Impact Assessment at St Cianans Duleek, Co Meath

An archaeological impact assessment was produced by ACSU for a conversion project of the nineteenth-century St. Cianan’s Church in the village of Duleek. The site is located in the townland of Commons, south of Church Lane, Duleek, County Meath and within the Zone of Archaeological Potential established around the town. The church is adjacent to the medieval church of St. Cianan’s and a high cross.

The aim of the impact assessment was to identify any possible impacts which recent and future building work associated with development of an extension to the church of St. Cianan may have had on any features and deposits of an archaeological nature. The report also assessed the physical and visual impacts of the development upon the high cross as well as any physical impact to archaeological deposits or features within the church.


St Cianans Duleek


History of Duleek and St Cianans Church

Duleek is situated on the northern bank of the River Nanny in County Meath and is best known as an important Early Christian monastic site. There is no evidence for prehistoric activity within the town but a number of Early Bronze Age burials were discovered at Keenoge immediately to the southwest (Bradley 1985).

The modern street plan of Duleek retains the shape of the Early Christian enclosure which is well documented in early manuscripts. The name Duleek is derived from the old Irish word for stone church, Damliac, and there is a tradition that Duleek was the location for the first stone church in Ireland (Bradley 1985). References to the stone church in Duleek occur in Tirechan’s Life of St. Patrick and in the Annals of Ulster for the year AD724 (Edwards 1990). References to the abbots and bishops of Duleek are recorded in the Annals of Ulster and the Annals of the Four Masters. The founding saint of Duleek is regarded as St. Cianan.

Also to be found in the annals are references to the plundering of the monastery of Duleek by the Norsemen between the eight and twelfth centuries. In AD1111, at the Synod of Rathbreasail, Duleek was selected as one of the bishoprics of Meath but the men of Meath, who also held a synod that same year at Uisneach, dropped Duleek in favour of Clonard as the centre of the See of East Meath. An entry in the Annals of the Four Masters for 1123 records how the Gailenga attacked the king of Tara at Duleek and burned eighty houses there. According to Bradley, by the twelfth century Duleek was a sizeable nucleated settlement even if one allows for exaggeration by the annalists (Bradley 1985).

high cross duleekIn 1171, Duleek was attacked and burned once more, this time by the Anglo-Normans under Miles de Cogan who erected a motte and bailey castle which was destroyed four years later. Subsequently, Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, built a manor there and around 1180, he established a grange (or monastic farm) at Duleek for the Augustinian house of Llanthony Secunda in Gloucestershire. The grange was dedicated to St. Michael and was located on the southwest side of the town between the River Nanny and the main road. It was dissolved by the Crown in 1541 and granted to Sir Gerald Moore (Bradley 1988–89).

Evidence for a leper house at Duleek c.1202 is recorded in the Irish Cartularies of Llanthony. This was known as St. Mary Magdalene’s and was in the king’s hands by 1403 when it, along with gardens belonging to St. Mary’s of Odder, was handed over to Thomas of Scargyll. The Monasticon Hibernicum records that later in 1410, John Traynor received custody of the house of ‘St. Magdelyn’s’ in Duleek from Henry V. However, the exact location of this building is not known.

The medieval borough of Duleek was aligned along the present Main Street which is mentioned in medieval sources as Via Regia (‘King Street’). There is also a reference to a Market Street in a thirteenth-century deed. This was evidently a north–south street, perhaps corresponding with the lower part of Larrix Street. Today, Main Street and Larrix Street delimit the Early Christian enclosure and, therefore, their origin is likely to lie in pre-Norman times. The narrow streets crisscrossing the monastic enclosure are lanes of unknown date. Earthen banks are referred to in an extent of the Augustinian grange of 1381 and these may have comprised the town’s defences (Bradley 1985).

In 1284, Duleek was granted an annual fair and in 1598 was listed as one of the market towns of Meath. The Civil Survey of 1654 records that Duleek contained fifty-one houses as well as ‘St. Kenan’s Church’, a priory, a stone house called the “colledge”, a mill and two stone bridges (Bradley 1985). However, Duleek had declined in importance even in Anglo-Norman times as it was superseded by Drogheda (Bradley 1988–89).

The church attributed to St. Cianan is identified by Bradley as St. Patrick’s Church while the church marked ‘abbey’ to the east of it on Ordnance Survey maps is identified as St. Cianan’s. Bradley argues that although the standing remains of this church are medieval in date, the presence of a Romanesque corbel, a pre-Norman cross-slab, two high crosses probably of tenth-century date and the remains of a round tower, indicate that this is the site of the pre-Norman church of St. Cianan (Bradley 1980–81).

Duleek is important to archaeology as a good example of an Early Christian settlement which developed into an Anglo-Norman town. The Irish Cartularies of Llanthony Prima and Secunda, as well as surviving topographical evidence of the early monastic enclosure and other medieval references, have made Duleek an ideal example for the study of settlement patterns and medieval colonisation in Ireland (Simms 1979). Simms’ study demonstrated how the Anglo-Norman expansion of the town radiated out from the pre-Norman enclosure.

Archaeological deposits are likely to exist over the whole area of the town and will contribute to our understanding of the development of Duleek. Although important remains of the monastic settlement survive, little is known about its layout and extent. The street pattern of the town has remained virtually the same since the Middle Ages but nothing is known of the pre-seventeenth-century housing. The course and nature of the town defences are unclear as are the locations of the college referred to in the Civil Survey and two mills mentioned in 1260. The extent of settlement in the vicinity of the bridge and around St. Mary Magdalene’s Hospital also requires further study (Bradley 1985).

Further Reading

Bradley, J. (1980–81) ‘St. Patrick’s Church, Duleek’ in Ríocht na Midhe 7, pp.40–51.

Bradley, J. (1985) Urban Archaeology Survey of County Meath. Unpublished report prepared for the Office of Public Works.

Bradley, J. (1988–89) ‘The Medieval Towns of County Meath’ in Ríocht na Midhe Vol. VIII, No. 2.

Edwards, N. (1990) The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland. London.

Simms, A. (1979) ‘Settlement Patterns and Medieval Colonisation in Ireland: The example of Duleek in County Meath’ in Flatres, P. (ed.) Paysage Ruraux Europeens. Rennes.