Trim Castle

Trim was used as a centre of administration for the lordship of Meath, an administrative area created during the reign of King Henry II (1154-89).  Hugh Lacy (d.1186) of Ludlow, Longtown and Weobley, acquired the area in 1172 and built a ringwork castle beside the River Boyne.  According to the Song of Dermot, during 1172, Hugh Lacy fortified a house at Trim, dug a ditch around it and enclosed the area with a palisade.  Excavation has shown this and part of a stone footed timber gatehouse beneath the Trim gate to the west.  With Lacy fighting in Normandy for King Henry II during the Young King's Rebellion (1173-74), the castle was attacked and burned down by Rory O'Connor (d.1198) in 1173.  Lacy returned in 1174/75 and began the building of the keep and outer bailey.  Work on the bulk of the masonry took place under the auspices of Hugh and his son Walter Lacy (d.1241), the keep being largely complete in its current form by 1204.

Lacy tenure of the castle was then broken by King John in 1210 when he marched through Ireland removing his rebel barons.  Walter Lacy rapidly submitted and handed Trim over to his king.  Five years later on 6 July 1215, he made a fine as a result of which the king agreed that Thomas Legh would return Laghelachon castle to him, Geoffrey Costentin the castles of Loxhundy and Hincheleder, Ralph Petit Clunard' castle, John Fitz Leo Grenard, Kilmore and Favorie castles, while Thomas Fitz Adam would return Trim.  Even so, Walter's control of his Irish castles proved disjointed, especially due to the continued rebellion of his younger brother, Earl Hugh Lacy of Ulster (d.1242).  Eight years after King John's death, on 30 March 1224, the justiciar of Ireland was ordered:

to cause Walter Lacy to have the hall, houses and chambers in Trim castle, in which he and his retinue may dwell while he is fighting the enemies of the king and himself. 

These enemies were his brother, Earl Hugh Lacy and his allies.  The same day it was announced that the sheriff of Hereford was to cause the demesne lands of Walter Lacy in his bailiwck to be quit of all suits while Walter was on the king's service in Ireland for the war brought against the king by Hugh Lacy and the men of Meath.  Probably around the same time Walter made an agreement with the king touching the service to the latter and the transgressions of Walter's men of Meath in harbouring Hugh Lacy (d.1242) in Ireland and pillaging, burning, killing and holding men to ransom.  For this Walter turned over to the king his castles of Ludlow in England and Trim in Ireland for 2 years from Easter and agreed to go to Ireland with king's forces:

to fight the men who have opposed the king and that he will hold in his hand the funds raised from them for a year and a day and afterwards it shall be done to Walter what the king's court decides. 

Further it was stated that Walter was to have free egress and access to Trim castle and if the king should die Walter should nevertheless have his castles at the end of the 2 years and if Walter were to die his heirs should have them.  Despite this and Walter's warfare on behalf of the king, his brother, Hugh Lacy (d.1242) was eventually reinstated in his earldom of Ulster and Walter stayed in tenure of his castle.

From Walter the castle passed to Geoffrey Geneville of Vaucouleurs in France and Ludlow, then in Wales.  Geoffrey was justiciar of Ireland from to 1273 to 1276.  In 1294 Trim was confiscated by the Crown as Geneville had failed to allow a royal mandate to be enacted in his liberty.  This probably allowed a successful attack to be launched on the fortress from Connaught.  Consequently Calough O'Connor took the castle of Baliathroyn alias Thryme in Meath and burned it with all its records, rolls and rental agreements.

In 1304 both Trim and Ludlow passed to Geoffrey's son-in-law, Roger Mortimer (d.1330) of Wigmore, who was already lord of Dunamase.  Geoffrey himself retired to Trim Dominican priory in 1308 where he died and was buried on 21 October 1314.  Trim remained in Mortimer family hands until they died out in 1425.  From 1322 until 1327 when the lordship was in royal hands due to the imprisonment of Roger Mortimer (d.1330), Trim lordship was bringing some £500 per annum into the Treasury.

The castle saw one of the few royal visits of the middle ages when Richard II came to stay immediately prior to his dethronement in 1399.  On his departure the king left the young Harry of Monmouth, later Henry V, lodged in the Dublin gatehouse with Duke Humphrey of Gloucester.  The fortress passed to the Yorks in 1425, who went on to became kings of England in 1461.

