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Navan spells the same forward and backward. In this book we look backward into history. Navan is located at the meeting points of the Boyne and Blackwater and is the county town for County Meath. Today it serves a wide hinterland.
I would like to thank the County Library, Navan for the use of their research facilities and also thank them for their helpful assistance. There is much resource material available in the County Library for further research into topics alluded to in this book.
STONE AND BRONZE AGES
Stone Age man arrived in Ireland around 8,500 years ago. The most likely route was across the North Channel from Scotland and mainland Europe. Ancient man built massive tombs to house their dead. Prime examples of Neolithic tombs are Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange. These are situated further down the Boyne Valley from Navan. Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange were built four or five thousand years ago so man has been in Meath for that long or maybe even longer. The Boyne Valley was an important settlement area for Stone and Bronze Age man. It was one of their first steps into the wooded interior from the safety of the coast. They gradually moved up the river valleys to inhabit the rest of the country.
The Celts culture came from central Europe in the centuries before Christ. The Celts had iron weapons and were tall, blonde and blue eyed and physically stronger than the dark, Bronze Age inhabitants. It is said that they chased some of the inhabitants underground. These were the Tuatha de Dannan or the fairy people. Most of the fairy stories we have today started with the Tuatha de Dannan. The Navan area and the Boyne Valley (Bru na Boinne) are strongly mentioned in many of these stories.
Legend states that three Celtic princes from Spain conquered Ireland from the Tuatha De Dannan. One of these princes was King Heremon. Heremon was also known as Geidhe Oilgothach and he had put away or divorced his wife, Odhbha, who was the mother of his elder children, Muimhne, Luighne and Laighne. When he came to Ireland he married Tea, the daughter of Lughaidh Mac Itha. Tea, gave her name to Tara – Tea-Mar which means Tea’s mound. Odhbha followed her children and her husband to Ireland in the hope of reconciliation. However Heremon repudiated her and she died of grief. She was buried near Navan and her children built a large mound over her as a monument. This is the Motte of Navan – between the Kells and Athboy roads. “The Moat of Navan is on a gravel hill which rises 45 feet over the road at its base. The Moat is 26 feet high, oval in plan, the diameters at the base being 135 and 122 feet and of the top 52 feet. On the North West is a lune shaped platform 7 or 8 feet high, and 90 feet long by 30 feet greatest breadth. The hill is being dug away for gravel and the moat is in no small danger of disappearing” J. H. Moore 1893.
This burial mound could have contained a passage and a tomb. This could have been the cave that gave Navan its name of “an Uaimh”, other experts say that “an Uaimh” is a corruption of the name “Odhbha”.
Ireland was divided into Cuigi or provinces and then into smaller sub-kingdoms – “Tuatha”. Meath was a province in its own right. It stretched from the sea to the Shannon. Meath had originally, the legend says, been made up of little bits of each of the other four provinces.
Tara was the royal residence of the high Kings of Ireland. King Tuathal of Connacht conquered part of Leinster in the second century. He had his palace on Tlachta, (the Hill of Ward, near Athboy). Tuathal’s grandson, Conn of the Hundred Battles and Conn’s grandson Cormac Mac Airt conquered further territory and formed it into the Kindom of Meath. Cormac built a splendid palace at Tara around 280 A.D.
Tara Hill is one of the highest points on the plain of Ireland. It has been an important centre throughout Ireland’s history. There was a festival held here at Samhain. This feis went on for six days and nights and was held once every three years. It celebrated the safe gathering of the harvest. Tara was approached by five royal roads. One of these chariot roads passes near Navan. Forty-two kings reigned at Tara.
Until 481 the high kingship of Ireland had always been held by the King of Meath. Whenever a High King died he was replaced by the king of Connacht who resigned his kingship of Connacht to become High King. However in 481 a battle took place at Mully Faughan (or Faughan’s Hill), four miles north west of Navan. This was the battle of Ocha. Ailill Molt of Connacht and Claimant of the Kingship of Meath was defeated by the combined forces of the southern Ui Neill (the Cenel Eoghain) from then on the High Kingship of Ireland alternated between the Kings of Meath and the Kings of Aileach (Donegal). These were known as the northern and southern O’Neills.
St. Patrick came to Tara to preach the true faith. Christianity was a factor in Tara’s decline and its abandonment in the sixth or seventh century.
Souterrains are fairly common in the Navan area. A souterrain is an underground passage usually with a chamber at the end. They may be called caves or tunnels. They are often found in ring forts or early Christian settlements. They may have been used as a place of refuge or for storage but their exact purpose is not known.
In 1849 a branch of the Dublin and Drogheda railway was being laid to Navan. Below Athlumney Castle “on the eastern side of the river were discovered a quantity of most interesting antiquities, bridle bits and horse trappings of iron, bronze and silver, rings, buckles, head stalls, pettrells and clasps besides a large collection of bones both human and those of lower animals”. These remains were taken to the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. A very perfect human skull and fragments of two others were found. These were found by Mr. Wakeman, a writer and antiquarian. Sir William Wilde also noted that “The only perfect head, found was sent out of the country, it was given to the late Dr. Prichard, immediately before his death, and no account of it has since appeared”.
William Wilde writing in 1849 says ” while these pages were passing through the press, a most extensive souterrain was discovered in the cutting of the railway on the western bank, just under Athlumney”. It consisted of “a straight passage fifty three and a half feet long, eight broad and six high, branching into two smaller passages which ran off at right angles from it and ending in two circular shaped chambers…. together forming the figure of a cross. The wall of this great cave at a height of about four and a half feet begin to incline and the roof is formed by enormous flag stones laid across, these stones are all rough and undressed and are placed together without mortar or cement. A few bones of oxen are all that have as yet been found in it”. It must have been an impressive sight. It became know locally as “the cellar”.
Sir William Wilde also notes ” A somewhat similar cave may be seen in Mr. Metge’s (Athlumney House) grounds not far distant from Navan”.
During ploughing in Ardbraccan in 1943 a souterrain was discovered. It was “Y” shaped with both passages terminating in a corballed beehive chamber. The only remains that were found was a bone pin and fragment of a lignite bracelet. A deposit of ashes was found just outside the entrance.
While preparing the ground for a rugby pitch at Old Balreask in 1961 a bulldozer unearthed part of a stone tunnel. The structure had partly collapsed under the weight of the bulldozer. Only two small lengths of the tunnel could be examined. The tunnel was built of flagstones. It was decided that the souterrain was in a dangerous condition and it was proposed to fill it in as it was not possible to excavate it.
Ring forts were the family homes and farmyards of Celts. A house was sheltered by a ditch or wall which kept in the cattle and sheep at night and kept out the preying animals. Many of these forts were destroyed by people wishing to improve their lands but in many cases the names of townlands give reference to the existence of a fort of lios in former times e.g. Robinrath and Rathaldron. The first Ordinance Survey maps show all the existing forts at 1836. These can be compared with the maps of today and we can see how many of these forts have been destroyed.
There was in the ancient and druidic religions a tradition of tree worship. One of the centres of such tree worship was at Mullyfaughan, Ardbraccan, where the holy tree, the Bile Tortain, was situated.
ST. PATRICK AND THE COMING OF CHRISTIANITY
There were Christians in Ireland before St. Patrick came. These converts learned Christianity from contact with Britons or Gauls as slaves or traders. Even the Meath kingdom had contact with the Roman expire which stretched to the borders of Scotland. Roman coins were found buried at the mound at Newgrange.
St. Patrick arrived in Ireland around 405 as a slave and returned to Ireland in 432 with the mission of bringing Christianity to the Celts of Ireland. He spent about half a year in Ulster and arrived in Meath on Easter Eve 433.
Patrick decided to light a fire to celebrate Easter. St. Patrick lit this Pascal fire on Slane Hill. There was to be a festival at Tara on Easter day where the High King Laoighre would light the first fire. When the king spotted Patrick’s fire he became enraged and gathered his followers and went to punish the criminal. However when he talked to Saint Patrick he was so impressed by his words that he asked him to preach and teach on Tara the following day. King Laoighre gave Patrick permission to preach in all of Ireland but would not himself convert to Christianity.
St. Patrick spent three years in the kingdom of Meath. He attended the feis on Tara and also went to the Tailltean sports. Cairbre, one of the king’s brothers sought to kill Patrick. The Saint cursed him as an enemy of God and declared that there would be no king of his race. Conall Crimhthann protected the Saint and gave him a site to build a church. This the Saint did and the church of Donaghpatrick was built. It is said that St. Patrick cursed the Blackwater river. Before his time it had been call “Abhainn Sele” but after his curse its waters were said to have assumed a peculiar dark hue and the river has ever since been known by its name of Abhainn Dubh or Black Water river.
Legend also has it that when St. Patrick and his disciples were passing through the place where Navan now stands on their way to Tara they stopped and Oran, the charioteer, took water from a well to supply the people and their animals. This well became known as Tuberorum which is Latin for “Oran’s well”. This well is situated behind the former courthouse in Ludlow Street.
DONAGHMORE CHURCH FOUNDED
St. Patrick founded a church at Donaghmore and placed it in the care of St. Cassanus. The Tripartite life of St. Patrick says “As the man of God was sprinkling the people of Luagnia with the water of salvation (Baptism), at a place where the church of Domnach Mor of the plain of Echnach now stands. He called unto him his disciple, Cassanus, and committed unto him the care of the church lately built there observing that, that would be the place at which he might expect his resurrection, and that the church committed to his care would always remain small in its extent and structure but great (Domnach More Big, the big small church) and distinguished for its honour and title to veneration”.
This church was known as Donnach-Mor-Muighe Echnach or the great church of the plain of Echnach. The name Luagnia for the area around Donaghmore could be from the Barony of Lune, which at that time included the Navan baronies. It could also be from the name Ui Laoighre which was the tribe which inhabited this area during Celtic times.
St. Cassan lived out his time in Donaghmore as Patrick had prophesised and awaits the resurrection trumpet there. His relics and grave were held in high veneration among the people and many remarkable miracles took place with people receiving health or other gifts of grace.
There was a well quite near the church and about 10 perches from the river Boyne but it was stopped up in the early part of the nineteenth century (before 1836). This is the well at which Patrick christened the people of Luagnia and was named in his honour “Tober Patrick” or “St. Patrick’s well”.
The original church has disappeared and on its site was erected in the twelfth or thirteenth century a parish church, the western end and belfry of which still stands.
One of the charters written into the blank spaces in the Book of Kells relates to a plot of land at Donaghmore, it had been purchased by the “priest of Kells and his kinsmen” for eighteen ounces of gold. Donaghmore’s name is preserved in one of the finest illuminated manuscripts that the world has ever produced.
A round tower was erected here. It was built of limestone undressed except for the door and windows. It has two projecting ledges or steps at its base and six rests for storeys, each storey is lighted by a window. At the top were two windows but these were later removed when the conical cap was replaced in the early 1800’s. These top windows were lookout points for raiders – be they native Irish or the foreigners (Danes or Vikings).
