Cruicetown Church, Meath, Ireland

Cruicetown derives its name from the Norman family of Cruise (de Cruys) who came to Meath as soldiers alongside Hugh de Lacy in the 1170s and held huge swathes of land across Meath and Dublin. The main branch of the family settled at Cruicetown and other branches settled at the Naul and Brittas in Dublin. The motte that can be seen to the rear of the church would have been an essential part of the early defensive Anglo-Norman structure, it was built sometime in the 1180-90s. The church was built in the late 12th or early 13th century and is a neat nave and chancel church. The two remaining lancet windows and the baptismal font date from this original construction. A church at Cruicetown is first mentioned in the ecclesiastical taxation documents of Pope Nicholas from 1302-06. It seems that a small village built up around the church and motte, the village flourished despite plague and various famines. The Cruises remained living in the area right up until the 1641 rebellion when the local vicinity suffered greatly. The Cruise family stayed staunchly Catholic and this led to Christopher Cruise being forced to forfeit the townlands of Cruicetown and the Naul and subsequent transplantation to Connaught. However in 1163 Christopher’s son Lawrence recovered his family’s lands, which remained with the Cruises until they sold it in 1789 to Colonel Arthur Ahmuty.

The church that remains at Cruicetown is incredibly picturesque, set in the middle of a field on a raised platform surrounded by a stone wall. A beautiful cross, based upon the high-crosses of antiquity, was erected by Patrick Cruise in 1688, also his parents Walter and Elizabeth are buried in the beautiful tomb that stands inside the church which by the 1680s would already have been a ruin.

While researching this article I came across the folktale of how the Irish Cruises came to have a heron as a symbol on their family crest, which can be seen on the wall behind the tomb. The few stories I did find differ slightly but what they do tell is of the capturing of the lands at Cruicetown and how the heron became their symbol, it says of the tomb, “At the side of the monument also a heron is engraven which was the crest of the Cruice family There is a story of how they had the heron for their crest. Long ago when the Irish were persecuted for their faith, the English soldiers went up to Cruicetown to take the Cruices as captives because they were Catholics, when they reached the house all the Cruice family was from home, except one girl and she stole down to a wood not far away which surrounded Cruicetown lake.
The captain of the soldiers heard where the girl was hiding, so the soldiers started to enter the wood but just as they were entering the wood a heron rose and flew away. When the captain saw it he said if the girl was in the wood the heron would not be there, so he called up his soldiers and they went away and the girl got safe. Since that the Cruice family had a heron for their crest”
. – as told by Joe Duignan , Shcools Folklore Collection 1930s.

GPS: 53.80438, -6.79376

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