Trim castle is reckoned to be the largest true castle in Ireland.  In the centre of the original ringwork stands a large keep of cruciform shape.  This means that it has 20 vulnerable corners.  It measures some 65' by 60' with walls 12' thick in places.  To this great tower the four rectangular turrets were added centrally making for the odd design and making it the antithesis of Bunratty.  The only other 20 sided keep is La Cuba in Palermo, Sicily.  Entrance to Trim keep was gained through one of these turrets which had the standard chapel above the entrance for defensive reasons.  The tower keep is of three storeys and stands 75' high.  Excavation suggests it was commenced by Hugh Lacy (d.1186) soon after his arrival in the district in the aftermath of Henry II's invasion of 1171.  The keep was then subject to two further building phases under his son, Walter Lacy (d.1241), in 1196 and 1201–5.  Internally the lower embrasures are rounded to the point of being near Romanesque.  Higher up they are much gentler curves.  The keep bears little relation to other known Lacy keeps like Longtown or Greencastle, although it might be argued that the central square keep has similarities to the converted gatehouse at Ludlow or possibly the destroyed keep at Weobley.  At third floor level the keep had an external wooden walkway.  This unusual feature is also seen at the much earlier Loches keep in France.

Surrounding the keep was an eye-shaped enclosure, about 500' east to west and 330' north to south,
boarded by the River Boyne and a wet moat.  The surviving curtain walls, currently about 6' thick, are predominantly of two phases. The north half of the enceinte is defended by rectangular towers, including the Trim Gate, which are probably the work of Hugh Lacy (d.1186) and have near Romanesque arches.  The Trim Gate was built on top of an earlier wooden gateway and had its upper floor replaced with an octagonal structure in the thirteenth century.  Finally, the southern half of the enceinte was built, including the Dublin Gate, possibly between the 1190s and 1210s.  This contains 5 irregular D shaped towers about 20' in diameter and the circular Dublin Gatehouse.  The towers were all open backed in the style common in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, although some were later walled in.  The south wall was originally an incredibly thin 3', which was later thickened to 6'.  The thickening is still readily apparent.

The Dublin gate in the south wall is a single round tower 36' in diameter and entered centrally by a later barbican tower which once stood in the moat.  The gateway is slightly offset to allow for a spiral stair in the northern portion and mural rooms to east and west.  That the north-west Trim Gate was first built in wood would suggest that the castle was originally planned as a large ringwork occupying the site of the current masonry enceinte.  It is therefore possible that the keep was commenced very early in the castle's existence, surrounded by the old ringwork which was later worked up into the bailey walls.  Beyond these main defences the other extant structures consist of an early fourteenth century fore work with 3 towers defending the keep entrance.  This included stables within it, accessed by a stone causeway crossing the partly filled-in ditch of the earlier ringwork.

A large late thirteenth century 3 aisled great hall with attached solar and an undercroft beneath its east end, was added against the River Boyne to the north.  At its east end it opened via a water gate to the river.  At the northern angle of the castle a large rectangular tower, 43' square, was built into the hall's northern corner and was used as a solar in the late thirteenth century.  Later still a smaller aisled hall was added to the east end of the great hall in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  Later again, a building, possibly the mint, was added to the east end of this latter hall as well as two fifteenth or sixteen century stone buildings inside the Trim gate.  The final upgrading was in the seventeenth century when some buildings were added to the end of the hall range and to the north side of the keep.  There are also a series of lime kilns, one dating from the twelfth century the remainder from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Religious Institutions
Three major religious institutions remain in Trim, one being a monastery allegedly having been founded by St Patrick.  Its site is thought to be just north of the castle on the other side of the River Boyne on an impressive rise, currently lying under the remnants of St Mary's abbey.  This now mainly consists of a fragment of the 130' high tower known as the Yellow Steeple.  The church was attacked in 1108 and 1127 before being converted from parish church into an Augustinian abbey between 1140 and 1148.  After a fire in 1368 the abbey erected a statue of the Virgin Mary which was supposed to have healing properties and soon became a site of pilgrimage, only to be publically burned in 1538 during the dissolution of the monasteries.  Just east of the abbey lie the remains of Trim town wall and the rectangular Sheep Gate.

East of the town walls, just north of the Boyne, are the remains of St Peter and St Paul's cathedral next to the ruins of Newtown Clonbun parish church.  This contains the weather worn effigies of Sir Lucas Dillon (1530-92) and his wife, Janet Bathe.  Originally the cathedral was Trim parish church until Bishop Simon Rochfort of Meath (1194-1224) petitioned the pope to move Clonard cathedral to this site where it could be protected by the castle.  The cathedral was closed during the Dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, the transepts and aisles removed and the nave truncated by 80'.

East of this again, but on the south side of the Boyne, lie the remnants of the priory of St John the Baptist established about 1202 by Bishop Simon Rochfort of Meath (1194-1224).  It was dissolved in 1540 when it was converted into a private residence.

The Black Friary, founded by Geoffrey Geneville in 1263, was also where he was buried in 1314 after joining the community in 1308.  Its site lies north of the town and has been under archaeological excavation since 2010.

If you would like to visit this and other great castles of Ireland, I am leading a tour there in October.  Please feel free to look over the details by clicking here.


Copyright©2017 Paul Martin Remfry