A Description of the Sites and Monuments of Interest in Rathmore

Rathmore Church

The church of Rathmore is dedicated to St. Lawrence the Deacon, who was martyred at Rome 261 A.D. by being broiled to death on a grid iron.

The church was built in the mid 15th century. The ruin consists of a nave and Chancel. The choir arch stands 38 feet high at the east end.

In the sacristy is an effigial 15th century tomb. It has been reconstructed by being set in cement. The figure of the knight in full armour with his feet on a dog is fairly complete. There are only a few fragments of the other figure surviving. Only a small fragment of the cross and base remain and stand outside the north side of the church.

The shaft of the font has various figures portrayed on it – the baptism in Jordan, St. Thomas the Apostle, an Archbishop, Christ showing the Five Wounds, SS Peter and Paul, an Abbess and a Bishop. This font was for many years kept in the new Rathmore church but was brought back with the consent of the Bishop and erected in the west end of the ruined church.

The belfry tower, at the south west corner of the nave, is 13 foot square and 40 feet high. The porch on the north of the church has a stone commemorating its builder, Sir Christopher Plunkett.

Rathmore Castle

Rathmore  Castle

The Castle is situated between the church and the road to the north of the ruins. Only the old square keep remains. The castle was badly damaged in a fire in 1676 when the Bligh family were in residence.  This castle is of the Anglo-Norman tower house type with the ground floor being barrel vaulted. The first storey can be reached via a door from a high mound against the south wall. There appears to have been a much more extensive castle and defences in Norman times.

St.  Lawrence’s  Well

This well is situated on the edge of a strip of wood east of the old ruined church of Rathmore. A pattern day was held at Rathmore handball alley each 15th of August up till the 1940s. There was open air dancing and  a sports day.

St.  Lawrences’s Stone

This stone is situated in the corner of a field about 100 yards off the Athboy – Kells road about 100 yards from the Navan turn-off.  According to one story it was here that St. Lawrence O’Toole prayed for the success of Rory O’Connor’s efforts to unite his people by holding a convention on the Hill of Ward in 1167. Marks on the stone are said to be left by St.  Lawrence O’Toole’s arms as he leaned against the stone in prayer. The stone is supposed to mark the junction of the old parishes of Athboy and Rathmore. It is said to have been a cure for people with pains in the back. The sufferer lay on the stone and said prayers for relief. Another story is that it is the chieftain’s stone from Rathmore fort and used for performing marriages in pre-Christian times.

A History of the Site

Celtic Times

Rathmore means great fort and later a castle was later built on its site. Occasionally Rathmore was inhabited by important chiefs, Neill Glun Dubh who reigned from 916  to 919 is known to have lived in this rath. There is a large stone in Ballyboy townland called St. Lawrence’s stone which  is believed was the Chieftain’s stone moved from Rathmore when the Normans built their castle on the mound.

Rathmore Town

There appears to have been a small town at Rathmore. There was a church and castle which were the two pre requisites for the founding of a town. It is stated in Gales “Inquiry into Ancient Corporate  Towns” that  Maurice Fitzgerald granted a Charter to his burgesses of Rathmore in the year 1232.

The Legend Of Rathmore

Rathmore Castle  and Church was built by the de Verdons, the Norman family who conquered this area. They built a church on the site of the present ruin.

The last de Vernon Lord of Rathmore had only one child, a daughter, Matilda. Sir Christopher Cruise, then an old man held considerable property in the area and had a castle at Cruisetown.  Sir Christopher succeeded in winning the hand of Matilda and married her in 1406 and thus acquired Rathmore. Cruise’s nephews regarded themselves as his heir and were very disappointed to see him marry and thus raising the possibility of a son and closer heir. The nephews decided to murder Sir Christopher and his wife. Their hired killers attacked the couple as they walked along the avenue of Cruisetown Castle. Sir Christopher held off the attackers while his wife made a run for refuge at the castle. Sir Christopher died from his wounds before help arrived but Lady Cruise just made it to the castle before the pursuing murderers. Little did the attackers know but she was carrying her husband’s child at the time.

Knowing she was in a dangerous situation she packed all the plate and other treasures into strong chests and sunk them in the lake in the grounds of the castle. A report was spread that Lady Cruise was ill and would not survive the night. Men were sent from Rathmore to bear her remains to the home of her father. Her coffin was taken to Rathmore and brought to the castle, but her coffin had airholes in it.

Gathering all the Rathmore plate and placing it in the coffin Lady Cruise buried it in the graveyard. It was commonly thought for many centuries that there was treasure buried in Rathmore church. In the nineteenth century one man dug up a portion of the floor near the altar one dark night. A ghost priest with robes appeared behind him and the treasure-seeker  left in quite a hurry. 

