The Yellow Steeple is all that remains of the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin, which once stood on the bank of the River Boyne opposite Trim Castle. Founded sometime in the 6th century AD, the story of the Abbey serves to illustrate just how crazy violent life in Ireland was in ancient times.
In times of trouble, churches and abbeys were the refuge of last resort for the ordinary people, someplace where they trusted to the thick walls, stout doors, and the will of God when Vikings or rival tribes appeared on the horizon. However, the concept of sanctuary often didn’t account for much, especially when the barbarians didn’t believe in the same god. Every parish in the country has records of churches being burned with a couple of hundred people inside, and Trim is no different. The Boyne river is navigable from the coast as far inland as Trim, where a ford allowed easy crossings, and around which the town grew up. The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin was burned at least three times (that we know of) between 1108 and 1368, each time full of people. The Yellow Steeple is thought to have been built (along with the rest of the abbey) following the 1368 attack.
During this fourth rebuilding, a statue of the Blessed Virgin was erected, and it quickly acquired a reputation for working miracles. (Perhaps the biggest miracle was that the church was not burned again.) Almost two hundred years later, Archbishop Brown, Henry VIII’s first protestant Archbishop of Ireland, was writing to Thomas Cromwell complaining that this statue’s miraculous reputation was preventing the common people embracing the new religion. The statue, along with other things the reforming church now classed as idols (high crosses and the like), was removed and presumably destroyed around 1538.
It’s uncertain exactly when the abbey buildings finally fell into ruin (except for the steeple, they are completely gone today, the stones carried off for use in other buildings). Henry VIII gave the property to one of his supporters in 1542, and there are records of it changing hands again in 1617 (presumably still more-or-less intact). Local custom holds that Oliver Cromwell’s men bombarded it while they were billeted in the castle, but there is little reputable documentary proof to suport this. (We Irish tend to blame as much as possible on Cromwell.) I came across one suggestion that Royalist forces attempted to engage the Roundheads from within the steeple, but this seems suspect as it is generally accepted that the Trim garrison abandoned the town to join up with other Royalist forces in Meath, sparing the town a siege and a fate like Drogheda’s. Whatever the circumstances of the abbey’s final destruction, all that remains today is the broken steeple presiding over the monuments on either side of the Boyne river.
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