Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1997), Medieval History (pre-1500), News, Volume 5

An archaeological assessment at 2-5 Meath Market, South Earl Street (beside HI’s offices) has uncovered substantial structures of archaeological significance, which appear to be the remains of the medieval Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr.
The abbey, later known as Thomas Court, was founded in March 1177 by William fitz Audelin, a deputy and kinsman of Henry II, and reputedly possessed over 2,300 acres of land in many parts of Ireland as well as in Dublin. In 1250, stone for the church of St Thomas’s Abbey was seized by the mayor and bailiffs of Bristol to repair a castle, and was returned by order of the king. Several of the buildings were destroyed by accidental fire in 1289. In 1392, the Abbey was attacked by a mob, and windows were broken, fire damage ensued and the dormitory was destroyed.
In the early fourteenth century, its considerable powers were further increased by the grant of the privileges of a liberty. At its dissolution (by Henry VIII) in 1539, the Abbey’s holdings in Dublin included four mills, eight orchards and thirty acres of woods. The lands of St Thomas were granted to Sir William Brabazon, whose line later became Earls of Meath. Speed’s map of Dublin (1610) depicts a rectangular, walled enclosure, St Thomas Court. A contemporary drawing of Thomas Court in 1634 depicts two courtyards. By the time of Rocque’s map (1756), all traces of the precinct boundaries of Thomas Court had gone. The important boundaries of the establishment are, however, echoed in the lanes and plots in the vicinity of Meath Market.
The rapid archaeological work uncovered the south wall of the church, which extends east-west across the entire length of the site. The wall is over 2.75m in width and is faced with dressed limestone blocks, with an infill of lime mortared rubble. A north-south wall, also of medieval date, may delimit the nave and chancel of the church. On the west side of the wall is a floor of closely set smooth cobbles, while on the east two sections of decorated ceramic pavements were uncovered.
A well-laid cobbled surface, possibly the cloister, was uncovered to the south of the church. A considerable quantity of dressed oolitic limestone (Dundry), which comprise the jambs, transoms, mullions and tracery of a large window, were recovered from the material which overlay the cobbled surface.
The two small areas of tile pavement uncovered represent only a small part of the surviving floor. No attempt has been made to uncover further areas of tiling. In situ medieval tile pavements are extremely rare survivors in Ireland and have previously been excavated at only two sites, Swords Castle, County Dublin and Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny.

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