The round tower now stands 110 feet high and is 66 feet in girth at the base. The walls are 3ft 9 inches thick. The door is twelve feet from the ground and faces the west end of the church. The door has inclined sides and a semi-circular arched top. The door is 5 foot 2inches high. Petries Round Towers of Ireland ascribes the round tower to the tenth century.
Petrie also notes that the doorway has a sculpture of the Crucifixion. Over the Romanesque arch of the doorway in its staunch wall can be seen the sculptured figure of Christ crucified. On either side are carvings of human heads (the thieves) and it is thought that the entire pattern was intended to depict Calvary. The only other example of a carving like this is on a round tower in Antrim.
Throughout the centuries these round towers have been ascribed to different peoples or races. For a long time it was thought that the Irish were too dim witted to have built these towers and it was even thought that they were built by heathens or pagans. The crucified figure on this tower disproved this last theory although some one proposed it had been a latter addition to the tower.
Legend has it that this round tower was built by the daughter of the Gobban Saor. The Gobban Saor was the story teller’s imaginary stone mason. He passed his skills onto his daughter rather than his “slow son”. The same daughter must have been a busy woman as she is supposed to have built most of the round towers in the northern half of the country. These round towers are called “cloigteach” in Irish which means bell houses. They were probably used for that purpose in times of peace and as places of refuge in times of disorder.
Henry O’Brien published his book “The Round Towers of Ireland” in the early nineteenth century. This was subtitled “The mysteries of free masonry of Sabaism and of Budhism for the first time unveiled”. He said that the figure of the cruicifixon on the Donaghmore tower was “symbolic of the departure of Budda”. He maintained that the round towers were store houses for the idols of Budda and said that the round towers were as old as the pyramids of Egypt.
Ardbraccan means Breacan or Breacan’s height or hill. The monastery at Ardbraccan was founded in the sixth or early seventh century. St. Brecan was the son of one of the leading noblemen of Munster – Eochaidh Balldearg, Prince of Thomond and he was grandon of Carthen Finn, first Christian ruler of Thomond. John Healy in “The History of the Diocese of Meath” says that Brecan was supposed to be the brother of St. Loman of the Britons who was St. Patrick’s sister’s son. This probably meant brother in Christ rather than an actual blood relation. St Loman came to Meath with St. Patrick and founded a church in Trim.
St. Brecan went among the tribe Uí Borthim which inhabited Ardbraccan at the time and set up a monastery on a height. After governing Ardbraccan for a while he went to Connacht and founded a church on the “great Island of Arran” in Galway Bay. This church was named in his honour “Temple Braccan”. He is said to have written prophesies regarding the future wars of Ireland and the coming of the English.
He died in 650 A.D. and his feast day is held on the 16th July. He was buried in his church on Aran. The tomb was locally known as St. Brecan’s tomb. It was opened in the last century and a skeleton of the saint was found. St. Brecan handed over his monastery at Ardbraccan to St. Ultan.
St. Ultan was of the race Conchobair or Connor. He was supposed to have been related to St. Brigid on his mother’s side. He became Abbot of Ardbraccan and first Bishop of the See of Ardbraccan.
Ultan is said to be the author of the transactions of St. Brigid which were collected into one volume in alphabetical order. A hymn in Latin in St. Brigid’s honour is also attributed to him as is an elaborate poem “Brigid be”. He is also credited with being one of the first two men known to have concerned themselves with recording the acts of St. Patrick and is supposed to have written a life of St. Patrick. Some prophecies regarding the Norman invasion are also attributed to him. St. Ultan was supposed to have been the first winter swimmer in Ireland as he went and immersed himself in a river as penance.
Ultan is honoured as the patron saint of sick children. In the year 656 one of the ancient annals recall St Ultan, bishop of Ardbraccan, collected the infants who had been deprived of their mothers by a plague called Buidhe Chonnaill (Yellow Fever) and caused them to be fed with the milk of cows. This was the first hospital for orphans in Ireland. It is said that the population of the country at this time had become so dense that enough food could not be produced by the entire soil of the country and that apprehending famine the rulers invited the holy men and clergy to pray that the lower class or inferior multitude might be thinned lest everyone starve. However it did not quite work out that way – the two joint monarchs of Ireland, the Kings of Ulster and Munster, St. Fechin of Fore, St. Ronan, St. Aileran the wise, St. Cronan, St. Munchan, St. Ultan of Clonard and many other perished in this famine. A hospital named in Ultan’s honour was founded in Dublin for sick children in the early part of twentieth century.
Dates of St Ultan’s death differ – 653, 656, 660 and 662. He died on September 4th and a vigil was held up until the last century at a well at Ardbraccan. This well was in the demesne of the Protestant Bishop of Meath. It was circular and measured nine and a half feet in diameter. Ultan was succeeded as bishop by Tirechan. Tirechan wrote “Annotations on the Life of St. Patrick”. These notes on the Acts of St. Patrick are to be found in the Book of Armagh and begin: “Tirecha, the Bishop, wrote these things either from word of mouth or from the book of Ultan of whom he was himself the scholar or disciple”.
Ardbraccan flourished in Ireland’s golden age when the country was known as “The Island of Saints and Scholars”. Ardbraccan was a small monastic settlement by comparison to others but it was for five hundred years the centre of a diocese.
Ardbraccan lay on the routes of many maurading raiders. It was near to the Boyne and to Scandinavian Dublin thereby making it easy pickings for the Danes by boat or by land. The native Irish warring amongst themselves also helped destroy Ardbraccan.
In 886 the annals record the plundering of Ardbraccan, Donaghpatrick, Dulane and Glendalough by the Danes. More raids were made in 940, 949 and 992. In 1031 Ardbraccan Abbey was plundered and burnt by Sitric at the head of the Danes of Dublin and two hundred people or more were carried away as prisoners and as many more perished in the flames in the Daimhliag (the great church). In 1035 Ardbraccan was again plundered by the Danes.
The Danes eventually settled down peacefully but the native Irish continued the destruction of the monasteries. In 1069 an army led by Morrogh, son of Dermod destroyed Granard, Fore and Ardbraccan before Fechin slew him face to face. Morrogh was a Leinster man who had joined and recruited foreigners in his fight in the long running enmity between Meath and Leinster.
In 1109 Ardbraccan and its churches, together with the religious inhabitants, were burned by the men of Munster led by the O’Briens. In 1115 Ardbraccan was again burned by the men of Munster and the damhliag again destroyed. There were more raids and plundering in the years 1133 and 1136. In 1136 or 1156 Dermot Mac Murrough, the Danes of Dublin, and Donncha, son of Donnell O’Loughlin, made a raid of Meath and they plundered the country, both churches and territories, and they carried off the cows of Ardbraccan, Cill-Teltown, Downpatrick and some of the cows of the country in general.
The monks of Ardbraccan must have had great patience and sense of forgiveness as they rebuilt their church and buildings time after time. Education and learning continued during peaceful times. The learned Giolla Modhuda O’Cassidy was Abbot in the early part of the 12th century and he wrote many poems and histories. He wrote a long poem containing the history of Ireland from 428 to 1022 starting with the words “Eire Ogh, Innis Na Naomh” (Ireland Young, Island of Saints).
In 1166 the King of Ireland granted to the church of Ardraccan a parcel of land in perpetuity on the payment of three ounces of gold. This seems to have been recorded on the back of one of the pages in the Book of Kells. It specified the freedom of Ardbraccan from “Coigny”, a tribute levied by the O’Kennellans, Lords of Navan, which they agreed to sell for 3 ounces of gold at the representations of Muirchertagh O’Loughlin, King of Ireland, Dermot O’Melaghlin, King of Meath and Gelasius, Archbishop of Armagh. Muirchertagh O’Loughlin, King of Aileach (Donegal), and High King of Ireland ruled for 10 years as High King but was a poor ruler – his sub-kings rose up and he was killed in a battle in 1166, the same year he made the grant at Ardbraccan. This grant of land may have been a last ditch attempt to save the monastery of Ardbraccan as it has suffered greatly from the constant raids. In 1170 it is recorded that the steeple of the Abbey of Ardbraccan fell. Ardbraccan gradually faded away.
During Ardbraccan’s heyday it was the centre of one of the eight dioceses that existed in Meath. The others were Clonard, Duleek, Kells Trim, Slane, Fore and Dunshaughlin. At the Synod of Kells in 1152 these were organised into three dioceses – Clonard, Kells and Duleek for East Meath. After the Normans came these two dioceses were united into the Bishopric of Meath.
EARLY CHRISTIAN MONASTERIES
Many writers identify the Nuachonghail Monastery as Navan monastery. Nuachonghail means new habitation and was frequently used to describe the off shoot of an existing monastery.
Nuachonghail was situated on the banks of the Boyne between Drogheda and Trim. It was not an important place as it gets hardly any mention in the annals or history books. The rampages of the Irish or the Danes and Norsemen are recorded in the annals. Ardbraccan, Ardmulchan, Donaghmore and Donaghpatrick are all mentioned in these records. Navan or Nuachonghail is not mentioned yet it must have been in a direct line with these places. The raiders must has passed over the strategic ford at Navan on their rampages so if a large monastery lay nearby it certainly would have suffered.
St. Fachtna (St. Fachtnaeus) was abbot at Nuachonghail and his feast day is celebrated on the 19th of January. There were a few saints of this name in Ireland. One founded Kilfenora Monastery and another founded the abbey at Rosscarbery.
A story is recorded in “The Life of St. Feichin” on one occasion as the holy man was at a certain place which is called Naudhchongbhail, a certain man, Foelanus by name came to prevent his settling in that place. The holy man reprimanding him for his impiety said from a true oracle (with a prophetic mouth) “for thy cruelty, against the servants of God neither thy posterity, yea nor thy family shall ever increase beyond nine persons”.
One of the lost manuscripts of Ireland for many years was the Book of Uachongbhail or Nuachongbhail. This was thought to be the Book of Navan. It is now recognised that the Book of Leinster is in fact the missing Book of Nuachonghail.
Ardsallagh, “the height of the sally willows”, is situated on the left bank of the Boyne near Bellinter Bridge. St. Finian of Clonard founded a monastery here called “Escair-Branain” and “Ard-bren-ndomnach” in the sixth century. St. Finian is one of the patrons of the Diocese. He founded the important monastic centre of Clonard. Clonard was one of the educational and ecclesiastical centres which gave Ireland the name “The Islands of Saints and Scholars”. St. Finian died 12th December 563 A.D. A church was later built on the site of this monastery by the Nangles, Barons of Navan, around the 13th century. This is Cannistown Church or “Tempall Bhaile Cheana”.
The patron day for the parish of Ardsallagh is St. Brigid’s Day the first of February. In the townland Ardsallagh there is a well called “St. Brigid’s Well” or “Tobar Brighde”. It is within two perches of the Boyne. Sir William Wilde, wrote in 1850 that the well was in the immediate vicinity of Ardsallagh house and a few paces from the river “Although a modern stone pointed arch has by some tasteless architect been thrown over it.., this once celebrated spot (is) a pleasing picture”. He also noted an old carved head of St. Bridget with plaited hair and prim formal features. St. Brigid is one of the patron saints of Ireland and is the most important Irish female saint. She replaced the earth goddess figure of the pagan religion in the minds of the people.