Lady Cruise fled to England with the title deeds of Rathmore and Cruisetown to escape from her husband’s  “inheritors” . In London she gave birth to a daughter who was christened Mary Ann Cruise. Lady Cruise’s money and jewels were gradually eroded in her fight to prove her claim and establish her child’s rights. She lost all the cases she brought for the restoration of her property and was eventually forced to find work. The only job she could get was as a washerwoman. Mother and daughter took in washing and washed and bleached the clothes on the banks of the Thames near London Bridge. 

One day Mary Ann had to go wash on her own as her mother was ill.  She started to sing a lament in Irish her mother had composed on the loss of her estates. A passing gentleman stopped and listened to the song. Sir Thomas Plunkett, the third son of the first Baron of Kileen, understood the Irish song and indeed knew the places mentioned in the song. He approached the girl and she told him the full story. He explained that he was a lawyer and Mary Ann took him to her mother where he was shown the title deeds and other papers. Taking the case he won back Rathmore and Cruisestown castles and their estates and also won the heart and hand of Mary Ann Cruise and so the Plunketts became Lords of Rathmore.  That is the legend of Rathmore.

The de Verdons held the Manor of Rathmore in the 13th and 14th centuries. The last of the family was Matilda, daughter of Sir Thomas de Verdon. She married Sir Thomas Cruise in 1406. Sir Thomas died in 1423 and left an only daughter Mary Ann who became the second wife of Sir Thomas Plunkett. Sir Thomas Plunkett was the third son of Christopher first Lord Kileen who had married Joan Cusack heiress to Kileen and Dunsany estates.

Sir Thomas Plunkett, who was for a time Lord Chief Justice of Ireland inherited the de Verdon and Cruise estates of Rathmore, Girley, Kilskyre, Stillorgan and other lands.

A cross at Kileen church bears the names “Thomas Plunkett – Mary Cruys”  but no date. It is said that this was erected by the couple to commemorate their bridal visit there.

The existing Rathmore Church seems to have been extensively rebuilt and beautified by the Plunkett Lords of Rathmore. The church was probably erected by Sir Thomas Plunkett in the middle of the 15th century. The nave and chancel were built separately but around the same time. This was so that the church could continue to be used while the building was done. At each corner is a tower. The belfry is at the south-western corner and the north tower  was the sacristy with living quarters overhead.

There is a double effigy tomb of the patron and his wife built around 1471. Sir Thomas Plunkett died in 1471 and this tomb is likely that of him and his wife Mary Ann Cruise. The letters PL-NKT appear beside the figure of the knight.  The knight is covered in chain mail, his sword is in its sheath, his hands are joined in prayer and his feet rest on a dog. The figure of the lady is badly damaged with only her lower half surviving. This tomb was originally beside the altar. The altar, which was carved around the middle of the fifteenth century for the new church, has niches containing angels swinging censers, St. Lawrence with a grid iron, bishops, an abbess with a crosier and the coats of arms of the Plunkett, Fitzgerald, Talbot, Fleming, Eustace, Bellew, Bermingham and Cusack families.

Sir Thomas was succeeded by his son, Edmund, who died in 1494 without an heir. His brother, Alexander, succeeded and he became Chancellor of Ireland in 1492 and when he died in 1503 he was succeeded by his son, Christopher.

Sir Christopher married Catherine Preston, daughter of the first Lord Gormanstown. The porch on the northern door of Rathmore church was erected by Sir Christopher. There is a memorial on the west wall of the porch which asks for prayers for Sir Christopher and his lady Catherine and promised “200 days of indulgence have been granted by 5 bishops in Provincial Council, as often as they say them forever”. It was customary up until the 20th century for local people to say a Pater or an Ave before this stone. The inscription dates the porch as being built in 1519 and also says that Christopher and Catherine erected a cross in the church grounds. Only  a small fragment of this cross and its base remain. It shows St. Lawrence, St. Patrick or an Archbishop, an abbess and vine leaves. 

Sir Christopher died in 1431. After his death his widow married Patrick Whyte, a Baron of the Exchequer. There followed four generations of the Plunkett family at Rathmore. 

In the late 1500’s Sir Richard Alexander Plunkett fell into debt and had to sell many of his estates. Queen Elizabeth I, who was friendly towards him, “granted by her royal prerogative her royal protection to Sir Alex. Rd.  Plunkett for a year and a day against all law suits, seizures, executions and further that his son who being bound for his father’s debt in prison to be released”.

