History & Heritage

Medieval Clonard

Motte and Bailey Castle

Video Medieval Clonard


This flight over part of Medieval Clonard was made on a Summer afternoon in 2019. The images were taken with the permission of property owners.

The first feature you will notice is a Motte with a trace of its Bailey. Now sun-mounted by a Lime Tree the Motte is the extant remains of a Timber castle. The castle was erected by the Anglo Norman Lord of Meath, Hugh deLacey sometime between 1177 and 1185. It was one of a series of strong defensive points defending his Lordship and marking his authority over his Lordship.

While primarily a defensive structure it is likely that the Motte became the center of a Manor (Ville) [a town land] in effect a large farm! Is there an echo of this in the modern townland of Old Clonard or AnneVille?

Clonard in the 12th century was still a significant monastic settlement and might have looked like a town with all the business of a medieval town life taking place. By erecting his castle at this site Lord DeLacy was asserting his authority and perhaps taking control of the commercial activity of the monastic town.

Until 1206 Clonard was the residence of the Bishop of Meath. In that year the bishop transferred his residence to Newtown, Trim. The benign pastoral appearance of the Motte in our fly over belies its significance as a strong defensive structure from medieval times when it asserted the power of a new Norman lord to rule his newly acquired territory.

As our flight passes over the Motte the next structure you will notice is an enigmatic almost circular feature consisting in a large outer ditch with a raised area inside and a smaller circular structure atop the raised area. This tends to be classified as a Ringfort – the residence of a wealthy farmer from perhaps the 8th century, perhaps a local chieftain. I wonder .... might it be an even earlier structure modified in the early Christian period as part of the early monastic presence at Clonard? This of course is pure speculation!

As the flight again overflies the Motte you will notice the field with its “crop marks”. The “marks” suggest a substantial medieval landscape - the traces of the medieval monastic “town” the Norman lord erected his castle to protect?

The Church which comes into view is the Parish Church of St. Finian which served the Church of Ireland community from 1803 to 1949. The Church is surrounded by a cemetery and it stands on the site of an earlier medieval monastery complex which itself is speculated to have stood on part of the original 6th century foundation of St. Finnian.