Ard Mulchan derives its name from Ard-Maelchon which means Mealchu’s height or hill. A monastery is supposed to have existed here in early Christian times and the only remains of it is a flagstone with an early Irish cross sculptured on its surface which was used as a lintel for a window.
The parish of Ardmulchan is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and a well existed in the neighbourhood of the church which was dedicated to her. Another writer says that there was a well 300 perch to the west of the ruins of the church in the townsland of Ardmulchan which was called Tobar Patraic or St. Patrick’s well.
The first Irish raid by the Norsemen was made in 795 when the monastery of Lambay Island was plundered. The first recorded raid by the Danes on a specific target in the Navan area was the raid on Ardbraccan in 886. Ardbraccan was laid waste. No doubt the Danes came up the Boyne river. Donaghmore round-tower was erected as a watchtower to look out for the raiders. In 940 Ardbraccan was plundered by the Danes of Dublin. Again in 949 Godfred, son of Sitric assisted by the same Danes sacked and spoiled the abbey of Ardbraccan.
In the year 968 Amlaff Cuaran with his Danes and allies from Leinster plundered Kells and carried off a vast herd of cows. On their way back to their haven of Dublin they encountered the forces of the Southern O’Neills. These were the warriors of the High King. Amlaff Cuaran gained a victory over the O’Neill forces at Ardmulchan. The Irish fought back. In 979 in the battle of Tara the Danes of Dublin and the Islands were defeated with terrible slaughter by Maelseachlainn the King of Meath. Ragnal, the son of Amlaff, the king of Dublin was slain with a vast number of his troops. Amlaff himself soon afterwards went on a pilgrimage to Iona where he died broken hearted.
King Maelseachlainn of Meath, the High King, was one of the foremost fighters of the Danes. Brian Boru, King of Munster, was another great fighter of the foreigners. Brian saw the need for one strong leader to counter the Danes. He peacefully deposed Maelseachlainn as High King and set out to break the power of the Danes. The Battle of Clontarf in 1014 finally broke the political power of the Danes. After this they did not interfere in local politics, they became Christians and most settled down peacefully in their towns as traders and merchants.
But some Danes and their Irish allies (usually Leinstermen) continued raiding and pillaging. In 1016 at the battle of Odhbha (Navan) the foreigners suffered a terrible defeat.
Ardbraccan monastery was raided and pillaged in 992 and 1031. In 1031 the abbey was plundered and burnt by Sitric at the head of the Danes of Dublin. The Danes also carried away over 200 prisoners and as many more perished in the flames.
The Danes found ready allies in the men of Leinster who had a dispute with the kingdom of Meath. In 1072 in the battle of Navan (Odhbha) Diarmaid, son of Mall na mBo, King of Leinster, was slain and beheaded by Conchobhar O’Maelseachlainn, King of Meath.
The Danes settled down in their adopted country and made a big impression on the Ireland of today because their settlements led to the cities of today. After the Battle of Clontarf there followed an unsettled period with no undisputed high king and much rivalry between the tribes and provinces of Ireland. One such row, between Dermot McMurrough King of Leinster and Roderick O’Connor High King and King of Connacht, led to the Norman invasion.
Dermot Mac Murrogh went to England and then to France to find King Henry II of England and ask his help in his dispute with Roderick O’Connor, the High King. Henry gave Dermot permission to raise an army from his subjects in Wales. In 1169 the first of the Normans landed in Ireland and captured Wexford. In 1170 Strongbow arrived and captured Waterford. Henry II had no intention of allowing his barons set up independent kingdoms of their own and decided to go to Ireland so his knights could do homage to him as their overlord. Practically all the Irish sub-kings and bishops came to Dublin and submitted to the King. They thought that Henry would protect them against the Normans and against Roderick the High King. Henry’s duty as overlord was to protect them or so they thought.
Murchadh O’Mealseachlainn, the King of Meath voluntarily submitted to King Henry. Henry then granted this territory to Hugh de Lacy. This grant was made at Wexford before Henry left for England. The territory of Meath then stretched from the Shannon to the sea. It approximates to the present diocese of Meath. In return for this grant Hugh de Lacy was to provide 50 knights for the king. This was later increased to 100 knights.
De Lacy built his residence at Trim. O’Mealseachlainn was uprooted and forced to retreat westward. Hugh De Lacy carved up the kingdom of Meath, between twelve lesser knights later called the Barons of Meath – Duleek, Lune, Kells, Moyfenrath, Morgallion, Rathoath, Skryne, Fore, Navan, Dunboyne, Deece and Slane.
De Lacy’s grants to his knights are recorded. Navan was assigned to Jocelyn de Angulo (or Nangle)
“A Gilbert de Nangle enfin
Donat tut Makevagilin (Morgallion)
A Jocelin donat le Nouan,
E la tere de Ardbrekan
Li un ert fiz li autre pere,
Solun le dict de la mere.
“Finally to Gilbert Nangle / is given all Morgallion / to Jocelin is given Navan / and the lands of Ardbraccan. / One the son and the other the father / both under the orders of the mother”.
De Lacy is said to have walled and fortified the town of Navan but it never became a fortress. Nangle built his castle two miles off at Ardsallagh.
The de Nangle name comes from Wales where it is derived from the family which lived in an angle of land jutting out into the sea. There are various derivatives – de Nangle, Nangle, Nagle (in Munster), Costello (in Connacht) or de la Corner.
The de Nangles seem to have been a troublesome family. In 1194 Walter De Lacy who was now Lord of Meath apprehended Peter Pippard and his comrades for some crime. One writer (Sir J. Ware) thought that Pippard was the son of Jocelin de Nangle.
Gilbert de Nangle was granted the Barony of Morgallion, which was the territory around Nobber. He soon got into trouble. In 1196 Ware records that about this time Gilbert de Nangle, a powerful man in Meath, making a party much disturbed the neighbouring parts but Hamo de Valoniis, Justicar of Ireland, so terrified him that he fled out of Ireland after which his castles were taken and his lands confiscated”.
Around 1240 Albert of Cologn, Archbishop of Armagh, exchanged with Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster, the lands of Coulrath, in Toscard, which the Earl had by force possessed himself of, for the lands of Machirgallion and the manor of Nobber.
Another son of Jocelin, probably called Gilbert, went to Connacht and became known as Mac Gostelb which finally became Costello and he was the founder of this family in Connacht.
Hugh de Lacy gave the Barony of Skryne to Adam de Pheipo who divided his barony into knights demesnes.
Many of the monuments in our care today date from these great builders. They built mottes, castles and churches. When the Normans invaded and conquered an area the first thing they did was consolidate their power in the area by building a castle. These castles provided a safe home for the unpopular invaders.
Their first priority was a safe haven and have it built as quickly as possible. They did not build stone castles at first. They erected wooden castles on large heaps of earth. The wooden castles have long since disappeared but the mounds of earth have survived to the present day. These mounds are known as mottes, moats or motes. Various mottes survive in the Navan area – Ardbraccan, Athlumney, Ardmulchan, Navan and Kilberry.
Ardmulchan motte has an oval platform which is surrounded by a ditch and bank. It is situated behind the ruins of Ardmulchan church. It is now partly covered with trees but it can be easily seen that the motte occupied a very strategic site on the side of the Boyne. Part of it is now used as a site of an E.S.B. pylon.
Athlumney motte also occupies a height beside the Boyne. When the Normans built their mottes beside the river it meant that any army coming to attack them had to come from the landward side. It meant the Normans had only to watch for resistance coming from one side. Athlumney motte is a well shaped mound with a diameter of about sixty feet at the top. Many mottes also had external walls and ditches called baileys or fosses. There are two badly broken down banks north and south of the motte at Athlumney.
The motte of Navan is sited on the top of a natural gravel hill. Anyone on the top of this hill could command a view of the surrounding countryside. Early warning could be given to the inhabitants of any marauding raiders. The motte was built by De Angulo on this lofty esker between the Boyne and Blackwater. It possessed fine fosses and defensive ditches. These survived up till the 1700’s as they can be seen in drawings and sketches of that time. However, today they have virtually disappeared.
As the Normans came to be more secure and more settled they built stone castles. These castles lasted their occupants for a couple of centuries and then many were renovated. As times became more peaceful the castles changed their purpose. The aim was more for the comfort of the owners than for defensive purposes. Meath was situated on the edge of the Pale which left it on the border of two rival factions – the English and Irish peoples. So the defensive factor had to be important in castle building. Castles dating from medieval times that survive in the Navan area are Liscarton, Athlumney, Rathaldron and Dunmoe.
Athlumney was owned by the Dowdall family from 1320 onwards. The Dowdalls came from Carrigfergus. They built a castle at Athlumney and later added a castellated mansion to it. There is a large square keep with vaulted stone floors. The keep measures about 30 feet square externally. In the first floor is a secret room reachable down a small stairs. Beside the tower are the ruins of a vaulted room which was probably added later. The tower had four stories. The cellars cannot be entered from the tower itself, they have a separate entrance.
The rest of the Athlumney ruins are made up of the remains of a Tudor mansion. The style of this mansion can be compared with the towerhouse of two centuries earlier. The windows are large, so are the rooms and there are plenty of fire places. The emphasis was more on comfort than defence. Its high mullioned windows have survived with a fine oriel window in the southern wall. The end walls have gables in them rather than the flat topped walls of the tower house. A number of fire places and an oven have survived and can be seen on the inside walls.
Athlumney church ruins are located near the castle on the opposite side of the road near the railway. This church dates from the 13th or 14th century. The western gable has a triple belfry which is typical of Meath’s medieval churches.
About two miles from Navan on the east bank of the Blackwater river stands Rathaldron castle. It too was built in two periods. The first was built in the 1400’s. It consists of a strongly built quadrangular keep. Next to this tower was built a large castellated house in the early 1800’s. The castle belonged to the Dexter family in the 1400’s. It then passed to the Cusack family through the marriage of Margaret Dexter and Michael Cusack. Rathaldron castle is still inhabited. A modern gate tower was erected at the end of a lime tree avenue that leads to the castle.
Nearby stood the shaft of a cross erected in 1588 by Michael de Cusack, Lord of Portraine and Rathaldron and his wife Margaret Dexter. Michael de Cusack in 1553 was registrar of County Westmeath and County Louth and in 1580 became a baron of the Exchequer. He married Margaret Dexter and received Rathaldron Castle and estates as a dowry. A shaft 3 foot high inserted into a socket in the base survives from this cross. One side has an inscription which commemorates the erection of the cross in 1588. On the other side is a shield with heraldic symbols. The letters M.D. (Margaret Dexter) and M.C. (Michael Cusack) were also included. Some of the inscription is missing. This cross was placed near the medieval road so all could see it and say a prayer as they passed by.
