Trim was a walled town with five major gates along the circuit of its walls. The most visible part of the walls is the Sheep Gate – the only surviving gate to the walled town of Trim. The name of the other gates still survive in the place names, Athboy Gate, Navan Gate and Water Gate, and continue to be used on maps and are familiar to local residents.
The walls enclose an area of sixteen hectares on the north side of the river and seven hectares on the south side of the river. This area would make Trim as large as medieval Wexford or medieval Waterford. The walls on the north side run 1,175 metres in length and 600 metres in length on the south side. There was a mural tower between Dublin Gate and Water Gate where the wall turned northwards and another tower nearer Water Gate. A circular feature, possibly a mural tower, appears to the north of Sheep Gate on the 1836 Ordnance Survey map. It would appear that on each side of the approaches to the gates were ditches to direct traffic through the gates.
Trim Castle provided protection for the town to the south-east. The town wall may have joined the castle walls between the two towers. No trace of the town wall was discovered by archaeologists at this location so the wall may have terminated at the moat or arched over the moat. There may have been a wooden structure over the moat to prevent attack. The moat may have been 15-17 metres wide.
Town Wall in Emmet Street Car Park
The Leper Stream filled the ditch outside the town wall on the south side. The stream was substantial and could have been 1.4 metres in depth. The Leper Stream ran along the outside of the town wall from what is now Emmet Street to Castle Street until it met the moat.
On the south side of the river the town wall ran from the west curtain wall of the Castle across to Emmet Street, where Dublin Gate stood, and then crossing the street turns northwards and provides the property boundary for many of the premises on the west side of Emmet Street. The wall continued to the river where Water Gate stood.
On the north side the wall ran from the river to the old Rectory and then to Athboy Gate, continued eastwards before turning southwards but the line is not clear as there are no traces surviving. The walls crossed the road at Navan Gate and then onto Sheep Gate. There may have been a wall from the Rectory across Loman Street, across Haggard Street and then turning south to the river just east of St. Mary’s Abbey. Other lines of walls and defensive ditches have been suggested. A ditch was uncovered by archaeologists at Market Street.
Sheep Gate and the Yellow Steeple about 1900
Town walls and gates served two purposes. They were defensive structures against attack and ensured that anyone coming to the fair or market in Trim paid their toll and taxes as they came though the town gates. Gates permitted control over people entering and leaving towns.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE WALLS
The castle at Trim was erected by Hugh de Lacy in the 1170s and Trim became the centre of for power in the liberty of Meath from that date. Trim was the central defensive stronghold not only for the people of the town but also for the region. A defensive bank and ditch may have protected the developing urban area in de Lacy’s time.
Development of lands beyond the town was already happening in the thirteenth century – with the growth of suburbs outside Dublin Gate and probably Navan Gate. The Dominican (Black) Friary was founded outside the Athboy Gate in 1263.
The construction of walls was expensive and so taxes had to be imposed to fund the construction work. In 1290 Geoffrey de Geneville, lord of Trim, was given a seven year grant to impose customs on goods coming into Trim to erect walls for the greater security of Ireland.
Trim was one of the earliest towns in the area to receive the power to collect tax (murage) to erect a wall. Avril Thomas suggested that the north side of the town was walled first. There is no evidence to suggest a river wall. Perhaps the walls along the river were the last to be erected and the first to disappear as at Drogheda.
In 1393 Roger, Earl of March and Ulster, Lord of Trim, was granted the right to collect taxes in the towns of Meath to erect a wall around the town of Trim. In 1453 the provost (mayor) was accused of misappropriating murage money. Trim was a major defensive point for the north western area of the Pale.
Conservation work underway at rear of Emmet Street
The walls became less important in settled times and so fell into disrepair. During the Williamite Wars at the end of the seventeenth century the walls were repaired to serve as defence against attack. The stagnation of the local economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth century resulted in the survival of the walls as property boundaries. Tolls and customs were collected at fairs and markets in Trim up to 1829.
Today, approximately half of the town walls (about 1 kilometre) survive in isolated sections above ground, with other sections remaining as archaeological deposits below ground.
In 2008 a Conservation and Management Plan was commissioned by Meath County Council in partnership with the Heritage Council, and prepared by Alastair Coey Architects. It provides guidance on the conservation, future use and management of the Town Walls and proposes practical policies relating to the daily care of the Monument, as well as broader guidelines on specific issues such as development, access and interpretation.
Navan Gate – Navan Gate was sometimes called Rogues Castle. A well known local rhyme went: “Kells for brogues, Navan for rogues and Trim for hanging the people.”A substantial east-west ditch and a north-south ditch were uncovered by archaeologists close to the site of the gate. The gate was still standing in the 1700s.
Athboy Gate –It may have been previously known as Black Gate, taking its name from the nearby Black Friary. It was also known as the North Gate. The gate may have been in place in 1263 before the foundation of the Black Friary. It is also possible that the gate was constructed as a suburban gate in an expansion of the town in the fourteenth century. A drawbridge is mentioned in corporation records. In 2006 archaeologists uncovered a substantial ditch from the thirteenth century, a large wall and the remains of a large stone structure at the location. From archaeological investigation the structure appears to have been a D shape. A fragment of a human skull was also uncovered and it was suggested that the remains might be related to the display of severed heads of criminals above the gates of a town. The gate was still in existence in the late eighteenth century.
