Friday 8 March 2013
Old Rathmore Church Co Meath
an almost spectral image.
Checking out this interesting looking ruin beforehand on Google Street view it appeared to be set back from the road in a cattle infested field with no entry signs on the gate. However the Street view can sometimes be outdated so we decided to take a chance and visit the area and if necessary seek permission to enter from the landowner.
The Church ruins of Rathmore were constructed in the late 15th century at the behest of Sir Thomas Plunkett, a successful lawyer returning to Ireland from London and subsequently achieving the noble position of Lord Chief Justice. He married Marion Cruise (Cruys) heiress of Rathmore and took up residence in Rathmore Castle. Before his death in 1471 he commissioned the building of the Church in the meadow adjacent to the Castle and dedicated it to St Lawrence. Subsequently both he and his wife were entombed here upon their deaths. Their lands were eventually disenfranchised when Cromwell confiscated them and they came into the hands of John Bligh whose family held the deeds until the early 20th century. The Castle and Church by then had both long fallen into ruin. Rathmore Castle originally an L-Plan tower house is now an ivy covered shell with farm buildings alongside, while Rathmore Church is quite a different story....
When we arrived at the gate to the field we could see the tantalising ruins in the near distance and surprisingly there were no prohibitive signs anywhere. The only sign present was a national monument type pointing to the Church. The gate was unlocked and there were no cows in the field. The dice seemed to tumble in our favour. Having said that, due to recent rainfall, parts of the field were downright boggy and it was a bit of a trudge to cross it. Luckily we had hiking boots or we would have been destroyed!.
Across the field another long gate has to be opened (and closed behind) and this allows you access to the actual gate in the wall surrounding the ancient graveyard in which the ruins stand.
This place is special. I could feel it as soon as we entered. A long rectangular building greeted us built of limestone rubble. On the Eastern end is a fine arched window and on the South West end a tall square bell tower. There are a number of ornamental features including a Labyrinth Stone which was salvaged from the floor and is now positioned on the North wall. Decorative stones like these are more commonplace around Europe so it was a pleasure to actually find one here. The design works as a maze which you can trace to its centre. Beside the labyrinth is a doorway which houses some steps which will bring you up to an opening in the North wall. More interesting is the second doorway a few yards to the East which allows entry to the old sacristy. The narrow steps here lead you to a small upper room and a further set brings you up higher to an open area where you can get a great view of the bell tower opposite and the remarkable countryside around you. I could have stayed there for hours.
Within the sacristy below, a dark room with one arched window, lies the tomb containing Thomas Plunkett and Marion Cruise. The tomb had been moved from the main body of the Church to protect it from the elements. The effigies on top depict Thomas in full armour with a trusty hound at his feet while Marion alongside has unfortunately lost her head!
There is a tale in true M. R. James fashion regarding the Plunkett tomb that tells of a treasure seeker who working on a rumour that the valuable Church plate and a purse of money was buried near the Plunketts took upon himself the task of a midnight visit with a spade and lantern only to be disturbed in his digging by a spectral monk who shrieked at him venomously causing him to run for his life. His reports of this put pay to any further incursions. I wonder though if the treasure is still there......
In the south wall a doorway leads you out into the ancient graveyard where the some remarkable stones and a High Cross. Here you can get a view of the full extent of the tower. You can actually enter the bell tower through a low doorway within the church but looking up it is apparent that it is floor less and no longer navigable, all the more pity as this would have been a joy to climb. All in all I would highly recommend a visit here as it is certainly one of the most interesting ruins we have come across.
To find Old Rathmore Church take the M3 from Dublin to Cavan and exit at Junction 9 taking a left turn onto the N51. Drive for approx. 9KM and you will pass the new Rathmore Church on you right. About 1KM further you will pass a right hand turn and a few metres further you will spot the ruins in the near distance on your left. You can park safely beside the field gate.