Trim and Environs (Co. Meath)

Trim (Co. Meath / West)

Trim (Baile Átha Troim – “town at the ford of elderflowers”) (pop. 7000) is a small town of great historical interest on the banks of the River Boyne, with several good pubs, restaurants andaccommodation options.

Long the County Town, Trim was replaced by Navan as the administrative capital of Meath under the Local Government Act 1898. Twenty years earlier the guidebook author Rev.Eugene Conwell had written that “Trim being formerly a place of great strength and consequence” was “at present a town of no great magnitude and very dimly reflects the important person [sic] it occupied in the affairs of Ireland a few centuries ago”. This has been only partially remedied.

Trim History

A monastic community reputedly established here in the late C6th is traditionally held to have been founded by Saint Patrick and left in the care of Saint Lommán / Loman mac Dalláin, while some believe that the church authorities of Armagh had reasons for representing the latter as a nephew or disciple of the former. The monastery was attacked several times, then  refounded in the C12th as the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary.

Following the Norman invasion, the former kingdom of Mide / Meath (considerably bigger than the current County of the same name) was granted as a Palatinate to Hugh de Lacy, who commissioned the construction of Trim Castle and had a crown made for himself in 1185, but was killed the following year while supervising the erection of another stronghold at Durrow. His son Walter strengthened  Trim Castle and extended his power over the region. King John came to Trim in 1210 to quell the increasingly independent magnate, but was forced to camp in a nearby meadow after de Lacy locked the castle and fled.

The Dominican Order’s Black Friary was founded outside the Athboy Gate by Hugh de Lacy’s grandson-in-law Geoffrey de Geneville, Lord of Meath, in 1263. There were seven monastic communities in and around the town at its zenith.

Trim became one of the most important Hiberno-Norman centres of power, varying in significance from a major military outpost of the Pale and a venue for meetings of the peripatetic Irish Parliament to a place of residence for the Lord Lieutenant and even a possible alternative capital of Ireland.

St Mary’s Abbey possessed a wooden statue of “Our Lady of Trim,” reported to work miracles, making the town  a major pilgrimage destination from at least 1397 until well after King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Trim was designated by Queen Elizabeth I as the planned location of a new university, until Sir Francis Drake successfully made the case for situating the new centre of learning in Dublin.

The Wars of the Three Kingdoms began with the 1641 Rebellion. Trim was captured by the insurgents but retaken the following year by Sir Charles Coote. In 1647 it fell to Kilkenny Confederacy soldiers, but the garrison fled in 1649 after the sacking of Drogheda, and the town was occupied by the Cromwellian army.

The 1798 Rebellion saw many local disturbances in neighbouring villages, most infamously the massacre on the Hill of Tara following the dispersal of the Wexford insurgents.

The C19th saw construction of  several elegant public  commercial and residential buildings as Trim developed as a market town for the productive agricultural hinterland. Much of the construction work was commissioned by the then Lord Dunsany.

Following the Great Famine of 1846-1849, some small scale local industries were developed, including envelope and leather product manufacturing,  and Trim was also chosen as location for the Timoney Engineering company to make Fire Tenders. However, the town mainly  continued to be a service centre for its immediate area.

Trim was the location of the now-vanished County Gaol (1834), giving rise to the verse “Kells for brogues, Navan for rogues, and Trim for hanging people“.

During the War of Independence, local IRA activists attacked Trim’s RICBarracks, securing arms before burning the building down.  A large part of the town was torched as a reprisal by Crown forces on 26 September 1920. Older locals remember the townspeople sheltering down by the River Boyne as the Black & Tans and Auxiliaries burnt out prominent business and the Town Hall.

Trim Visitor Centre, housed in the restored Town Hall on Castle Street, known locally as the Market House, has a multimedia exhibition, The Power and the Glory, depicting the historical background of the magnificent medieval ruins of Trim.

Trim Castle, aka de Lacy’s / King John’s Castle, claims to be the largest Norman castle in Western Europe.  Only by taking a good walk around it is it possible to take in the sheer size of the fortress.

Trim Castle featuring the keep, curtain wall and barbican. (Photo – Shira)

Hugh de Lacy commissioned Hugh Tyrell to build the castle in 1172. Tyrell burnt down the original edifice in 1176 to prevent its capture by the deposed last High King of Ireland and king of Connacht, Ruaidhri Ua Conchubair / Rory / Roderic O’Conor, then began construction of the present stronghold. The complex visible today was built over a 100 year period.

It passed by marriage into the family of King Edward II‘s Lord Lieutenant, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who may have stayed occasionally between 1316 and 1320. King Richard II stayed in Trim Castle in 1399, shortly before his downfall, and left two boys as wards: Prince Hal of Lancaster, subsequently King Henry V, and Humphrey of Gloucester, later known as “the Good Duke”.

The castle was rendered largely defenceless by the advent of artillery, and was nearly derelict by the end of the C16th. Sir James Carroll was granted land in 1610 on condition that he repair the stronghold and build a gaol within its walls.

