Trim Dominican Friary

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Order: Dominican (Order of Preachers, Ordo Praedicatorum)
Founded in 1263
Likely founded by Geoffrey de Geneville (d.1314), Justiciar of Ireland
Possibly dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption

The Place

The remains of the Dominican foundation of St. Mary’s of the Assumption, known locally simply as the Blackfriary, lie within a 6 acre field on the north side of the town of Trim in Co. Meath. In the Middle Ages, Trim was a place of great significance, as it was the caput of the Liberty of Meath, based upon the ancient kingdom of Mide, which had been granted to Hugh de Lacy by Henry II in 1172. Trim became the administrative, judicial and commercial centre of the Lordship of Meath and was where de Lacy chose to build his castle, still standing today. The town is divided in two by the River Boyne; the castle is on its southern bank and the Dominican friary lies on the northern side of the town immediately north of the line of the town walls.


The People

Hugh de Lacy’s eldest son Walter succeeded him at lord of Meath.  However, by the time of his own death in 1241, Walter had outlived his son Gilbert (d.1230) and his grandson Walter (d.1238). His lordship was therefore divided between his granddaughters Margaret and Matilda. The resulting division of the lands between the two and their husbands left Matilda with Trim and lands mostly in the eastern half of the lordship. She and her second husband, Geoffrey de Geneville (d. 1314) had the lands and Trim castle restored to them by Henry III by 1254. De Geneville was the second son of Simon de Joinville and Beatrix d’Auxonne of Vaulcoleurs in Champagne, France. His older brother Jean de Joinville (d.1317) is remembered as one of the great chroniclers of medieval France.  A close advisor and confident of  Louis IX of France (d.1270) – also known as Saint Louis – Jean wrote the biography of Saint Louis, detailing their exploits on crusade and later time spent in the Holy Land . As Geoffrey was governor of the Liberty of Trim at the period when the friary was founded, it is logical to presume he (and Matilda) were the initial patrons, though no record survives.

This was the seventeenth of twenty four Dominican foundations established in Ireland by the end of the thirteenth century.

It is known that after the death of Matilda in 1304, de Geneville, who had inherited the liberty of Trim for his lifetime, sought licence from the king to hand over all his lands in Ireland to his grand-daughter Joan, and her husband Roger Mortimer (d.1330). In 1308, de Geneville retired to the Dominican friary, where, in 1314 he died and was buried a friar.

In 1324, Nicholas, grandson of Geoffrey and son and heir of Simon de Geneville, died and was buried at the friary, with his wife Joad FitzLeones later interred there in 1347.

While it is unclear if the Mortimers continued to act as key patrons of the friary, it is likely they did. Another great benefactor of the Dominicans in Trim was Matthew Hussy, baron of Galtrim, who died and was was buried in the friary in 1418. The name Hussey is associated with Dominican friars, some of whom may have been based in Trim.  However, while the Husseys were often associated with the early history of the Dominican friary in Trim, it is more likely that their connections with the order were rooted in fifteenth century and later.

Why visit?

There are no undisturbed above ground remains of the Blackfriary in Trim. The site was dismantled for building stone in the mid-eighteenth century. However, walls do survive in many places, mostly to under 1m high but occasionally more than that. This is known because since 2010 excavations under the direction of Finola O’Carroll have taken place each year as part of a field school which trains students in excavation methodologies. Burials are also being excavated and Dr. Rachel Scott of de Paul University, Chicago is the project bioarchaeologist, who directs this aspect of the work (see It is possible to visit the site while the excavations are happening.

Because of the excavations we know that the friary was extensive; it had a double court, i.e. there are two spaces around which the buildings are arranged. The principal cloister, set to the north of the church, has a low limestone dwarf or garth wall, almost 20m square, on which an arcade crafted from Purbeck marble, from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, was set. The size of the cloister is large for a mendicant foundation in Ireland and the use of Purbeck marble for the arcade is highly significant and highly unusual.

The second court has not yet been excavated but is visible in both the LiDAR survey and the topographical surveys already carried out, and two walls, which extend north into it confirm the existence of buildings around the space. Overall, it is one of the largest, if not the largest mendicant friaries in the country.

A significant quantity of stained glass has also been recovered, as has fragments of polychrome painted plaster, showing that some of the buildings were highly decorated. Some of the glass was recovered still with the lead cames (lead strips that hold the glass in place), and is currently undergoing conservation in the University of Cardiff, Wales.