The de Verdons, Cruise and Plunkett families lived in Rathmore castle which was an Norman tower house erected on a motte (small man made hill). There seems to have been a bawn around the castle.  This was an enclosure for keeping stock and was also used for defence. The lowest storey of the castle is barrel – vaulted. A bailey or protective trench around the castle protected the castle from an Irish attack from the Bog of Rathmore.

The Massacre Of 12 Plunketts Of Rathmore

In 1641 five English soldiers left the town of Athboy to purchase provisions for horses and never returned. Their bodies were discovered by labourers working for Robert Plunkett of Rathmore. The pay was low and so the labourers decided to earn extra by betraying Plunkett as the murderer of the five soldiers. However a young boy hearing the discussion ran to Rathmore and warned Robert Plunkett who went into hiding.

Cromwell arrived in 1649 and camped on the Hill of Ward. He allowed Plunkett an audience and demanded a sum of money to purchase a reprieve. Robert, who was accompanied by his nine sons, turned to Cromwell and pointing to his sons said that they were the only wealth he possessed. Cromwell ordered Plunkett hanged. The sons rushed to the aid of their father but were overpowered and all were put to death.

Another story is that Cromwell had a cannon turned on the Plunkett family as they approached the Hill of Ward. All the Plunkett family were killed in an instant. Lady Plunkett who was watching from the tower of Rathmore castle saw what happened and fell to her death. Plunkett’s daughter Kate escaped to the North of England where she married an English officer who had been stationed in Athboy. He married her because he hoped she could regain her estates but he became ashamed of her Irishisms and deserted her.

Those are the stories of the massacre of the twelve Plunketts on the Hill of Ward but that is all they are – stories. The late Diocesan historian Rev. John Brady wrote an article in Riocht na Midhe which prove that these stories could not be true.

Robert Plunkett had four daughters and none of them were called Kate or Kathleen. Robert Plunkett  was alive and well when Cromwell was in his grave. Robert died in 1661 and he and his wife were buried in St. Audeon’s church, Dublin.

Cromwell came to Ireland in August 1649 and stayed till May 1650.  He besieged and took the town of Drogheda. It is doubtful if Cromwell came to this area of  Meath at all but his soldiers certainly did. They seemed to take a delight in desecrating holy places. They smashed Rathmore Cross and threw it out of its sockets. The Crosses of Athboy were hidden when the news came that Cromwell’s men were in Kells smashing crosses.

Change of Land Ownership

There is a tradition that Bligh received Rathmore Castle and estate from Cromwell on the Hill of Ward. It was said that he would be granted all the land he could see from the top of the hill. He could see Rathmore, Athboy, Ballivor and Kildalkey.

Under the Acts of Settlement (1668) 1154 acres in the Barony of Lune were granted to Sir William Tichbourne and his wife, Robert Moulsworth, the infant son and heir of Robert Moulsworth, deceased, a Dublin Merchant, John Upton and his wife, Ursula, the relict of George Clarke of London, merchant and Thomas, son and heir of John Bligh, deceased. Thomas appears to have bought out the other grantees of the Plunkett property.

Robert Plunkett and his heirs sent petitions to the restored King Charles II and tried other Courts of Claims to get their lands back but they were unsuccessful. The Plunketts were forced from Rathmore when the Adventurers took up their grants.

The estate of Rathmore was confirmed to Thomas Bligh by an Act of Settlement in 1668. Thomas erected the principal estates in the neighbourhood into a manor and obtained a grant from King William and Queen Mary empowering him to hold 500 acres in demesne and to empale 500 acres for a deer park. By patent dated the 4th June in the 6th year in the reign of William and Mary and granted to Thomas Bligh “the townlands and commons of Athboy;  together with several denominations of lands in the parishes of Rathmore; Moyaugher and Kildalkey, all in the Barony of Lune and the County of Meath, were erected into a Manor, and a power given to Thomas Bligh, his heirs and assigns to hold a Court twice a year and a Court Baron every three weeks or seldomer before a seneschal to be appointed by him or them”. Thomas was M.P. for Athboy in 1692. Thomas was living in Rathmore Castle in 1676 when it was burnt down accidentally by a fire which started in the kitchen. The Blighs then built a residence on the Athboy – Trim road and called it “Clifton Lodge”.

In the 1680’s Bishop Dopping, the Protestant Bishop of Meath, surveyed the parish of Rathmore. Rathmore Church was dedicated to St. Lawrence. The patron was Dowdall of Rathmore, a papist. The King was also a patron. There was 1000 acres in the parish.  P. Cox was the popish priest. There was no Protestant services. Robert Parkinson of Athboy was the rector of Rathmore as well as Athboy. Only the walls of the church was standing and it lacked all the things a church needed except a font. In 1704 Rev. James Lestrange was registered parish priest of Rathmore.