Cruicetown is a civil parish near the village of Nobber in the barony of Kells Lower, Co Meath comprising of the townlands of Cruicetown, Moydorragh, Altmush and Newtown.
The parish takes its name from the Norman family of Cruise (spelt variously Cruice, Crus, Crues etc.), which is derived from the surname de Cruys, who were amongst the first Norman mercenaries to settle in Ireland after the invasion of 1169. It is possible that the family were originally Flemish and came to Ireland via the parish of Cruwys Morchard in Devon, where they would have settled after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
In Ireland, the main branch of the family settled at Naul on the Dublin/Meath border, and records dating to 1185 attest to the presence of a Stephen de Crues in Naul at that time. A close connection between Cruicetown and Naul throughout the medieval period is evidenced by various historical documents relating the fact that the possession of Cruicetown and the patronage of the church remained with the Cruises of the Naul for many centuries. In the 1270s this side of the family became Chief Sergeants of Dublin, a position they hold by hereditary right for nearly 400 years. Another branch of the family settled at Brittas, a townland located between Cruicetown and Nobber. Folklore has it that they are descended from Sir Maurice de Cruys who died in 1216, and who is recorded on the tomb of his direct descendent Gerald Cruise in St John’s Old Cemetery in Nobber which was erected in 1619.
Once established in Cruicetown and the surrounding area the first priority for the Norman settlers was that of defence. The remains of Cruicetown motte-and-bailey are typical of the first military fortifications they erected, made of earthworks and timber rather than stone. The steep mound of the motte and its attached bailey were protected by a deep fosse or ditch and a timber palisade, and the motte was surmounted by a wooden tower or bretesche (the townland name Brittas comes from this). Apart from its function as a safe fortress in hostile and disputed territory, the motte also acted as an administrative centre for the estates of the Cruise manor. Cruicetown motte, like the nearby mottes of Nobber and Kilbeg, was probably built sometime in the 1180-90s.
The building of Cruicetown church has been dated to the late 12th or early 13th centuries, although it is first mentioned in the historical record in 1292 when it is noted that Robert de Cruys of Naul held the right of advowson. The motte and church together formed the nucleus of a classic Norman medieval village, the obscure remains of which can still be seen in the surrounding fields. Many such villages were abandoned in the 1300s due to the combined ravages of the Bruce Invasion, Great European Famine and the later Black Death, but dwelling places were recorded in Cruicetown up as far as the 1650s.
The church functioned as the parish church of the Cruises and their tenants right up to the time of the Protestant Reformation of King Henry VIII begun in the 1530s. Alongside the dissolution of the monasteries, smaller parish churches were stripped of their valuables which were sold to swell the king’s coffers. Lead was removed from roofs and churches rapidly fell into disrepair. In 1576 Sir Henry Sidney reported to Queen Elizabeth that most parish churches in Meath were “ruinous”, Cruicetown probably amongst them.
The graveyard contains a cross in the style of the old Irish high crosses, erected by Patrick Cruise in 1688 and inside the church is a effigial tomb bearing the Cruise and Dalton arms in memory of Patrick’s parents Walter Cruise of the Naul branch (died 1663) who married Elizabeth Cruise of the Brittas branch, attesting to the close relationship between the two families even after many centuries in Ireland. The Cruise arms are practically identical to the arms of the Cruwys family of Devon.
The hinterland around Cruicetown suffered greatly during the confused decade of war following on from the rebellion of 1641 which culminated in the victory of Oliver Cromwell and the English parliament. Staunchly Catholic, the Cruises forfeited Brittas to the adventurer John Bligh, although Peter Cruise of that branch who fought at the Battle of the Boyne built a house in Rahood rather than join the Wild Geese. This Peter is thought to be the brother of Bridget Cruise for whom the local bard Turlough O’Carolan composed his famous airs. Christopher Cruice forfeited Cruicetown and Naul and was transplanted to Connacht. His will left Naul to his eldest son, also Christopher, and these lands were never recovered. Cruicetown, however, was left to a younger son, Lawrence, who recovered these lands in the Court of Claims in 1663, early in the reign of the restored King Charles II. His descendants held possession of Cruicetown until its sale in 1789. Today the cemetery is actively maintained by members of the voluntary Cruicetown Cemetery Conservation Committee.