We were supposed to be in Madrid. Our group consisted of a Spanish teacher, four Spanish language students (one my daughter) and me, and the plan was for us to start our Spain exploration about now. Instead, we were in a hotel in Trim, Ireland – a town I had never heard of before – asking about something to do for the afternoon. That’s how we found ourselves walking to Trim Castle (of Braveheart fame) and exploring the intriguing ruins along the Trim Castle River Walk.
How to Accidentally Visit Trim, Ireland
Let’s back up. Months and months ago, my daughter’s Spanish teacher sent out a notice that she was going to put together a Spain trip for her students. She gave some basic information to judge interest, and we were in from the beginning. Paperwork was completed, passports copied and sent to the travel company, fees paid. Eventually, four students, myself, and the teacher met at the airport and were sent off by parents.
Before we even boarded the plane, things began to go awry. Dramatic thunderstorms have been plaguing our area, and there was nothing to do but watch the light show as the heavens opened and poured on us, and our departure pushed later and later. Once we were able to depart, our pilot’s valiant attempt to make up time meant that we landed in Dublin just 10 minutes after our connection to Madrid departed. So close…
The next flight to Madrid we could get? The same time the next morning.
Ok then, it’s 24 hours in Ireland!
We thought it would be in Dublin at first, and I started googling what we could do in Dublin with four tired teens while we waited for logistics to be figured out. But, as most of our flight was also stranded and the hotels near the Dublin airport were quickly filled, we found that we were going to be bussed to a hotel in Trim, Ireland.
This is how I learned that:
- Trim, Ireland existed and
- We were spending the day (and some of the night) there.
Trim, Ireland’s Claims to Fame
Not knowing anything about Trim, Ireland is just further evidence of all the interesting places there are to see and explore in the world. Trim is believed to date to the 5th century when it was founded by St. Patrick, and left to Lommán, patron saint of Trim (and by some accounts a nephew of St. Patrick).
That is hardly the only claim to fame though! Trim was one of the childhood homes of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who served twice as Prime Minister of England, and is considered the hero of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated.
Trim Castle also hosted Richard II of England, and Oliver Cromwell and his forces. More recently, the castle had the distinction of being part of the set for Mel Gibson’s movie Braveheart.
So maybe my unfamiliarity is just evidence of my own ignorance!
Ruins Along the Trim Castle River Walk
Even as we were being bussed to our Trim hotel, we asked our driver what we might be able to do while there. Then we asked our waitress at the hotel, and the front desk staff, and the answer was universal: we should walk to Trim Castle, and there is the pretty Trim Castle River Walk that would be an especially nice way to do so.
So, once bags were stowed in our hotel and lunch had been eaten, we set off in the direction of Trim Castle. We had no idea the treat in store for us as we began reading plaques and googling all the interesting ruins along our path:
Priory of St. John the Baptist
We accessed the Trim Castle River Walk by crossing the River Boyne at St. Peter’s Bridge, near the Priory of St. John the Baptist. This Priory was established in 1202 by the Bishop of Meath, Simon Rochfort. This structure has a church with a nave, but also was built with special facilities for caring for the sick. Now part of a two-story building and part of an enclosing wall with a turret remains, as well as a three-story tower. According to information posted on the walk, the Priory of St. John the Baptist was founded for The Frates Cruciferi, who founded hospitals in Ireland to give care to both men and women from all religions.
And it’s just sitting there on the side of the road, with us asking each other “What do you think that is?”
Parish Church in Newtown-Clonbun
The Parish Church in Newton-Clonbun is most easily distinguished by the tomb of Sir Lucas Dillon and his wife, Lady Jayne Bathe. The 16th century tomb is known locally as ‘The Tomb of the Jealous Man and Woman’ because the figures of the couple on top of their tomb do not touch, and are separated by a sword. The lore is that Sir Lucas Dillon was angry with his wife for an indiscretion of some sort.
However, the reality seems to be much less exciting that that. The tomb effigies depict Sir Lucas Dillon in renaissance armor, while Lady Jayne Bathe is in an Elizabethan gown. The two figures are separated by a sword of state likely denoting the honor of Sir Lucas’ position as Attorney General of Ireland and Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer.
