St. Mary’s Abbey on the northern bank of the River Boyne, overlooking Trim Castle in Co. Meath, Ireland is a ruinous Augustinian Abbey dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The abbey today is commonly referred to as the Yellow Steeple, due to the yellow hue the surviving bell tower assumes during sunset. At c. 40m (seven storeys) in height this tower continues to dominate the Trim skyline and is thought to have been the tallest building in Ireland in the Later Medieval Period.
The Augustinian Abbey was founded in the early 12th century on the site of the original parish church. The abbey was burned in 1368 and shortly after this date the tower was constructed and a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected at the site. This statue became famous for the miracles it worked, resulting in the abbey becoming an important place of pilgrimage. The statue was publicly burned in 1538, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Today very little remains of the abbey, with the exception of the bell tower and ‘Talbot’s Castle’, a later medieval manor house that may incorporate a small portion of the original building.
Geophysical survey by Ashely Green (Bournemouth University) and the IAFS was undertaken at the site in May 2017. Several techniques were employed, including Earth Resistivity, Electromagnetic Survey (EM), Ground Probing Radar (GPR) and Gradiometry. While the area covered by the survey was partial, there appears to be several potential archaeological features – possibly relating to the occupation of the abbey.
In the summers of 2016 and 2017 the IAFS also partnered with Prof. Bodhi Michael Rogers of Ithaca University to undertake 3D scanning, or digital conservation, of the standing remains of both Trim Castle and the Yellow Steeple. This data will be an important monitoring and conservation tool for the site. The results of this survey have been published by the IAFS in Archaeology Ireland, with the raw data made available to the Office of Public Works (OPW).
Green, A. 2017. Yellow Steeple, St. Mary’s Abbey, Trim, Co. Meath: Geophysical Survey Report. Unpublished technical report, available on request.
Rodgers, M., Bouricius, R., Shine, D. Mandal, S. and Stull, S. 2018. Laser-Scanning Trim Castle. Archaeology Ireland, 32 (3), 34-39.