Liscarton castle is situated on the opposite bank of the Blackwater to Rathaldron castle. It is about two and a half miles north-west of Navan on the right of the main Kells-Navan road. The castle is a 15th century building. It originally consisted of two large towers joined by a large hall. The marks of the walls of this hall still remain in the walls of the towers. One of the towers, the eastern one, was reduced in height and converted into living accommodation around 1800. The other tower measures 50 feet by 24 feet and is four stories high. It was built of undressed stone. Two carved heads and one carved dog’s head can be seen in the stone work. The castle was said to have been built by the Flemings. Its last recorded owner was Sir William Talbot Bart. who held it in 1633.
Next to Liscarton castle stands the ruins of the manor church of Liscarton. It is a simple rectangular building measuring 51 feet by 17 feet internally. The east and west windows are identical. The walls are built of undressed limestone and the only dressed stones are in the windows and corner stones. Beside the south wall is an inscribed monument commemorating John Lighthoulder who died in 1768.
Kilcarn was another medieval church that fell into decay. It is now completely ruined but its memory still lives on in the fine stone font that stood in it. This font was discovered around 1849 and placed in Johnstown Roman Catholic Church. It is a fine example of medieval stone carving. It has twelve sides which is unusual in medieval fonts. The twelve apostles are shown on eleven sides with the twelfth side showing Christ crowned as a king and holding in his hand the globe and cross. He is in the act of blessing the Virgin Mary who is also crowned. The figures of the apostles are all different and different saints can be made out from their symbols. St. Andrew by his cross shaped like an X, Peter with his keys and James with his rod. Each figure holds a book out of which they were to preach the Gospel.
The Nangles built a castle at Ardsallagh and this survived and was inhabited up till the 1840’s when it was demolished to make way for the present Ardsallagh House. Cannistown Church was built or re-edified by the Nangles when they became Barons of Navan and built their manor at Ardsallagh. Many manors had their own private chapel, some even within the manor themselves.
It is believed that the manor of Ardsallagh was erected on the monastic site where Finian founded a school in the 6th century. A well near the house is dedicated to St. Brigid. A church was built at Cannistown to compensate for the loss of the site at Ardsallagh.
The chancel of the church dates from the 13th century and measures 24 feet by 15 feet. A rood screen or choir arch separates the chancel or sanctuary from the nave. The nave was rebuilt (or built) in the 15th century. It measures 41 ft. 2 ins by 17ft. 8 ins. on the inside.
On the east end stood the altar and on the west end with its three Romanesque windows which also served as a belfry. Many Meath churches have this typical characteristic of their Norman builders. The circular arch “springing from highly decorated imposts” is still in a wonderful state of preservation.
Cannistown Church was dedicated to St. Brigid. It did not survive the Reformation as we find out in Bishop Montgomery’s visitation in 1612 – “the chancel repaired but the church in ruins”. The parish of Ardsallagh was incorporated into the parish of Navan.
The church of Ardmulchan, situated on a beautiful elevated bank of the Boyne, commands a view over one of the most scenic parts of the Boyne Valley. All that remains of the old parish church of Ardmulchan are a square bell tower and the shell of the church. This ruin is the remains of the medieval church which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Nearby are the walls or remains of the walls of a castle believed to be part of the castle belonging to the Tyrells.
Many medieval churches and the money or earnings that accompanied them were appropriated by monasteries. In this way the monasteries got rich while leaving the servicing of the parish to a poorly paid vicar. At one time between the appropriated churches of the monasteries and the churches which had patrons the Bishop of Meath had power to appoint clergy to 21 parishes in the Diocese of Meath. There were nearly 200 parishes in Meath at that time.
In 1235 a controversy took place between the friars of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, Dublin and Richard de la Corner, Bishop of Meath regarding the right of presentation of the churches of Ardmulchan and Dullardstown which was finally settled by Simon, Archdeacon of Meath.
In 1322 Eleonora, Prioress of Lismullen, sued Dr. John O’Carroll, Bishop of Meath, for the advowson of the churches of Ardmulchan and Paynstown – Dullard claiming that the first prioress Alicia was possessed of the same.
Ardmulchan also supported a chantry which was endowed with a grant of land to support it. In 1381 it is recorded that a licence was accorded to Rev. David de Peulyn, Pastor of Ardmulchan, on the 13th of May to go to Rome. Ardmulchan at that time belonged to the Earls of Kildare.
Donaghmore became a part of the estate of St. Thomas’s Abbey Dublin in the 13th century and this abbey had the right to nominate a priest to the church and to collect its income. After the Reformation all lands belonging to the monasteries were confiscated and this included Donaghmore. In the reign of James I (1603 – 1625) the rectory of Donaghmore valued at £20 13s 4d Irish money – was granted to Richard Netterville of Corballis.
In the time of Henry IV Richard Hill was Vicar of Ardbraccan and in the reign of Henry the VII (1485 – 1509) William Doynyel was Vicar.
Cathal Crovderg O’Connor of Connacht made formal submission to King John at Ardbraccan in July 1210. In 1225 the Pope granted the Bishop of the day permission to erect a cathedral but this was not availed of.
Only one bishop of the Pre-Reformation period is recorded as being buried at Ardbraccan. He was Bishop Ouldhall who died in 1459. It was he who excommunicated Thomas Bathe. His tomb was destroyed when the present church in Ardbraccan was built (1777).
Dunmoe is a parish and townland all in one. The medieval church of Dunmoe may have been the manor church of the occupants of the castle. Simon Rochfort, first Norman Bishop of Meath, gave the nominating power of the church of Dunmoe to St. Thomas’s Abbey in Dublin. They appointed a vicar to look after the parish and paid his wages out of its income.
There are some references in the documents of St. Thomas’s Abbey to Dunmoe but it could not be ascertained when exactly Dunmoe had a rector of its own again. But James Cosyn’s appointment as rector of the church of St. Lawrence in Dunmoe in 1446 shows that the practice had discontinued by then.
In 1504 William Hore was rector and in 1538 Robert Beame, an Irishman, was appointed rector without the obligation of residing in the parish. A post reformation Protestant rector Thomas Robeyns was sued in 1552 for not keeping a school in his parish as the law required.
The castle of Dunmoe is based on the castles of the 12th and 13th centuries but probably was not built until the 15th century. It is square in shape with large rounded turrets at the four corners. It was built by the D’Arcy family who were the Lords of Dunmoe. It was built of a very small stone which many say has helped erosion in its work of destruction. A mausoleum of the D’Arcy family is situated in the churchyard adjoining the castle. Dunmoe Castle was burnt in 1799 and abandoned. A portion of the roof remained for nearly thirty years. There was supposed to be an underground passageway from the castle to the other side of the Boyne. There was also supposed to be a salmon trap on the river below Dunmoe with a string attached to it. Each time a salmon was trapped the string was pulled and then a bell rang to give the cook time to prepare to cook the fish.
The Abbey of St. Mary, Navan, was re-edified by the new Lord of Navan Jocelin de Angulo when the Normans took over in Meath. A monastery existed in Navan before Jocelin de Angulo came. Tiernan O’Rourke who controlled the centre of Meath for a time in the early 1100’s made grants of land to the Navan Monastery. The church and abbey of Navan was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. St. Malachy, the Archbishop of Armagh, introduced continental rules to the Celtic monasteries of Ireland. He brought in the rules of St. Augustine and also the more severe rules of the Arrouaise monastery in Artois, France and these were the rules which the monastery of Navan adopted.
In a charter dated 14th April, 5th year of Henry II (1189), John de Courcy confirms St. Mary’s Navan, “all the lands held of the gift of the Irish before the coming of the English into Ireland” and included ” all the land which O’Rourke gave them” to the regular canons serving God there. The canons regular of St. Augustine were the order of monks in the monastery of Navan.
Around the year 1176 Jocelin de Angulo came to Navan and erected a castle there. He endowed the monastery of Navan and from then on the Normans controlled the abbey. Some of the names of the abbots have survived – Heyne, Devenish, Whyte, Cantwell, Nagle, Manne, Danyell and Wafre. All these were of Norman blood and some were even English born. The Irish were kept from any position of importance.
The Monastery seems to have been fairly poor and not well endowed by its patrons. In 1293 Robert was abbot and he recovered land from William Bran and John Fitzhenry. The land consisted of one messuage and sixty acres. The King or the bishop normally had the right to appoint the abbot of a monastery such as Navan. They charged a sum for each such appointment. In 1297 the Navan prior and brethren asked the king for license to elect an abbot without the obligation of going to England with their petition. The reason they gave for asking for the privilege was that they had “poor temporalities”.
In 1438 Mr. Martin White, rector of Liscarton, died on the 28th of September and he bequeathed to the monastery a book of decretals and a small bible.
Thomas Bathe and John Stackbolle of Navan Abbey both laid claim to the parish of Kilberry in 1449. Bathe had one of his servants accuse Dr. Stackbolle of high treason. Dr. Stackbolle was imprisoned in Dublin castle and sent to England to face the charges brought against him. He was completely vindicated and set free.
He returned to Navan. Bathe now robbed Stackbolle and had confiscated his goods while Stackbolle was in prison. Bathe refused to make restitution so Dr. Stackbolle wrote to the Pope about Bathe and he obtained from Bishop Edmond Oudhall an order to threaten Bathe with excommunication unless Bathe made restitution of Stackbolle’s goods within a limited time. Bathe refused. An act of excommunication meant that the person excommunicated would not be allowed to participate in any religious ceremonies.
Edmon Oudhall, Bishop of Meath, went in solemn procession to the market place of Navan on Market Day and excommunicated Thomas Bathe. Part of the excommunication rite said “that in any town into which the said Thomas should hereafter come, in which there was any church, no baptism or burial should be had or mass sung or said within three days after his residence there.” It was very serious in those days to be excommunicated or excluded from the church.
Shortly afterwards Bathe sent some of his men to the Abbey of Navan and they kidnapped Dr. Stackbolle and took him to Wilkinstown. His eyes and tongue were put out. He was carried back to the abbey and cast in front of the statue of the Blessed Virgin and “by her grace, mediation and miraculous power of whom he was restored to his sight and speech”.
Thomas Bathe did not escape with his wrong doings. In a parliament held at Drogheda in 1460 he was called to answer the charge of trying to win the king’s favour by falsely accusing Dr. John Stackbolle of high treason, under the penalty of being excluded from the king’s protection and having his property forfeited. Later Bathe had his estates in County Louth confiscated for his cruel treatment of Dr. Stackbolle. The statue of the Blessed Virgin is said to have been lost or destroyed in the reformation times.
In 1451 John Bole was abbot and he appealed to Rome stating that the abbey was impoverished and threatened with ruin through wars, fires and other disasters so that the proper number of canons could no longer be maintained. The Pope agreed to the appropriation of the church of Ardbraccan. In 1453 a bull was obtained from Pope Nicholas V granting plenary indulgences to all persons undertaking pilgrimages to this abbey or contributing either to repair or adorn it.