But I can see how the husband angry with his cheating wife angle is much more dramatic…
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul
The impressive ruins beside the Newton Cemetery are the remains of the largest Gothic church in Ireland. This cathedral was built in 1206 by Simon de Rochfort after another cathedral of his in Clonard was burned down. The Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul was build by Rochfort for Augustinians of the Order of St. Victor. Only part of the original nave and chancel survive, but under the high altar Simon de Rochfort is buried.
Yeah, we didn’t realize that when we were there…
This impressive cathedral is no stranger to scandal, either. About 100 years after it was built, in 1307, its Prior was accused of murdering one of the friars, and of helping his brother kill another canon. Sadly, the results of the trial of have been lost to history, so we’re just left to wander through and wonder.
Trim Castle River Walk
As we continued on the Trim Castle River Walk, we passed joggers, mothers pushing strollers, dog walkers, and other visitors like us. One walker saw us gathering for a group photo and stopped to take the picture for us. While impressive ruins are along the walk and nearby, the Trim Castle River walk is also a town space used by all. As you walk along the river, keep your eye out for heron and swans, as well as the sheep that roam the hills – and sometimes cross the path. For some reason certain members of our party were quite entralled with getting pictures of sheep. It’s not like we don’t have sheep in the US, but I guess Irish sheep are just so much more interesting.
The views are beautiful and look much like the images of Ireland that movies and advertising have built up in my mind. Sort of like God turned up the saturation on this part of the world.
Trim Castle and Braveheart
The River Walk leads along the River Boyne to a pedestrian bridge that crosses to Trim Castle. This is the largest Norman castle, and one of the finest examples of Norman architecture still standing in Ireland today. This is in part due to the fact that while it was built over a 50 year period, it later fell into neglect and was not subject to renovations, rebuilding or remodeling that would usually dilute the original architecture.
Trim Castle History
Hugh de Lacy, a wealthy man, was granted the Liberty of Meath by King Henry II in 1172 in order to maintain de Lacy’s loyalty. The territory given to de Lacy included not only the modern county of Meath, but land reaching as far west as the Shannon. The first improvement de Lacy undertook was a timber fort with a spiked stockade. However, the Gaelic High King of Ireland saw this as a threat, attacked the wooden fortification and destroyed it. It was the following year, 1173, that Hugh de Lacy undertook to rebuild, and did so with a more permanent, stone structure.
Hugh de Lacy’s project was put on hold when he was assassinated causing a three year wait until his son, Walter, came of age. Then, a second phase of building with enlargement and improvement began in the castle. It was 30-some years after the original building began that the addition of the third story of the keep was begun. It is said that the defenses of the castle were so effective, that Walter de Lacy, upon returning from a visit to England in 1223, took 7 weeks to retake his own castle!
(Why it was being held from him and by whom I couldn’t find, but if you know, please share!)
Upon Walter’s death the castle passed to his descendants, and some time in the 14th century a great hall, new fore buildings and several stables were added. Through the intervening centuries the castle came into the possession of Richard of York. The castle fell from prominence during the 16th and 17th centuries, until it was taken by Oliver Cromwell in 1649 when he used it as a base. During that time it was besieged by Royalist forces, but then again abandoned.
Trim Castle and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart
Of course the most recent claim to fame of the Trim Castle, is as the setting for several scenes of Mel Gibson’s movie, Braveheart. The 13th century besieged city of York was depicted using the outer wall of the castle, and the interior keep served as the Tower of London where Wallace was executed.
Trim, Ireland, our Lovely Mistake
As we meandered our way out of the Trim Castle grounds, we faced a decision of walking back the River Walk or along the main road of town, and opted for the road. Time to see the other face of Trim. Here there were colorful houses and doors lining a road with regular traffic. Still, off to the side we watched the River Boyne come in and out of view, and large homes alternated with fields with sheep or donkeys as we passed by.
Trim was not at all our intended day in Madrid, that’s for certain. But it was such a lovely side trip that one of our kids proclaimed it “the best mistake of my life,” and we’re now considering if a stop in Ireland needs to be a regular part of the Spanish class trip, and how exactly that is justified.
Personally, Ireland just jumped up a few notches on my Next European Destination list, and I’m wondering if getting “stuck” was actually an incredibly shrewd tourism promotion.
If so, it works!
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