Located to the east of St Marys Church, outside the present graveyard wall, Chantry College is located in what is now called College Park – an unusual medieval building known to locals as ‘the college’. It was formerly used as the residence for chaplains to St Marys and was occupied by the church sexton as recently as 1875.
The college was established shortly before 1487 by Walter Verdon, then chaplain of Ardee. It was built with the intent that certain chaplains employed in the Church of St Marys may be compelled to reside there in common. It is believed there were at least six chaplains who served at St Marys at the time and presumably, they moved from private lodgings into the college after it had been built.
It aimed to provide residence for chaplains employed in the local church St Mary’s and they used to chant or celebrate mass for wealthy individuals or families. The chaplains also did some teaching locally.
It is one of the few buildings of its type which can be dated accurately since it was described in writings from 1487 as ‘recently built’.
The simplicity of the building belies it’s significance. Previously, historian and archaeologist Noel Ross pointed out that a chantry is an endowment for the maintenance of priests to sing Masses, usually for the founder. According to Ross, Ardee college is unique for the county as while there are other chantries in places such as Dundalk, Termonfeckin and Drogheda, the chantry college in Ardee was built specifically to allow chaplains to live in common.
The surviving structure is merely one segment of a larger building. The surviving portion consists of the southern end, which contained the residential apartments of the college. The missing section would have contained the common rooms and kitchen. Remnants suggest the building had both a ground floor cellar and first floor hall. It is likely the old structure included battlements and the building had three floors with an attic above.
Elsewhere in Ireland, surviving remains of similar chantry college are rarely found.
Here’s a selection of great images of Chantry College taken for ThisIsArdee.ie by Adrian Crawley.