John Bole succeeded in getting the backing of the church and state for the monastery at Navan. But it appears that the money was wasted. In 1457 John Bole was elevated to the archiepiscopal see of Armagh and he was consecrated in June. He held a provincial synod at Drogheda. He died on the 18th of February 1470.
John Bole was succeeded by Peter White as abbot of Navan. The monastery again ran into financial difficulties. In 1467 the abbot pleaded poverty to Rome but the investigators or mandatories sent by the Pope made an unfavourable report saying that the money received from the endowments of the monastery which was 110 marks was enough to support the proper amount of monks. The report also stated that the religious (monks) were prone to wander and to frequent taverns!!
In 1476 an Act was passed by parliament to enable the abbey to acquire alms, pure and perpetual, land etc., to the value of 40 pounds per annum.
Lambert Simnel, pretender to the throne of England, raised a rebellion in Ireland against Henry VII. Henry Tudor, the King, had just fought the War of the Roses and secured the throne for himself. Lambert Simnel contested Henry’s right to the throne. He was supported by many Irish people who saw this as an opportunity to gain favour. The Bishop of Meath, John Payne, was one of the most notable supporters of Lambert Simnel. He preached at Simnel’s coronation service in Christchurch Cathedral in 1487. Richard Nangle, the abbot of Navan, and possibly a relation of the Barons of Navan, was also a supporter of Simnel. The rebellion was short lived and these men of religion had to back down. In 1488 Richard Nangle and the bishop received pardons for their involvement in the rebellion. Richard Nangle took the oath of allegiance to Henry VII on the 25th of July 1488.
The abbey of Navan is still remembered in place names in the area. We have Abbeylands in which the Abbey was situated and Abbey Road. We also have Cannon Row which should really be Cannon’s Row in memory of the Canons of St. Augustine who served in the abbey.
In 1389 the manor of Blackcastle was granted to John de Stanley by King Richard II. In 1399 Stanley granted the manor to the Earls of Ormond who held it for more than 200 years. The Butlers of Ormond are also connected with the monastery of Navan. James Butler, Earl of Ormond, was admitted as an associate brother of this community in 1436. It is thought he may have contributed a stone font in return for this honour. The stone font in the Church of Ireland church of St. Mary’s has a coat of arms on a shield shown in relief. It is thought that this shield is of the Butler family and may have been the donation of Earl Butler. The font has a date and an inscription badly carved on it. The date is 1716. However this inscription may have been added to the font which could have been carved earlier.
Navan’s importance in medieval times was due to the fact that people could ford the Blackwater and the Boyne at that place. The Normans, who were the great builders, built bridges so that they could cross the river without getting their feet wet.
Poolboy bridge seems to date from medieval times. Its name is derived from the yellow clay on the north bank and which muddied the water at the ford.
Kilcarn is another medieval bridge. The marks of the woven wattles used in part of its construction can still be seen.
Below Blackcastle the ruins of a bridge remains with one arch left on the south bank. This is an ancient bridge called “Babes bridge”. James Grace records in the Annals of Ireland: “1330 there was a great flood especially of the Boyne, by which all the bridges of that river, except Babes, were carried away, and other mischief done at Trim and Drogheda”.
1422 RAIDS AND TAXATION
in 1422 O’Connor of Offaly and O’Reilly of Breffny and their Anglo-Norman friends – the Birminghams of Kildare made a raid into County Meath. Meath and Dublin were rich pickings for men who preferred to live by the sword than by the plough.
On July 21st a mandate was issued to the provosts of Ratoath, Greenogue, Dunshaughlin, Skreen, Slane, Dunboyne and Navan to assemble at Trim with as many men as they could muster on the following Sunday to aid the Lord Justice in the pursuit of the Irish “enemy” and English “rebels” who were plundering, burning, robbing and “slaying the king’s lieges”.
At the same time James Earl of Desmond with 5,000 horse and foot from Munster marched into the territory of Birmingham in Carbery and laid it waste and spent 13 days ravaging it with the forces of Meath. Richard Nugent, Baron of Delvin, Senchel of Meath was liable to the Earl of Desmond. In other words Meath was to pay the costs of the Earl for quietening Meath’s enemies. The commons of Meath granted the Lord Delvin certain moneys from different taxes to be levied in the county. There was a tax of 13s 4d on every ploughland (120 acres). There was to be a levy on the goods and chattals of each barony. Each town in the county was to pay a certain tax. The towns and the sums they were to pay is as follows:- Duleek 13s 4d, Ratoath 10s, Grenoke 10s, Dunboyne 13s 4d, Dunshaughlin 2 marks, Navan 10s, Slane 10s, Syddan 10s, Nobber 3s 4d, Athboy 23s, Four 3s 4d, Kilallon 2s, Rathwire 3s 4d, Mullingar 6s 8d, Stamullen 6s 8d and Kilberry 3s 4d.
THE ROYAL CHARTERS OF NAVAN
Jocelyn de Angulo endowed the town of Navan with a charter so as to provide his barony with a commercial centre. Under de Angulo’s patronage the town of Navan flourished and it was one of the first towns in Meath to receive a Royal Charter.
The first charter was granted by King Edward IV on 2nd May 1469. This charter authorized the burgesses of Navan to levy tolls on all goods coming for sale into the town or for three miles round, as well as within the crosses of Meath as elsewhere to build the walls and maintain the pavements. These facts are recorded at an inquisition held at Navan in November 1608. The charter granted by James I in 1623 recites the charter given by Edward IV. Robert Plunket was nominated first provost (mayor) and William Cusack, Robert Everand, Patrick Begg and Walter Bedlow were the first burgesses with the power to elect a town clerk and two sergeants at Mace. The freemen of the town could pass freely throughout all ports, stations and places in Ireland without having to pay any tolls, taxes or tullages, customs or impositions except those due to the king. The provost was to be justice of the peace both of the town and county. He was also to act as coroner and clerk of the market. No wanderer or outsider (foreigner) was to set up, exercise or use any art, service or handicraft until admitted a freeman. No foreigner to sell by retail except on market day during the market. No one to bake bread for sale except a freeman.
Henry VII gave Navan its second charter in 1494 on the 10th of March.The charter of James I in 1623 granted by the king on the 12th July inspects and confirms the charters of Edward IV and Henry VII.
In 1632 a new market house was built in Navan. It later became the courthouse and was until recently a bank. A plaque commemorating the erection of the tholsel is on display in the building. The building was completed under the supervision of Edmund Manning. This family seems to have been important in the town at this time with Patrick Manning, a merchant,being M.P. for the town in the parliament of 1639.
The charter of Charles II granted 15th of October 1673 is addressed to “The Portreeve, Burgesses and Freemen of the Town or Borough of Navan”, it prescribes the mode of election of officers and contains a grant of a court and four fairs per year. The officers of the corporation were – one Portreeve (sometimes a deputy Portreeve), twelve Burgesses, one town clerk, two sergeants at Mace, one recorder and one craner. One of its charters also gave Navan the right to send two members to parliament. King James II granted a charter to Navan on 29th March 1689 but this was later revoked after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
NAVAN PLUNDERED 1539
In 1539 Conn O’Neill and Magnus O’Donnell invaded Meath and plundered the country as far as Tara. The annals of Loch Ce record “particularly the Umama (Navan) and the town of Athirdee were pillaged by them, both of treasures, apparel and all other goods besides”. The Annals of the Four Masters record that the reason for the raid was to chastise the native Irish within the Pale for their acquiescence to English rule and says the treasures carried off included “spoils of gold and silver, copper, iron and every sort of goods and valuables besides”.
The Lord Justice Leonard “followed them with the entire muster of all the large towns and of Meath, both ecclesiastical and lay, and all the Saxons that were in Erin” Annals of Loch Ce. This army pursued the invaders and finally caught them at Ballyhoe in Farney on the borders of Meath and Monaghan. The invaders were completely routed and most of the treasures recaptured. However much rebuilding had to be done. Much of Navan had been burned and this included the monastery that was confiscated in this year.
J. H. Moore records that a letter existed from R. Cowley to Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII’s minister) dated 1539 “Your Lordship preferred him (John Broke) to the ferme of the house of Navan. The same is burnt with all the appurtenances, rifled, the corn in the field burned and all the whole town, which was the wealthiest and quickest English market town in that shire”.
To prevent or at least lessen the effects of further raiders it was decided to build walls around the town. An Act was passed at a Parliament held in Drogheda in 1542 directing that every plough land in Meath should be charged 3s 4d for four years for the purpose of building the walls of Navan. In 1542 a ploughland was 120 acres in area so each ploughland had to pay 3s 4d in taxes each year for four years.
Only a very small area was enclosed by a wall. There were three gates: – Dublin Gate, Trim Gate, and Water Gate. A map of 1756 by Thomas William shows the rough outline of the walls of Navan. It ran from the Newgrange Hotel to the corner at Leighsbrook and then to Trim Gate and around the back of the houses on Trimgate Street and down to Poolboy Bridge. After the rebellion of 1641 and the introduction of canons and artillery walls ceased to be of use for defence and they fell into decay.
There is a record in the corporation minute book, under the year 1745, of the repairing of these walls. Donnchad O’Meachair recorded in 1928 “There is a portion of the old town wall of An Uaimh still to be traced in the gable of Mr. Bernard Reilly’s premises, Trimgate Street, adjoining the Catholic Young Mens Society Hall, where an old inscription can be seen describing same”. It is now also recognised that portion of the wall and the tower in the Town Council yard at Barrack lane constituted part of the medieval town wall of the town of Navan.
CONFISCATION OF THE ABBBEY
Henry VIII made himself Head of the Church in England and Ireland. He set about dissolving the monasteries of Ireland and England as these were centres of power in the church. By dissolving the monasteries he acquired much property and also closed many inferior abbeys.
On the 19th of July 1539 the commissioner of Henry VIII summoned the monks of Navan together and ordered them in the name of the king to surrender all the possession of the abbey in Meath, Louth, Dublin, Kildare and Carlow and elsewhere in Ireland. The community of monks had to go through the legal farce of signing a voluntary surrender.
To keep the monks from being troublesome they were given pensions for the rest of their lives. On the 21st of July, two days after they had left their monastery, pensions were granted to the canons. The last abbot, Thomas Wafre, was to receive a pension of £15, £3 6s 8d to Thomas Cahyll, 26s 8d to Thomas Folane, 20s to John Betagh and 26s 8d to William Orche. These moneys were to be paid out of the estates of the churches of Navan and Smermore and herediments in Smermore and Horleston. John Betagh, one of the canons, was allowed to stay on as the parish priest of Navan after the confiscation of the abbey.
In September and October 1540 an inventory of the abbey’s possession was made. In an inventory dated the 1st of October 1540 the jurors reported that the abbey church had from time immemorial been the parish church of Navan. It was allowed to continue as such. “The house and other buildings within the site or manor are so ruinous that they are worth nothing”. The abbey owned the manor of Smermore together with twelve messuages, six cottages, one hundred and thirty five acres of arable land and ten of pasture (some was let). The abbot was also seized of forty acres of arable land in Hurlestown and of the rectory of Smermore and also in Whytestown, one messuage, sixty acres of arable land and three of meadow. The total possessions included over 700 acres, two manors, one with a castle, a grange, many messuages, tenements and cottages and four rectories. The manor of Smermore was in County Louth, near Ardee.
