Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rathmore Church, County Meath

Rathmore Church is situated off the road outside the town of Athboy in rolling Meath pastureland. This wonderful site featured in the news a couple of weeks ago when a medieval carved font was stolen from the church. Thankfully the font was returned after a public campaign was initiated. The font has been moved to a more secure location but this church and graveyard is still well worth a visit. 
The Scene of the Crime! This pedestal marks the place where the font once stood
The church at Rathmore was founded in the 15th century by the Plunkett family and was dedicated to St. Lawrence. The Plunketts resided at Rathmore Castle which is in one of the adjacent fields to the church but now very little remains above ground of the castle. The castle and church were held by the Plunketts for generations until the 17th century when it passed to the Bligh family. There are records of Rectors present at the church until the late 17th century when the church became united with Athboy. The church probably began to fall into ruin after that time.
The church is surrounded by a built up graveyard. Within the graveyard is the remains of a decorated cross. This cross was probably erected for Sir Christopher Plunkett and his wife Catherine in the early 16th century. The figures on the shaft of the cross have been identified as St. Patrick grappling with a snake, St. Lawrence and an abbess or female saint, it is thought that this might be a representation of St. Brigid.
Within the church there are more fantastic medieval carvings. There is a beautiful carving of a labyrinth on the wall of the church. This carving most likely dates to the 15th century and is a motif that is common across Europe. The labyrinth design is a maze, the carved lines lead to the centre. 

The church has an L shape plan and there is a small room to the left of the chancel as you are looking east. This was the sacristy. Steps lead up to a room above the darkened sacristy and this was once the living room of the sacristan or resident priest. There is a fireplace in the wall and steps lead up to another floor, which is now gone. This would have been the bedroom. The sacristy on the ground floor contains a tomb and effigy of Thomas Plunkett and his wife – Marion Cruise. The carving has been defaced and it is difficult to make her out, but the carving of Sir Thomas is in a better state of preservation. He has been carved in full armour and even has his loyal dog at his feet. This tomb originally stood in the church but was moved to the sacristy to protect it from the elements. 

The altar, which stands at the top of the chancel has a range of figures carved onto its surface. This probably dates to the middle or later 15th century and has many saints and ecclesiastic carved on its surface. It also has carvings of the Plunkett coat of arms but it is difficult to make out some of the carvings. At the end of the nave is another doorway which leads you into what would have been the belfry. There are now no floors within this part of the church, but the exterior of the belfry of bell tower is quite well preserved.

Another beautiful feature of this site is the east window. It is a wonderful example of stonecraftsmanship and probably dates to the 15th century. On the external wall of the church, there are three stone carved heads around this window. They are depicting quite jolly looking people: a king, queen and ecclesiastic. A similar carving depicting another ecclesiastic is on the western external wall at the opposite end of the church. 

We visited Rathmore last Sunday and found it to be a fantastic place to spend an hour or two with some wonderful examples of medieval stone craftsmanship. To get to Rathmore, travel on the N51 towards Athboy. Take the first left hand turn after the village of Rathmore and park on the verge. The church and graveyard are located in fields on the right hand side of the road. The site is on private land so please make sure to close all the gates behind you.
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All photographs © Neil Jackman /