Sheep Gate – Sheep Gate is the only surviving gate to the walled town and provided access to St. Mary’s Abbey from the Porchfields and Newtown. The lands of the monastery were never developed and the gate served no major route way and so the gate was left undisturbed in the landscape on the north bank of the river. The remains of the town wall formed a field boundary. A simple rectangular gate house with rounded archway it was referred to in 1476-7 as Porchgate or Sheep Gate. A spiral stairway gave access to the second storey.
In the twentieth century the vault in the gate became a place of refuge for the poor and homeless. Known as ‘Pucks’s Hole’ the space became the refuge of people like Johnnie Robinson, a returned soldier from the First World War, who suffered shell shock in the trenches.
Water Gate about 1900
Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film.
Water Gate – The Water Gate may have been erected to protect a fording place on the river. The stonework was similar to that of the Sheep Gate and it would appear to have a similar plan. A single archway with a second storey, Water Gate had its arch repaired in 1887. The gate was demolished about 1900 to make an approach to Watergate Bridge.
Dublin Gate – The Dublin Gate was on what is now Emmet Street but was Dublin Gate Street. This was the main exit for the road to Dublin. The gate was still in repair at the end of the eighteenth century.
Medieval style undercroft at Bridgehouse Hostel on northern side of river
Possible site of Bridge Gate
Bridge Gate – Bridge Gate is mentioned in Corporation records but its location is not clear. Some writers suggest it was on the south of the river guarding the route way to the castle. The hostel on the north side of the river has a cellar which may date back to medieval times and so this may have been part of the Bridge Gate.
1393 – Roger, Earl of March and Ulster, had license to appoint collectors of certain tolls and custom on all goods coming or going to be sold in the towns of Trim, Athboy, Scryne, and Novane, or for a league around them, as well as within the Cross as in his Liberty of Meath, for twenty years; which tolls and customs were to be expended in surrounding the town of Trim – which was the general place of assembly of all liege subjects of the County of Meath – with a stone wall, in paving it anew, improving the town, and in repressing the adjacent enemies and rebels.
1584 – Bishop Robert Draper, Rector of Trim, wrote that Trim was ‘in the myddest of the English Pale and is well and strongly walled about.’
1642 – ‘The fortifications had been allowed to fall into decay, for at this time the town was encompassed with a stone wall so old and ruinous as afforded in some places of it entrance to horse, over heaps of rubbish that lay instead of the wall…’
1666, April 21st – Ordered at an assembly of the Corporation, ‘That the constables, do lock the gates of the Town every night, at the ringing of the nine o’clock bell and deliver them to the deputy portreeve (mayor); and unlock the same every morning at four o’clock.’
1667-8, January 14 – ‘The condition of Navan-gate and Dublin-gate and the walls about the mill, westward, to be inspected; report to be made of their state, and the expense of repairing them. Three pounds was afterwards ordered for the repair of Navan-gate, alias Rogue’s Castle.’
1682, March 20 – ‘Ordered – That the gates called Navan and Athboy gates be repaired at the charge of the corporation.’
1689, January 21 – ‘Ordered – that the inhabitants of the corporation of Trim, doe put in their six days work, for repairing the walls on the south side of the corporation aforesaid … and the back-doors in the walls be forthwith made up with all expedition.’
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Bradley, John. ‘Urban Archaeological Survey of Meath.’ (Unpublished, 1984)
Bradley, John. Walled Towns in Ireland (Dublin, 1995)
Butler, Richard. Some notices of the Castle and of the Ecclesiastical Buildings of Trim (Trim, 1854)
Coey, Alastair, Architects, Trim Town Walls. Conservation Plan. (2008, Unpublished, available on web: www.heritagecouncil.ie/fileadmin/user…/Trim_Town_Walls.pdf)
Givens, John. Irish Walled Towns (Dublin, 2008)
Hennessy, Mark. Irish Historic Towns Atlas, No. 14: Trim. (Dublin, 2004)
O’Carroll, Finola. ‘What lies beneath: the development of Castle Street, Trim.’ (2009)
Potterton, Michael. Medieval Trim: history and archaeology. (2005)
Potterton, Michael & Seaver, Matthew (eds) Uncovering Medieval Trim. Archaeological excavations in and around Trim, Co. Meath. (Dublin, 2009)
Seaver, Matthew. ‘Porta Via: excavations at the Athboy Gate, Trim.’ (2009)
Shine, Denis, & Seaver, Matthew. ‘Towards the Rogue Castle: Excavations on Navan Gate Street, Trim.’ (2009)
Stephens, Mandy. ‘Empty Space: excavations outside Trim.’ (2009)
Thomas, Avril. The Walled Towns of Ireland (Dublin, 1992)
Text: Noel French
Photographs: George Eastman House, Noel French, National Library of Ireland.
Thank you to Finola O’Carroll, Jill Chadwick, Brian Murphy and Bridgehouse Hostel.
Sheep Gate in the 1840s