15th century church built on the site of the earlier foundation, and consist of sections of the former nave and a massive tower at the west end.
Opposite the main entrance to Dunsany Castle, County Meath stands this wayside cross, a rare surviving example of religious veneration once common across the country. Usually located independent of church buildings, these crosses offered Christians an opportunity to recall their faith as they went about the day. This one is believed to date from the late 16th or early 17th century. On a stepped rectangular podium, the limestone shaft is wrapped by a collar before the upper section carries a depiction of the crucifixion below a winged ox, the symbol of St Luke the Evangelist.
The former Roman Catholic church in Killyon, County Meath. The building is believed to have been built c.1820 by Fr Laurence Shaw, last of a long line of Dominican friars who had served the community for many centuries in this part of the country. In other words, it predates the Repeal of the final Penal Laws at the end of the decade, which helps to explain the building’s simple T-shape form. It was used for services until the late 1950s when a new church was constructed on the opposite side of the road to the design of architect James Fehily; ironically this church is now undergoing extensive restoration. Meanwhile the older building, which seems to have served other purposes in subsequent decades, is swiftly falling into ruin. With it crumbles part of the area’s history.
The tower house at Donore, County Meath. This is believed to date from the early 15th century after Henry VI had offered to grant £10 to anyone prepared to build a defensive tower to protect the Pale. Donore conforms to type, measuring 24 by 20 and a half feet at its base and rising some 39 feet over three storeys. An interesting feature is that the corners are all rounded and one has a small projecting round tower. An illustration from 1785 shows the building with a pitched thatched roof but over a century earlier, in 1650, it had been the scene of a bloody denouement after the English commander Sir John Reynolds captured Donore and killed over forty members of the McGeoghegan family.