A guided tour takes visitors into the massive keep and across  a narrow vertigo-inducing walkway onto the roof, before looking at the enormous 500m-long walls (where outlaws’ heads used to be impaled on spikes), the partially preserved gatehouse and some cellars.

Trim Castle has been used in several films, most famously Mel Gibson’s egregiously meretricious and ahistorical Braveheart (1995).

The best views of the castle can be had from the road bridge across the River Boyne or from the opposite river bank, which can also be reached by a pedestrian bridge.

The Yellow Steeple, so called for its colour in the rays of the rising or setting sun, was erected in 1368 as the bell tower for St Mary’s Abbey, largely destroyed by Cromwellian soldiers. The  tallest and most prominent edifice in Trim, it overlooks the town from a ridge directly opposite Trim Castle and can be seen for miles around.

Nearby stands a memorial dedicated to Our Lady of Trim, the famous wooden statue burned along with the derelict Abbey by Cromwellian soldiers in 1649.

Talbot’s Castle, a Tower House erected in 1415 by the then Lord Lieutenant, Sir John Talbot (of Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 fame), still bears his coat-of-arms, and has a basement believed to have formed part of the neighbouring Abbey. The building was briefly owned by Jonathan Swift‘s friend Esther “Stella” Johnson, and the Dean himself purchased and lived in it for one year. It was used as a diocesan school during the C18th and C19th; pupils included Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805 – 1865).

 St Patrick’s Cathedral (CoI) is reputed to be the oldest Anglican church in Ireland (an assertion disputed by a church in Armagh, which claims to be 20 years older). The current edifice retains  a fine C15th stone bell tower from the original medieval parish church, now in ruins. Although bishops have been enthroned here since 1536, it was not raised to full Cathedral status until 1955.

The church porch and grounds contain a number of medieval graveslabs.

The West window was the first ever stained glass designed by the Pre-RaphaeliteEdward Burne Jones.

The Medieval Town Walls were erected in 1359 by the Lord Lieutenant, Richard, Duke of York, (who also established a Royal Mint in Trim Castle, which produced coins called “Patricks” and “Irelands”). The only intact section of wall stands on Loman Street, while the Sheep Gate, the only survivor of the original five entrances, is not far from the Yellow Steeple.

Newtown Abbey and St John’s Hospice, both founded in the early C13th byBishop Simon de Rochfort, are located east of Trim, on opposite banks of the River Boyne. The round trip on foot from the town centre takes about 45 minutes.

Newtown Abbey, the largest Irish establishment of its kind, was founded in 1206 for the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular of St Victor of Paris.  The site is still used as a graveyard for the town so there are no guided tours, but information boards illustrate what it used to look like.


The Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul, a large medieval edifice, was actually a downsized version of the building originally planned, which would have been the largest of its kind in all Ireland. Erected in 1206, it burned down two centuries later, and the structure was further damaged by a storm in 1839. The taller wall provides the surface off which shouts cast from the Echo Gate resonate.

The smaller parish church of Newtown Clonbun contains the late C16th altar tomb of Sir Lucas Dillion and his wife Lady Jane Bathe, locally known as The Jealous Man and Woman, presumably due to the sword dividing them. Folklore has it that if you leave a pin in the puddle of rainwater between the figures, your warts will dissapear as the pin rusts!

St Peter’s bridge, a narrow stone structure spanning the River Boyne, is said to be the second-oldest bridge in Ireland, while the adjacent Marcy Regan’s claims to be the second-oldest  pub in the country.

The Hospice of St John the Baptist, aka the Crutched Friary, originally a Priory where the Crutched / Crouched (crossed) Friars of the Order of Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem looked after convalescent Crusaders, was still in use as a hospital in the C18th. At the entrance there is a defence tower which used to form part of the walls of the hospice.

The Newtown ruins are linked to the Yellow Steeple via a route above the north bank of the River Boyne, while the Boyne River Walk connects the St John’s ruins and Trim Castle along the south bank, lined with informative panels.

The Porchfields have long been used as a venue for fairs, markets and cultural displays.

Trim Courthouse, located next to the main entrance of the castle, was built in 1810 to a design partially accredited to Sir Richard Morrison, and had a spectacular extension added in 2001.

Trim’s Wellington Column (23m) was erected in 1817 to honour Napoleon’s locally-raised nemesis, the great British general, triple Duke (of Wellington in Somerset, of Vitória in Portugal, of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain) and Prince of Waterloo (in the Netherlands).

Arthur Wellesley (1765 – 1852), the third son of Garret Wesley1st Earl of Mornington, of nearby Dangan Castle, was educated in Trim before attending Eton College in England.

He began his political career in Trim with a speech opposing the granting of the status of Freeman to Henry Grattan; he succeeded his elder brother WilliamWellesley-Pole as an MP for Trim, serving from 1790 t0 1797 (jointly with his younger brother Henry in 1795), before devoting himself full-time to military affairs.

He later serves briefly as MP for Tralee (May – July 1807) and as Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1807 to 1809. As Prime Minister of the UK (1828 – 1830) he approved the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829.