The abbey occupied a fortified position between the Boyne and Blackwater. The defences were valuable to the local people, in times of trouble. In Navan the abbey also owned a stone turret, a “Horlying Park”, a salmon weir, two watermills together with another which had been damaged by the raid by O’Neill in 1539, the previous year. The abbey also owned sixty acres of land at Robenrath near Navan. Any tenants of the abbey land had to provide labour to the monks during such busy times as making the hay, harvesting and sowing. The whole property was valued at £127 8s 9d gross or £120 14s 5d net.
Some of the property was undervalued or not valued as much damage had been done by O’Neill and O’Donnell in 1539. The houses that the abbey owned in Canon’s row had been destroyed by O’Neill and burnt. The tenants of these fifteen houses rebuilt them and the tenants hoped that the king would make an allowance in rent for the cost of rebuilding. The sixty acres at Robenrath was granted to Robert Dillon.
John Brokes is listed as occupier of the Abbey’s lands in 1540 and in 1552 the lands were leased to John Wakely by Edward VI. On the 28th of October 1564 Queen Elizabeth directed Sir Henry Sidney the Lord Deputy of Ireland to give a lease in reversion to John Wakely of the spiritualities and temporalities of the dissolved house of “the Novan”.
In 1613 King James I granted to Sir Arthur Savage, a knight and privy councillor, “The site of the monastery of Navan, an orchard and garden there in rent £1 6s 8d, three windmills adjoining the hurlying park rent £12 10s with pasture and wood adjacent containing five acres rent 16s”. Sir Arthur was also granted other lands.
Around 1711 a barracks for cavalry soldiers capable of accommodating four officers and fifty-two non-commissioned officers and privates with stabling for fifty horses was built on the site of the Abbey.
The churchyard and burial ground survived for a little longer. Archdall writing in 1786 says “In the burial ground are remains of many ancient tombs with figures in alto-relievo”. Dean Cogan says that the tombs were broken up for paving stones and flags for the barrack yard and the cemetery dug up and converted into a garden. There was one particularly fine tomb erected over one of the abbots possibly John Bole. There was a carved figure with mitre crozier and another abbotical insignia. A colonel named Bishop in one of his drunken moods at the close of the 1700’s asked whose monument that was and on being told it was a bishops’, he swore an oath saying that there was room for only one bishop in Navan. So he had the tomb smashed and the fragments flung into the Blackwater. Mrs. Hickey makes the case that the carved bishop stone was saved from this fate by the Earl of Mount Charles and erected on a wall in the courtyard of Slane Castle.
In the 1860’s Dean Cogan saw a gardener lift a skull out of the ground while planting cabbage. Dean Cogan was appalled by this. When a pump hole was being sunk in the barrack yard about 1854 the remains of nine people were discovered laid one on top of the other. No coffins encased their bodies. The workmen collected the fragments and piously interred them in another part of the barrack yard.
In 1916 Dr. Gaughran Bishop of Meath purchased the old Militia Barracks for the sum of £600 and the following year opened a De la Salle Brothers school there and so the religious had returned to the old monastic site. Pieces of decorated masonry dating from the late medieval period were found and are now housed in St. Patrick’s Classical School. These were saved by Fr. Gerard Rice.
During the laying of sewage drains in 1976 human remains were found in the cutting of a trench in Abbeylands.
NAVAN CHURCH 1540-1640
When the monastery of Navan was dissolved the church of Navan had no provision for its maintenance. In 1542 an order was made that in each parish which had been appropriated to a monastery, vicarages were to be erected and endowed with a stipend of £13 6s 8d while the patronage should be reserved to the crown. This means that the king had the right to appoint the clergy who were to be paid by the renters of the confiscated lands.
Sir Roger Jones, son of Thomas Jones, Bishop of Meath, was the renter or improprater in the early 1600’s. He built up an estate of over 1500 acres of confiscated monastery land. He was to pay the vicars of Navan and Ardbraccan out of the rent. He gave one £7 and the other £12. This was much less than the order given in 1542 dictated.
Thomas Jones was Bishop of Meath 1584 to 1605 and later became Archbishop of Dublin. During his time in Meath he succeeded in acquiring for himself much of the property of the confiscated monasteries. Dean Swift described him as “that rascal Dean Jones”. He virtually gave away or claimed all the lands which had been confiscated from the monasteries. This land should have been used to help rebuild the churches. He let land at very cheap rates, for instance: ” All the lands in West Meath belonging to this bishopric were demised by Bishop Jones on the 1st of November 1592 to Edward Malone for sixty one years, he paying therout ten beeves yearly, and preserving the young hawks of goshawks, falcons and tassells, breeding in the woods of Clonmacnois, half of which he is bound to deliver to the Bishop of Meath at his house in Ardbraccan” John Healy.
Bishop Jones’s son, Sir Roger, managed to hold onto this alienated property. He was created Baron Jones of Navan and Viscount Ranelagh on 25th August 1628 and died in Oxford in 1643 during the English Civil War.
In 1622 Bishop Ussher reported that “Navan is a cure with a salary of £12 sterling, allowed by the farmer of the impropriation, the farmer the rectory being impropriate. Mr. William Philips is curate and resideth at Ardmulghan about two miles from here and preacheth every Sunday at Navan. No first fruits or 20ths, no house or glebe. The church is in good repair; the chancel is ruinous”. Ardmulchan was cut off by the high floods of winter so the Rev. Philips could not easily care for his flock during these periods. In 1633 Navan was constituted a rectory by letters patent 9th Car 1 and Roger Puttock was appointed first rector at a stipend of £30 per annum. The parish of Clonmacduff was joined to Navan for 40 years.
ARDMULCHAN – THE REFORMATION AND AFTER
A Chantry was founded in the church of the Blessed Virgin of Ardmulchan. A chantry is a group of people or organisation which endows a church and pays for a priest. By an inquisition taken in the tenth year of the reign of James I (1613) it was found that in the parish of St. Mary (Ardmulchan) was a perpetual chantry of one priest who was consecrated to celebrate service therein and this chantry was a body corporate. It was endowed with seven messuages (areas of land), seventeen tofts and commonage of pasture at Ardmulchan contrary to statute. This chantry was used as an excuse to suppress this church.
It is said that to save the church bell from the plunders when the church was dissolved that they were thrown into a deep pool in the Boyne. The pool was opposite Taaffes lock and was called Loch Gorm or the Blue pool.
In 1545 leave was granted to Edward Staples, Bishop of Meath (first Bishop of Meath of the Reformed Church), to alienate to Rev. Roger Durran, rector of Ardmulchan and others the manors and lordships of Scurlokstown, Newtown, Killeane and Clonard in the country of Meath to hold for ever.
In 1622 Ardmulchan church was in the process of rebuilding no doubt after the ravages of the dissolution of the monasteries. Bishop Ussher wrote in 1622 that the income was “valued at 60 pounds sterling, buildings and glebeland; a castle, and other houses of office, now in good repair, a garden, an haggard and one acre with four acres of arable land with certain pastures there unto belonging”. William Phillips was the curate. Bishop Ussher describes him: “William Phillips Batchelor of Divinitie, of good life and conversacion and very painefull in his calling. Rector Ardmulchan, Dunsany and Kilberry, P.C. (curate) Navan. He resideth at Ardmulchan and preacheth every Sunday at Navan”. His income from the four parishes came to £85 6s 8d.
In 1672 the parishes of Ardmulchan and Paynestown were united. It seems the rebuilding going on in 1622 was never finished.
PERSECUTION OF CATHOLICS
An Irish parliament held in 1560 passed the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity. The first stated that Elizabeth was head of the church and that anyone wishing to hold public office had to swear an oath that they agreed and supported this. The Act of Uniformity made the clergy hold services in English and set up a system of fines for any person who failed to attend the church services.
On the 12th of May 1577 Dr Hugh Brady, Protestant Bishop of Meath, wrote to the Lord Deputy “I find great boldness generally as well word as by action against the received religion. Masses be rife, little less than openly said, friars show themselves openly, two of them being here at Navan of late were apprehended by some of my men but quickly rescued and my men put in hazard of their lives; this was done by no worse than the portrief of the town and some of his brethren”.
In 1603 an agent of the Government by the name of Sotherne “at the market cross of Navan, among sundry seditious persons and pretended priests, spied two friars in their habits openly going from house to house, the one a young tall strip, the other a lusty old fellow”. A crowd rescued and defended the friars from the agent’s clutches.
On the 5th May 1615 a Dublin jury was sentenced to fines and imprisonment “for acquitting John Darcy, John Warrynge, Robert Everard, Edmond Mannynge, W.M Delahyde, Patk. Begg, James Cusacke, Richard and Thomas Netterville of Co. Meath, indicted for hearing mass said and celebrated by one Richard Myssett a popish priest at Navan; it having been manifestly proved that all these persons with a multitude of others were present at the said mass”.
In 1622 a spy reported “Patrick Duff, priest of Navan, keeps a house there and intertaynes preests and Jesuits, and keeps a stable and horses there. The people of this town are grown so arrogant by this preests means they carry a cross openly in the streets before the dead being carried to burial”.
“SPOILING IN EAST MEATH” 1596
Bishop Jones wrote to the Lord Deputy (the Queen’s representative in Ireland) in 1596. His letter is recorded by Rev. John Healy in his book.
Bishop Jones says two hundred “rebels of the Brenny” (Breffny) were at about six in the morning “spoiling in East Meath”. These rebels were the clan O’Reilly led by their chieftain Philip O’Reilly.
Four days later the Bishop again writes to the Lord Deputy and tells him that “the O’Reillys and Duffs came to Dunmow, a village seated upon the Boyne-side, and took from it one hundred cows or there abouts, unyoked the garrans out of the ploughs and carried them with them. Thence they went to the Granges, a village adjoining, and belonging to Nicholas Birford, and in revenge for his late good service, have taken all the cattle and goods that he had, killed one of his men, dangerously injured another, and burned his house. All this was done within two miles of the Navan before the setting of the sun. Every night some spoil is committed and unless present order be taken for guarding that border, I do not think that any man dwelling on that side of the Boyne who is not of Philip’s confederacy will possess any goods”. Shortly afterwards Phillip was killed but the raids continued.
THE MARKET CROSS
A stone cross stood in the centre of Market Square in Navan for many centuries. It was erected during the time when the Nangles were barons of Navan. All the dealing and buying and selling took place in the shadow of the Cross. In 1848 Sir William Wilde records “it is probable that a cross existed in this town in the market place where all passing funerals now make a solemn circuit”.
