The Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project
The Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project (BCAP) aims to rejuvenate the Black Friary, a four acre site including the ruins of the thirteenth century Dominican Friary, once a significant part of the history of the medieval town of Trim, Co. Meath.
The site has long been neglected, due in part to its status as a national Monument in Irish heritage legislation, and to the lack of resources available to the local authority to develop the site as a heritage resource.
The BCAP is challenged with investigating the archaeological remains of the site, much now underground, and working with the local community to create a space where community and visitors alike can explore heritage and use the site in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way.
The History of the site
The Dominican order, an order of mendicant or teaching friars, had arrived relatively late into Ireland (1224) and founded religious houses in Irish medieval towns in the 13th century (Barry 1987, 159). In Meath, the Cistercian order was at this time already well established, with extensive lands such as those at the nearby site of Bective Abbey. Due to the Domincan’s relatively late arrival and the nature of their ministry they were primarily granted sites outside towns. The friary was situated outside the Town wall. The Athboy Gate, the town wall gate that was located at the junction of Haggard Street and the Athboy Road, was previously known as the Black Gate, a reference to the friars. The Black or Dominican Friary at Trim was founded by Geoffrey de Geneville, Lord of Trim, in 1263 (Potterton 2005, 319). De Geneville was a Norman lord, he had inherited the title by marrying Matilda, the granddaughter of Walter de Lacy. His Lordship in Ireland included the control of a wide area known as the Liberty of Trim. In founding the friary, he provided for himself a place to which he could retire. De Geneville spent his final years at the friary and was buried there in 1314.
We know that the friary was of considerable importance; historical records note that it was the location for a significant meeting of Irish bishops 1291. In 1367, there is a historical record of a visitation by the Archbishop of Armagh. The Black Friary was the location for Parliamentary meetings in 1446 and 1491 (Hennessey 2004, 10). The record of these events indicates the one time importance of the institution.
By the 16th century however the friary, though still in use, had fallen into disrepair and by 1540 and the hall, dormitory and kitchen were considered beyond repair. The friary was closed by 1540, as a result of the actions of King Henry VIII (the Suppression or Dissolution of the Monasteries). The church cloister, chancel and other properties were sold to the Bishop of Meath. Contemporary records in 1541 noted a four acre orchard, garden and cemetery and a three acre close of pasture land beside the wall of the house. Three houses and gardens were also located within. A belfry, chapter house, dormitory, hall, three chambers, a kitchen, a pantry and a stable are also mentioned. They also held 72 acres of total estate land. The friary was re-established in 1630 before eventually being transferred to Donore in 1713 (Hennessey 2004, 11). Much of the building stone was subsequently sold and the friary buildings dismantled, effectively quarried, for reuse of the stone during the 18th century. Presumably this stone was used to build some of the buildings now standing in Trim town.
The site consists of four acres/two hectares, and is generally overgrown, with some small areas of masonry visible above ground. It is enclosed by a double bank and ditch to the north and east.
The legal stuff
Ownership: The site is owned by Trim Town Council and Meath County Council. The council’s remit is to manage the site. This includes access to the site, and maintenance (grass cutting etc.)
Legal status: The site is protected by a Preservation Order, under National Monuments legislation (Monument Ref. ME036-04822). This legislation provides for full protection from e.g. development that might impact adversely on the archaeology. This Preservation Order has been in place since 1972 (PO Ref. 4/1972)
Permissions: Archaeological work is being carried out under Ministerial Consent, on behalf of Trim Town Council. Ministerial Consent has been granted to carry out archaeological investigation on a defined area, not extending beyond the confines of the site of the Black Friary (Consent Ref: C420). Ministerial Consent includes the following assumptions and conditions:
- Archaeological work must be undertaken under the direct supervision of the person named as the competent person on the Consent (in this case, Finola O’Carroll)
- Work to be carried out as per the Code of Practice of the Institute of Archaeologist of Ireland.
- All archaeological objects and artefacts are the property of the State and will ultimately by submitted to the National Museum of Ireland for curation
- Human remains must be treated as per the Institute of Archaeologist of Ireland Code of Practice for the Treatment of Human Remains
- Reporting on the findings of the archaeological investigation must be undertaken annually.
The whole field has traditionally been used by the local community for various activities, including an recreational space, for children to play or as a place to walk dogs, and as a short cut from Griffin Park to the Kells Road. While the whole field (four acre site) is subject to the Preservation Order, the current archaeological works includes a relatively small area within the site of the friary buildings, in the western half of the field. Continued access is encouraged, to make use of this field as a recreational resource!
The only activity we would like to see reduced is the anti social activity on site resulting in broken glass, and littering.
Health and Safety
While excavation is ongoing, and trenches are open, there is signage and fencing in place to protect people from falling into holes, and to protect the archaeology from being trampled or interfered with. We would ask anyone visiting the site to respect the safety measures in place.
Parents! Please inform your children that they should not play in the areas where archaeological excavation is taking place. This may be dangerous to the child, and potentially damaging to the archaeology.