Exploring the archaeology, landscape and history of Slane, Co. Meath

The College

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The Rectory from the east.

To the NE of the graveyard is the College which has often been misinterpreted as a friary. However, it is clear that the Fleming family founded a friary at the hermitage by the river, rebuilding it in the fifteenth century, as a mark of private devotion. This is St. Erc’s Hermitage which is in the grounds of Slane Castle. The earliest building in the College is a three-storey structure – the stonework of the W end of the south range abutts it with a straight joint. This building, referred to as The Rectory in medieval sources, was the centre of parish business and seems to be a variation on the tower house which was the standard form of secular dwelling for people of status at the time. As is common with tower houses, the ground floor has wicker-centred vaulting which can still be seen. The ground floor is now home to numerous architectural fragments. There are staircases at the NE and SW corners. Those at the SW corner seem to be a late addition as their construction involved the blocking of one of the small ground floor windows. The ope for this window can be seen clearly from inside the building. The windows in the upper floors are large and may be later insertions. Remains of a gate house stand to the east of the College and may have been part of a bawn or enclosure around the original tower house.

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The interior of the Priests’ House showing four apartments, each with fireplace and garderobe.

The College from the south. The Rectory os the taller part of the complex on the right.

The College from the south. The Rectory is the taller part of the complex on the right.

A chantry college was attached to this in the later fifteenth century with three ranges of residential, dining, kitchen and storage buildings around a central courtyard. It was rebuilt in the sixteenth century following a bequest by Christopher Fleming. Sculpted gutters in human and animal forms and window surrounds with Tudor rose motifs emphasise family patronage and piety. It accommodated priests and choirboys who sang mass daily for the souls of the family. The N range, called the ‘Priests’ House’ in medieval sources, emphasises comfort with first floor fireplaces and a double garderobe. The south range contains a two-storey hall and refectory, also with fireplaces. A free-standing gate-house is the only remnant of a surrounding bawn several metres to the E.

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Plan of the College (after Westropp 1901)

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Coat of arms of the king of England and France currently above the present-day entrance to the College.

Stone sculptures, clearly not in their original positions, include window mouldings and tracery, the arms of France and England above the doorway, a griffin at the western end of the south range and the Fleming coat of arms along with an early depiction of an artillery weapon, a mortar, are set into the west wall of the cloister.

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The Fleming coat of arms (on the shield on its side at the bottom right. The object above is a mortar in the process of being fired.

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The griffin – a small winged dragon-like creature on the west wall of the refectory (probably not its original position). This is a very unusual carving in an ecclesiastical context.