In 1849 W. F. Wakeman found a stone from the cross built into a wall off Trimgate Street. This stone was sent to the Royal Irish Academy’s Museum. This stone was engraved with sculpted figures on its four sides. On one side is a lady dressed in Elizabethan clothes and the name Philip Nangle. This could date the cross to the late 1500’s. Another side has a shield, which incorporates the arms of the Nangles (of Navan), the Dowdalls (of Athlumney) and the Herberts (of Blackcastle). It would have been around this time that all these families would have been in the area. Another side of this stone commemorates the granting of Navan to “Josulinus de Angulo the first Baron of Novan”. The fourth side seems to show the symbols of mortality and immortality. This stone is now in the National Museum, which acquired the Royal Irish Academy’s Museum.
Wakeman spotted two more stones, which were under casks in a public house in Trimgate Street. He did his best to rescue these stones but was not even allowed to make drawings of them.
Dean Cogan writing in 1867 records that two pieces of the cross existed and he goes on to describe the two pieces. The first also has four complete sides is devoted to religious subjects which is in contrast with the other piece described above which is dedicated to temporal subjects and to the Nangles. On one side of the second stone is an inscription in Irish commemorating the suffering of Christ and his opening Heaven to us. The other stone has a figure of St. Patrick with Mitre and Crozier. On one side of him is S and on the other is P which stand for Saint Patrick. The second side shows a shield and a figure of a bird (The writer suggests this was the arms of the Nangles). The third side has the Ecoe Homo crowned with thorns and the fourth has a crowned figure of the Blessed Virgin with the infant Jesus in her arms.
Were these stones from the same cross? One has inscriptions in English and Latin, the other an inscription in Irish. One stone is dedicated to religious subject while the other is in complete contrast.
A further sculptured stone from this era exists and may have been part of the cross. It is now preserved in St. Mary’s Church of Ireland Church and it shows a king or maybe Baronet with a crown and a bishop.
The market cross was in existence in 1603 when a government agent reported that “at the Market Cross of Navan, among sundry seditious persons and pre-trended priests, spied two friars in their habits”.
JOHN STEARNE OF ARDBRACCAN
John Stearne was born in Ardbraccan on the 26th of November 1624 and he became one of the founding fathers of medical education in Ireland.
He showed a high degree of intelligence and entered Trinity College, Dublin at the early age of 15. He succeeded in getting a scholarship two years later. The 1641 rebellion interfered with his education in Ireland and so he went to study at Cambridge. He came back to Ireland in 1651 and was shortly appointed Professor of Hebrew at T.C.D. In the year 1651 a plague was sweeping Ireland and John Stearne did his best to apply his learning to relieve the sufferers.
In 1661 Stearne was appointed Registrar of Trinity and the following year was appointed its first Professor of Medicine. He went on to found the College of Physicians. He greatly furthered medical education in Ireland by these acts. He died at the early age of 45 in the year 1665.
THE REBELLION OF 1641
The 1641 Rebellion had many causes. There was religious persecution and also many dispossesed Irish landowners and also many disbanded soldiers from Strafford’s army. The rebellion was to be led by Sir Phelim O’Neill in Ulster and Rory O’Moore in the midlands. The plan was to seize Dublin but the Dublin leaders were betrayed and arrested. The rebellion started in October 1641.
The noblemen of Meath met at the Hill of Crufty between Duleek and Drogheda. They sent a resolution to O’Neill to ask him why he had invaded their territory. He replied that he was upholding the cause of the king. On hearing this the nobles decided to join him.
The noblemen next held a meeting on the Hill of Tara. Each nobleman was assigned the task of raising men and provisions in each barony. Thomas Nangle and Patrick Manning the members of Parliament for Navan were expelled and then outlawed. Other noblemen from the Navan area that were outlawed included Laurence Dowdall of Athlumney and Nicholas Dowdall of Brownstown.
The rebels pillaged Meath and laid siege to Drogheda. They actually got inside the walls of Drogheda but the alarm was given and the raiders killed.
The nobles of Meath and the rebels defeated the English forces at the Battle of Julianstown in 1641. A detachment of troops was ordered to go to Dunmoe castle and take it from the garrison which supported the parliament. Captain Power, the commander of Dunmoe, succeeded with a handful of men in resisting the attacks of the rebels. Finally the siege layers produced a forged order from the Lord Justices Parsons and Borlace and Captain Power surrendered the castle when he was given this order and so the siege of the castle of Dunmoe ended.
In October 1641 the Portreeve and Burgesses of Navan favoured the insurgents. The nearest enemies the rebels could find were the Protestants and the Protestant clergy. Most of the Protestant clergy fled. In Navan “after the rebellion was known generally all the Papists houses were sett upon a merry pin, dancing, singing and drinking, as if hell had bin broken open among them”. The clergyman Rev. Puttock feared the impending violence and learning that “the country people were up and robbing to the very walls of the Navan” went to the Portreeve and some of the Burgesses and urged them to put a guard at the gates.
However the Portreeve and Burgesses and also the people themselves supported the rebels and refused to take any steps to defend the town. Mr. Puttock threatened to report the Portreeve and the Burgesses to the State but they only ridiculed his threats.
Shortly afterwards the people of Navan attacked Mr. Puttock’s house and he was forced to flee leaving all his possessions behind him. The mob tried to kill him so “he was glad to fly with his wife and two children disguised, and to leave one child behind him”. These details come from the Trinity College deposition manuscripts. This document was deposited by Roger Puttock on his recollections of 1641.
At the same time there was a general robbery of all the Protestants in the town. Two people were killed and several were threatened with death unless they went to Mass. Some were “fain to promise” to do so in order to save their lives.
The rebels assembled in Virginia and quickly attacked and took the towns of Trim, Kells, Navan, Ardbraccan and Athboy.
In 1642 Owen Roe O’Neill returned from Spain to take charge of the rebellion. He was a nephew of Hugh O’Neill who had led the rebellion at the turn of that century. With him came Colonel Preston whose brother was one of the noblemen who supported the rebellion.
Reverend George Creighton, rector of Virginia, Co. Cavan, recorded in 1642 “in the end the O Relies were drawn into Navan where they lay sometime until the English entered Trim. Then they burned Navan and came to Kells, from Kells they went to Athboy and after they had made an attempt on Trim and were shamefully chased thence, they burned Athboy, for which they blamed the people of Westmeath”. Many fled in front of the English as well as the Irish ” The refugees filled all the houses in Virginia, among them was Robert Begg of Navan… Every Thursday they had a market as great, and methinks greather than ever was at Navan” recorded Rev. Creighton.
While the rebels were at Navan in April 1642 Lord Moore with 150 troopers and 100 dragoons went from Drogheda towards Navan and burnt the rebels quarters round about it and came within musket shot of the town. They captured Lord Gormanstown’s best horses with saddle and furniture and his man as he was scouting abroad. The towns and castles of Meath were taken and retaken by the rebels and the English forces many times during the rebellion.
About the month of April the soldiers under Grenville’s command killed in and about Navan eighty men, women and children, who lived under protection. Captain Wentworth and his company garrisoned at Dunmoe killed no less than 200 protected persons in the parish of Dunamore, Slane and the barony of Magellion and Ovemore in the town of Ardmulchan, Kingstown and Harriston, all protected persons. Sir Richard Grenville’s troops killed forty-two men, women and children and eighteen infants at Doramstown in the parish of Ardbraccan.
In 1643 Owen Roe O’Neill with 5,000 foot and 700 good horse possessed himself of the corn from the county of Cavan to the barony of Slane and being joined by Sir James Dillon’s forces took the castles of Killelan, Balrath, Bectiffe, Balsoone and Ardsallagh and besieged Athboy – Carte’s Ormonde. Ardsallagh castle, Dunmore and Ardbraccan figured prominently in the 1641 – 1652 rebellion.
The rebellion was very poorly led and there were many divisions between the armies. The groups that made up the rebels also had different aims. The Lords of the Pale seeing that their cause was hopeless tried to make terms with the Lord Justices but in vain and the rebellion dragged on with many outrages on both sides being committed.
In 1646 Owen Roe had a victory over the English at the battle of Benburb. On the 8th of August 1647 the rebels under General Preston were defeated at Dangan Hill near Trim. To avenge this defeat Owen Roe ravaged all of Meath to within 2 miles of Dublin.
The rebellion continued until 1652 when it was finally crushed. The man to finish the rebellion was Oliver Cromwell who replaced the king of England as the head of state.
In August 1649 Cromwell landed in Dublin with 20,000 soldiers to put a finish to the rebellion that started in 1641. Cromwell treated towns that surrendered to him fairly and ones that refused were ravaged. The first town to bear the brunt of Cromwell’s attacks was Drogheda. Cromwell may have passed by Navan on his way to Trim and Athboy. It is said that he fired at the castle of Dunmoe from the opposite side of the Boyne. The cannon ball that the guns shot at the castle was saved and afterwards used as a weight for a crane scales.
Cromwell is supposed to have crossed the Boyne on Babe’s Bridge and this fact was commemorated by a local poet.
There is a story which assigns the burning of Athlumney Castle to Cromwell’s time. There is much more likely story, which attributes the burning to 1690. Two jealous sisters were supposed to have lived in Blackcastle and Athlumney Castle – one on either side of the Boyne. Both made an agreement not to allow Cromwell shelter and pledged to burn down their houses rather than let Cromwell in. When one lady set her mansion on fire that was the signal for the other lady to burn her house as Cromwell was on his way. The jealous occupant of Blackcastle set a fire of brushwood in one of the turrets. The lady in Athlumney burnt her house on seeing the signal from across the Boyne only to discover her mistake the following morning.
THE CIVIL SURVEY 1654 – 1656
The Civil Survey took place in the mid 1650’s. It was to survey lands that were to be confiscated after the rebellion of 1641. William Petty conducted much of this survey. A picture of Navan at this time shows Navan enclosed with a wall and shows the ruins of the abbey outside the walls. There was a mill on the Boyne and a bridge across the Blackwater.
The owners in the town of Navan were Arthur, Lord Ranelagh, who owned 160 acres and all the tenements and gardens from Feshing’s gate to Swyne’s bridge – Lord Dillon of Kilkenny West who owned 60 acres and four tenements and four gardens – Earl of Roscommon fourteen tenements with their gardens and all the tenements and gardens on the northside of Cannon-row Street without West gate – Lord of Hoth 3 stangs – Major Billingsley. All the above are the Protestant landowners. The Irish papists who were landowners in Navan town were Thomas Nangle of Navan who owned 240 acres and all the tenements and gardens without Dublingate and one mill – James Doodling of Drogheda 30 acres – Alderman Dowde of Dublin 5 acres – Dowdall of Athlumney two tenements and two gardens – and others.
The townlands of the parish of Navan their ownership and special observations are recorded:-
Balreisk 3/4 ploughland 466 acres owned by Laurence Dowdall of Athlumney and Christopher Cusack of Rahalran, Irish Papists, “There being on the premises, a castle with divers out houses and cabbins”.
Knockumber 3/4 ploughland 360 acres owned by Sir Robert Talbott of Cartowne Irish papist. “There being on ye said lands one castle”.
Portanclough one sixth of a ploughland 40 acres owned by Mrs. Mary Crow of Dublin, Protestant.
