04 June 2012
Saint Patrick at Tara, Saint Patrick at Trim
Eighty years ago, while many people in Ireland were marking the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, throughout the Church of Ireland we were placing stained glass images of Saint Patrick in windows in parish churches up and down the land to emphasise our claims to being what the Preamble and Declaration adopted at Disestablishment described as “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland.”
One of those churches is Saint Patrick’s Church on the Hill of Tara in Co Meath. The church, which was built in 1822, is now used as the Tara Heritage and visitors’ centre, but there is still a service there each year on Saint Patrick’s Day and an Open Air Service on the Hill of Tara on the last Sunday in June.
On this June Bank Holiday Monday [4 June 2012], four of us visited the Hill of Tara, and after lunch we first went in to see the church at the Visitors’ Centre. The stained glass East Window, with images of Pentecost interspersed with images of Saint Patrick on the Hill of Tara is by Evie Hone and was erected to mark the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival and his mission to Ireland.
Two late mediaeval or early modern monuments to the Dillon family were moved from an early church, the ruins of which stand to the south-west of the visitor centre. Close by are upright stones, the tallest of which is carved with caving believed to be a Sheela-na-Gig.
The Hill of Tara was crowded with visitors but the blue skies and bright sunshine provided clear views south to Dublin and Wicklow, south-west across Meath to Offaly and Laois, west across Westmeath, north-west to Longford and Cavan, north to Monaghan, and north-east to Louth – ten counties in all.
On the way back down I was struck once again by the signs warning against camping and lighting fires – that would have made a damp squib of the beginning of Saint Patrick’s mission.
From Tara, we drove through Dunsany to Trim, which was once the country town of Meath and which is rich in mediaeval remains.
We stopped first on the banks of the River Boyne to see the Hospital or Priory of Saint John the Baptist on the banks of the Boyne. This was a house of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, and a defence tower at the entrance once formed part of the knights’ priory.
Trim Castle, or King John’s Castle, was built by Hugh de Lacey in the late 12th century and is said to be the largest Norman castle in Western Europe.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Loman Street, on the north side of Trim, is the Church of Ireland cathedral for the Diocese of Meath. It claims to be the oldest Anglican church in Ireland – although this claim is disputed by a church in Armagh which says its 20 years older than the cathedral in Trim.
The tower is part of the remains of the mediaeval parish church of Trim, and further ruins of this earlier church lie behind the cathedral. Although the Diocese of Meath was without a cathedral after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, The Bishops of Meath have been enthroned in Saint Patrick’s since 1536. However, Saint Patrick’s did not become a cathedral until Saint Patrick’s Day 1955, and the deans continue to called Dean of Clonmacnoise.
The tower clock at Saint Patrick’s commemorates Dean Richard Butler, the historian of Trim, who is buried on the south side of the cathedral. On this occasion, we did not get inside the cathedral to see the West Window which has the first-ever stained glass designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne Jones.
On the way out of Trim we stopped at the Echo Gate to shout across at the vast Cathedral of Newtown Trim, which was part of an Augustinian Priory founded in 1202 by Simon De Rochfort, Bishop of Meath. This was once the largest abbey of its kind in Ireland. Bishop Simon successfully petitioned the Pope to move the cathedral of the Diocese of Meath from Clonard to Newtown Trim, claiming it would be better protected by nearby Trim Castle.
The cathedral was dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul and with the adjacent Priory or Hospice of Saint John the Baptist this was one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Ireland until the dissolution of monasteries in the 1530s, and the main parts of the mediaeval cathedral still stand. From then, until Saint Patrick’s Day in 1955, the Diocese of Meath was without a cathedral.
We had one last shout across the Echo Gate before leaving Trim and driving along the banks of the Boyne to Navan and then joining the motorway back to Dublin.