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Trim, located on the beautiful River Boyne is dominated by the largest castle in Ireland and defined by its medieval past. There is history simply everywhere. Despite attempts by Cromwell’s soldiers to blow it up, the ‘Yellow Steeple’ of St Mary’s Abbey is still the tallest surviving medieval structure in the country. St Patrick’s Cathedral incorporates a fifteenth century tower and the town wall, although reduced, continues to endure in sections throughout the town. Simply put, there are fewer better places in Ireland to experience the country’s medieval heritage.
Trim’s foundation dates back to the fifth century when a nephew of St. Patrick, named Lommán, established a church near the ford of Trim. In 1172, after most of Ireland had been conquered by the Anglo-Normans, King Henry II of England granted the Kingdom of Meath to Hugh de Lacy. Choosing Trim as his capital, de Lacy set about building the largest Norman castle in Ireland on a commanding position by the banks of the Boyne. Designed to intimidate and dominate the native Irish, the Castle guarded the north-west approach to Dublin and became the keystone of Norman power in this area of Ireland. Within the town seven monasteries and three hospitals were constructed. This medieval legacy of buildings is not equalled in any other Irish town.
The main part of the Castle, the keep, was a twenty sided structure, cruciform in shape. It was protected by a ditch, long curtain walls and the moat. The water supply for the moat came from the Leper Stream. Inside the building there were three storeys which housed the living quarters. The Great Hall and a small chapel were to be found in the castle yard along with a Royal Mint which produced Irish coinage known as Patricks and Irelands. Entry to the castle was restricted to one of the two gates in the curtain wall. The Dublingate of the castle is the only complete castle tower with a barbican in Ireland.
The castle is often called King John’s Castle although when he visited the town he preferred to stay in his tent on the other side of the river. Richard II visited Trim in 1399 and left Prince Hal as a prisoner in the castle. Prince Hal survived to become Henry V, victor over the French at Agincourt.
The castle was occupied on a regular basis up to the middle of the fourteenth century. In 1403 the Privy Council in England stated that the Castle was on the point of falling to the ground. Since then the castle has lain abandoned except for a brief period in the 1640s when it was refortified.
The castle was an integral part to the overall defences of the town. The first reference to a town wall is in 1289-90 when a seven year murage grant was given. However, despite this date it seems likely that due to continued political instability that the settlement was enclosed by some sort of defences at an even earlier date. By the 13th century Trim had developed into one of the most important market towns in Meath. In contrast, the 14th century was marked by the Bruce invasion of 1315-18, famine and the Black Death. With the diminishing English control of Ireland and the corresponding rebirth of Gaelic power, the town became more of a frontier outpost on the edge of the Pale. Murage grants were again awarded at the start of the 15th century.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw more unrest. Indeed, in 1534 the town was captured for a time by rebel Silken Thomas. The economic stagnation that had been partially caused by the town’s inability to trade freely was exacerbated by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Reports at the end of 16th century describe Trim as ‘ruinous’.
During the Catholic Rebellion of the mid 17th century the town was to change hands on several occasions until it was finally taken by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. The Protestant New English settlers, who now controlled the whole area moved out from the town into grand houses in the countryside. During the Williamite Wars of the end of the 17th century the town’s loss of power by its Catholic residents was made total. It was a situation that was to last until 19th century. By the 18th century, Trim had settled into its role as provincial market town with its function as regional leader being taken over by Navan.