The Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr played a vital role in the development of the Dublin city, and its hinterland, during the medieval period. The abbey, later known as St Thomas’s Court was founded in March 1177 by William Fitz Audelin.
The abbey building itself appears to date to after 1225, when the king was invited to lay the first stone of a new church (Gwynn 1954, 20). Secondary accounts of the abbey’s history are littered with references to boundary disputes, physical destruction and rebuilding, with occasional specific references to structures such as the King’s Lodgings (Gwynn and Hadcock 1970, 172) and to the King’s alms house, which collapsed c. 1350 and was never rebuilt (Davis 1980, 54).
An accidental fire in 1289 destroyed several buildings and in 1392, the abbey was attacked by a mob, some canons, together with citizens of Dublin, attempted to oust and possible murder the abbot, John Serjeant which reveal there were tensions between the city and the abbey.
The location of the abbey just outside the city walls most likely gave rise to the western suburbs of the medieval city. These suburbs along with the monastic settlement became a thriving commercial area and evidence for this is comes from Wills dating to the middle of the fourteenth century.
The precinct of the abbey was extensive and the lands included the Liberty of Donore, which bestowed additional privileges, as it was administered independently and lay outside the jurisdiction of the city of Dublin. The abbey was endowed with extensive estates which included the adjacent parish of St. James and the priory of St. Catherine between Lucan and Leixlip. By the fourteenth century the abbey occupied a large precinct at Thomas Court, with mills constructed along the Abbey Stream (a manufactured watercourse with water taken from the Poddle), extensive orchards, woods and gardens.
By the time of the reformation and the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, the abbeys holdings comprised of 4 mills, 8 orchards and 30 acres of woods. In 1545 the lands of St Thomas’s were granted to Sir William Brabazon whose linage became the earls of Meath. The abbey was used for some period as a secular dwelling before demolition in the later seventeenth century but all remaining traces of the abbey would appear to have been removed by the middle of the eighteenth century.
Traces of the precinct boundaries are all but vanished now but the streets, narrow lanes and the plots surrounding the former Meath Market echo a reminder of the establishment which once stood proudly on the outskirts of the medieval wall of Dublin city.