Trim’s column is dwarfed by Dublin’s Wellington Testimonial (62m), Europe’s tallest obelisk, in the capital’s Phoenix Park.

William Rowan Hamilton (1805 – 1865), a child progeny famed for his linguistic prowess, was educated in Trim and Dublin. Widely regarded as the greatest physicist and mathematician of his age, and probably the most important Irish scientist in history, he was appointed professor at Trinity College, Dublin and Ireland’s third Royal Astronomer in 1827, and knighted in 1835.

St Patrick’s church (RC), commenced in 1891 and inaugurated in 1902, is a splendid neo-Gothic edifice with an ornate interior, including beautiful mosaic work (by Pearse Bros, which included the 1916 Easter Rising leader Padraig Pearse‘s English father James) and attractive stained glass windows.

Butterstream Gardens, on Trim’s western outskirts, notably visited in 1995 by the UK’s Prince Charles, are sadly no longer open to the public.

Trim Haymaking Festival is held every mid-June. The main event is the traditional making of the first hay of the year by hand and by old-style machinery.

Trim Swift Festival, a cultural / academic event held annually at the beginning of July, honours the satirical Dean’s close connection with the town and district.

Trim Vintage & Veteran Car Rally has been run every year since 1985, growing from 23 vehicles on the first occasion to over 500 cars and motor cycles in recent years. It takes place in mid-July.

The Trim / Royal Meath Agricultural Show takes place in September.

Trim Aerodrome is the home of Trim Flying Club, which operates two Cessnas, and to other general aviation aircraft including microlights.

Irish Balloon Flights is a commercial ballooning company based in Trim. The town has hosted the Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championships, the longest running ballooning championships in the world.

Recent UFO Sightings in 2008 and 2009, to which the Wikipedia entry on Trim devoted three paragraphs, seem to have arisen from the fashion of releasing “Chinese lanterns” at wedding parties.


Highfield House, overlooking Trim Castle and the River Boyne, is an elegant C18th period residence converted into a hotel.

Moy Horse Riding Centre is nearby.

Kildalkey (Co. Meath / West)

Kildalkey / Kildalky (Cill Dealga – “Dealga’s church”) (pop. 520) is a village and a parish in the Barony of Lune, long on the edge of the Pale. The local population roughly quadrupled during the Celtic Tiger years.

Kildalkey Abbey was founded in the C5th AD by Saint Mo-Luog, but  later dedicated to the C7th AD runaway princess martyr Saint Dympna / Dymphna, beheaded by her father and buried at Gheel in modern Belgium, who is the patron of the mentally ill and incest victims.

Moyrath Castle, a Tower House originally erected c.1219 by Geoffrey de Montemarisco, was rebuilt c.1430  by the Nugent family, and later held by two prominent Irish Parliamentarians, Speaker William Conolly and Henry Grattan. It was occupied by several generations of the Potterton family.

The principal C18th / C19th landlords were descendants of the Member of Parliament for Meath,Thomas Bligh PC (d. 1710), whose son John‘s marital connections with a Scottish ducal dynasty helped him acquire the titles of Baron Clifton of Rathmore in 1721,Viscount  Darnley of Athboy in 1723 and Earl of Darnley in 1725, all in the Peerage of Ireland; he was succeeded as MP for Athboy by his younger brother Thomas, who held the post for a record 60 years. Family members have included army officers, clergymen, a leading diplomat and a famous Test cricket player.

Other surnames historically associated with the parish include Barnewall and Nangle.

The former Parochial House, an elegant Georgian house built c.1725, is now used as a Pastoral Centre.

Kildalkey Hall, aka St Dympna’s Hall, was built as a set of Almshouses in 1841, and underwent major refurbishment in 2007. The building is currently used as a community centre, with extra classrooms for the nearby school.

St Dympna’s church (RC), designed by the architect W H Byrne, was consecrated in 1898, replacing a mid-C19th edifice.

(An Anglican church designed by Joseph Welland and completed in 1856 was demolished in the 1960s).

Ballivor (Co. Meath / Southwest)

Ballivor (from Baile Mac Iobhar) is a village best known for its annual Horse Show, held in June every year.

Ballivor was where SS officer Hermann Görtz / Goertz (b. 1890) parachuted into Ireland in the spring of 1940 with a view to co-ordinating Plan Kathleen, a hare-brained IRA scheme for a German-backed invasion of  Northern Ireland. Attired in Luftwaffe uniform, he set off viaCounty Wicklow (where he asked for directions in a Garda Station) for Dublin, where he stayed with a Nazi sympathiser in his Templeogue art-deco home for several weeks before detection, and was on the run for several months. Interned for the duration of “the Emergency”, he lived in Glenageary until 1947, and upon being informed in the Aliens Office in Dublin Castle of his imminent deportation, bit a phial of poison and died. His funeral in Deansgrange cemetery saw his swastika-draped coffin interred by 200 tearful mourners complete with Nazi badges and salutes. RTE made a TV drama about him, Caught in a Free State, in 1983.

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