The six acre site at the edge of the town remains mostly unbuilt on, though the west part of the precinct edging the Kells Road has houses on it dating to the 1930’s. The precinct boundary remains visible on the east and north sides, and excavation has revealed the presence of a ditch on the southern line, most likely given its width – 5.5m to be the town boundary. The infields associated with the friary immediately east of the precinct boundary have been archaeologically tested, and confirmed the presence of at least two medieval ditches, sub-dividing the space into discrete fields. As part of community outreach and in collaboration with local community groups a small community garden has been established in part of this area.

It is hoped in future years to further expand the community involvement with the site.

What happened?

1263: The Dominican friary was founded in Trim, most likely by Geoffrey de Geneville and his wife Matilda de Lacy, who jointly held the Lordship of Trim.

1291: A meeting of the Irish bishops was held in the friary in September. Presided over by Nicholas Mac Máel Íosa, Archbishop of Armagh, it was convened to counteract a perceived threat to their rights by the encroachment of secular power.

1285, 1300, 1315: The Irish Vicariate held meetings in Trim. (Normally, they would be referred to as General or Provicial Chapters, but since there was no Irish province at the time; the Irish houses formed a vicariate under the English Provincial.)

1308: Geoffrey de Geneville retired to the friary, becoming a friar.

1314: Geoffrey de Geneville died at the Blackfriary.  The Athenry Register – which mistakenly gives a date of 1301 for his death – suggests that he also left a large sum of money (12,000 marks) to the friary.

1367: The Archbishop of Armagh held a metropolitan visitation in the guesthouse of the friary. Many of the significant clergy of Meath were present.

1376: Thomas de Bermingham, a benefactor of the Dominican friary, Athenry, Co. Galway, died and was buried in Trim at the Blackfriary. His body was later exhumed and brought to Athenry.

1446(7), 1484(5), 1487, 1491: Parliaments held at the Blackfriary, Trim. Various authorities appear to disagree on the precise dates.

1540: The friary was suppressed. The church, cloister, chancel and other buildings were sold to the bishop of Meath. A 21 year lease was granted to David Floyd, a soldier from Dublin, of the site of the friary.

1541: An exchequer inquisition recorded that a man named Hussey was the last prior of the Blackfriary and that the convent and church were ruinous. It also stated that the names of the main founders of the friary were unknown.

1584: Roger Draper, parson of Trim and later bishop of Ardagh wrote in May to the English lord high treasurer, Lord Burghley, suggesting that the buildings of Trim, including the Blackfriary, were suitable for a projected university.

1630: It was reported that a friary and a mass house used by friars were erected or repaired on the lands of Nicholas Martin of Trim and Henry Corye of Trim.  One of these two friaries must have been Dominican, the other Franciscan.

1636: An intermediate provincial chapter was held in Trim.

1664: Cornelius O’Donnell was appointed prior of the convent by John O’Hart, provincial.

1671: Dr Oliver Plunkett of Armagh wrote that the convent at Trim of five friars and also a novitiate there. Eight lived in the priory of Trim in the same year, probably three novices and five priests.  Amongst the friars is one named Fr. John Byrne, a great and learned preacher, but quarrelsome. It is otherwise known that there were .

1680: TCD MS F4:14, fol. 32: Two documents of the same date which refer to the pawning or pledging of chalices and cruets belonging to the priory.

“I do hereby acknowledge to have received from Mr John Reynolds also Landy the two big silver chalices and the two silver patenas, or plates, and the two silver cruites belonging to the convent of Tryme, which were in his hands deposited by our consent, until he should be repayed the forty shillings he delivered to Mr Own O’Coigly for to redeemthe sayd chalices and cruites. As witness my hand the 26th August 1680 Fr. Thomas Nangle.”

1698 : Some years after the exile of the regular clergy the Dominicans of Trim gradually returned to resume community life in secret, though not to the town of Trim itself. They found a more secluded place near Kilyon, between the Boyne and the public road, about one hundred yards upstream from the now ruined castle of Donore.

From Cogan “Early in the 18th century a farm was set to the community by Mr. Ashe, a Protestant gentleman, at Donore, a few miles from Trim. A house was erected here which answered the purpose of a convent and over this presided a prior who was tenant of the farm and pastor of the adjoining parishes…it was a retreat for the secular clergy, many of whom entered the Order and spent here the evenings of their lives.

Entry by Finola O’Carroll of the Blackfriary Archaeology Field School