Balbater – 1/4 of plowland. 84 acres owned by Everard of Ardcath. Irish papist.
Ralogh – 46 acres owned by Arthur Lord Viscount Ranelagh Protestant.
Blackcastle “one mill and one fishing weare”.
Ardbrackan “There being on ye premises Two Castles, A church, a Hall and an open quarry”.
Kenanstowne “A church and some few cabbins owned by Laurence Dowdall of Athlumney.
Athlomey – one ploughed 200 acres owned by Laurence Dowdall of Athlomey Irish pap. A castle and large stone howse, a water mill and a tuck mill, two fishing warers and a church and two open quarryes.
Farganstown – “one fishing weare”.
Ballimulchan – “a farme howse with some cottages”.
Johnstowne – “a farme thatch howse”.
Mooretown – “a thatch farme howse”.
Ardmulchan “There being on the premisses a castle, a church and a tuck-mill with severall cottages and there lyeth a forde over the River Boyne. And there are severall small cottages with backsides, belonging to severall free holders all Irish Papists”.
This survey was used to allocate the confiscated land to the Cromwellian planters.
PURITAN MINISTER FOR NAVAN
With Cromwell in power the Puritan Religion was made the State Religion. Many of the puritan non-conformist minister were appointed to parishes in Ireland.
Richard Bourk was appointed preacher at Navan but he turned out not to be a preacher and definitely not a puritan.
“Whereas, upon examination and confession of Mr. Richard Bourk, preacher at ye Navan in ye County of Meath, as also of ye concurrent testimonie of divers creditable persons, who lately saw him shamefully overcome with drink as towards noonday he passed throught ye streets in Dublin, it manifestly appears that the said Richard Bourk is a common haunter of ale houses, and so intemperately given to drink as renders him to be of a loose and vain life and conversation…………The Lord Deputy and Council……………have thought fitt and ordered the said Richard Bourk bee and is hereby (upon ye testimony aforesaid) declared to be a person scandalous in his life and fitt to be ejected from his charge at ye Navan aforementioned…………….
Dated at ye Councell Chamber.
Dublin 11 May 1658″.
On the 17th of June Doctor Jonathan Edwards of Trim was appointed in the place of Richard Bourk. The English inhabitants of Navan called for the appointment so that he could “preach the Gospell to the inhabitants thereabouts, who are now become wholly destitute and deprived of that most necessary ffood of their soules, by the miscarriage of Richard Burgh their late minister”.
Navan Seal and Mace were until recent years in Los Angeles County Museum of Art to which they were donated by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, in the 1950’s. The Metge family of Athlumney sold them to Hearst. The seal and mace were in the Metge’s hands because the Metges were one of the controlling families of the corporation in the late 1700’s.
The Navan seal was granted to the town by King Charles II after the restoration of the monarchy in 1661. The design of the seal seems to be based on the crest of the Cowan family. It consists of an arm emerging from a bank of clouds holding a heart. It also contains three symbols of the restored royalty – a crown, a harp and a rose. The motto which is written all round these enclosed symbols says “Restaurato Carlo Secundo Respiramus” which means “We rejoice in the restoration of Charles II”. The crest on the seal is an adaptation of the Cowan family crest, there must have been a member of the family the Portreeve or mayor of Navan at the time.
This seal is dated by many writers at 1661 when Charles was restored to the throne but it may date from 1673 when Charles granted Navan a new charter with many additional rights.
THE PRESTON FAMILY
Many people granted the confiscated land by Cromwell were not interested in taking up the grants. Most of the people granted land were English and they did not want to come to Ireland. Indeed many sold out their lands without ever setting foot in Ireland. Some of the original owners held onto their land and repulsed the claims of the Cromwellian claimants. The barony of Navan which was divided up for the Adventurers (i.e. those who paid for Cromwell’s campaign (or adventure) in Ireland. Only 865 acres of land was in fact claimed by Adventures. Only two adventurers actually came to claim the land – Thomas Barnardistowne and John French. Another Thomas Vincent seems to have sent a relative. There are some 19,000 acres in the Barony of Navan and yet only 865 acres were claimed by the actual people it was granted to. There was 8000 acres of land sold by the people who had been granted it by Cromwell. One of the biggest purchasers in the Navan area was John Preston, a merchant from Dublin who married a daughter of Jocelyn Nangle, Baron of Navan. He bought many of the debentures owned by the Adventurers and soldiers. He was granted and confirmed in his occupation of 7859 acres of land in the Acts of Settlement 1666. He was allocated lands in Meath and Queens County (Laois). He put some land aside for charitable use. He put 1737 acres in trust for the keeping of two schools – one at Navan and the other at Ballyroan.
John Preston was confirmed in his estates at Ardsallagh in 1666. John was the son of Hugh Preston of Bolton, Lanchashire and a grandson of Jenico, the third Viscount Gormanston. On the 27th of September 1650 John Preston, merchant was appointed joint Clerk of the Tholsell by the Dublin City Assembly. Two days later he became an Alderman. He was known as Alderman Preston. In 1653 he was elected Mayor of Dublin. He served as city auditor on several occasions. John Preston held Baldoyle on a 99 year lease. He gave quite a lot of land to charity. He donated a site for the erection of the Royal Hospital of King Charles II and for the Bluecoat school.
Thomas Nangle, the Baron of Navan, was outlawed in 1641 but he regained his lands and passed to his son, Jocelyn. Jocelyn’s heiress married John Preston and thus Ardsallagh and the estates of Navan passed to the Prestons. There is some confusion on whether John Preston married into the estate at Ardsallagh or acquired it by buying out the debentures of the Adventurers.
In 1661 John was elected MP for Navan. He allocated about 1700 acres of his estate to the setting up and maintenance of Protestant schools at Navan and Ballyroan in Queen’s County (Laois). He may have done this so that the former owners would have difficulty in pressing their claims when a charity was involved.
The school at Navan was to be run by “an able schoolmaster of the Protestant religion to be resident in the town of Navan”. The first Master was Rev. Lyon. For most of its first 150 years in existence the income of the trust lands went to the schoolmaster who was a friend or relative of the Prestons. For example in 1755 Mr. Preston appointed his own brother as schoolmaster. The teaching of the children was left to underlings. In the early 1800s the school never had more than seven pupils. Roman Catholics were sometimes accepted as pupils although after the rebellion of 1798 there was a lapse until 1815 when the next R.C. pupil entered.
In 1829 a new school was built on the site of the old school. While the rebuilding was going on school was conducted in the suppressed charter school at Ardbraccan. The Royal Commissioners in the 1840s reported of Preston School “this endowment presented one of the most remarkable instances of an abused trust”. The Bishop of Meath in 1799 was not pleased with the situation in the school either. “Rev. Mr. Preston, Master of the School himself but employs Rev. Mr. Toomey”. Bishop Lewis Beirne notes “To enquire of Dr. Duigenan as to the legality of giving the endowed school to a person who neither keeps a school nor lives in the house but employs a deputy”.
In 1847 there were only three pupils and for the rest of the century pupils never numbered more then twenty and more often were single figures. How the school escaped closure after the Royal Commission in 1840 is hard to fathom. In 1918 the number on the roll had increased to 39 due to the school having a good headmaster and taking boarders. Not all headmasters were in favour of taking boarders.
In 1967 Preston School have twenty five boarders and fifteen day pupils. The timetable was integrated with the Vocational School which stood in nearby Abbey Road. In 1969 Preston School Navan was closed and amalgamated with Wilsons Hospital school. In 1986 a service was performed to commemorate the tri-centenary of Preston School 1686-1986. Preston School was situated where the Navan Shopping Centre is situated today.
John Preston was confirmed as owner of Ardsallagh in 1666. His grandson, also John, died leaving a daughter, Mary, as heiress. Mary married Peter Ludlow around 1727. Peter was grand nephew of a famous General Edmund Ludlow who fought alongside Cromwell against King Charles I. Peter Ludlow was M.P. for Meath in 1719 and 1727. Peter Ludlow died in Bath on the 19th of June 1750 and was succeeded by his son, also called Peter. Peter Ludlow was created Baron Ludlow of Ardsallagh in 1735 and Viscount Preston of Ardsallagh and first Earl of Ludlow in 1760.
The second Peter married Lady Frances Saunderson by whom he had three sons and four daughters all of whom died unmarried. His eldest son, August, became the second Earl Ludlow and his second son George James the third Earl. George James left his estates to the Duke of Bedford who gave them to his brother Lord John Russell who was succeeded by his grandson. Lord John Russell was created Earl Russell in 1861.
One branch of the Prestons settled at Bellinter. Bellinter House was built on the east side of the Boyne by Richard Cassells for John Preston, grandfather of the first Baron Tara. Richard Cassells is associated with many big houses in the area around Dublin notably Russborough House in Blessington, Co. Wicklow. He is also associated with the Custom House in Dublin and in the Meath area he planned the Bishop’s Palace and Charter School at Ardbraccan.
William Wilde described Bellinter in his Irish Rivers Articles in the 1847 Dublin University Magazine “As the Boyne passes through the noble domain of Bellinter, it is again broken into islands, a group of which nearly opposite Mr. Preston’s house are planted with considerable taste. This residence, which was once the seat of the lords of Tara was designed by Mr. Cassells, and is one of the finest specimens of domestic architecture in this part of Meath. It consists of a large square central building, with a projecting wing on each side, connected to it by a colonnade. The southern road to Navan, presents the traveller with a fine view of this mansion, and the intervening park”. Today it is the Sisters of Sion convent.
BATTLE OF THE BOYNE AND THE RULE OF JAMES II
Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James who had openly declared himself a Roman Catholic some years previously. He set about restoring that religion in Ireland and England. The people of England would not stand for that and so they rebelled against James and asked his Protestant daughter Mary to accept the throne. Mary agreed under the condition that her husband, William of Orange, the President of the Dutch Republic would be joint sovereign. This was accepted. James fled to France where he got the help of Louis XIV. In 1689 James landed in Ireland to try and regain his kingdom. He did not fare well in his attempt.
During James II’s time in Ireland he continued his policy of replacing Protestants with Catholics in public offices. He granted a new charter to Navan in 1689 replacing the Protestant burgesses with Catholic ones. The charter increases the number of burgesses to twenty four and Navan’s right to send two members to parliament was reaffirmed. The Portriffe was to take the oath of allegience to the King. John Barry was to be the town clerk for life and Richard Barry the recorder. This charter was invalidated when James lost the Battle of the Boyne.
In a book entitled “The state of the Protestants in Ireland under the late King James II”, an account of the burning of Mr. Thomas Corker’s House at Donaghmore on Sunday 5th May, 1689 is given:-
“Mr. Corker, observing about All Saints that the English and Protestants began to fly freely, asked the Irish gentlemen in his neighbourhood what advice they would give him, as to his removal having a great family who answered “O’dear sir, do not stir for if the world were on fire you have no reason to fear, for you have been so obliging to us your neighbours and to all sorts, that none will harm you but rather protect you”- yet immediately fell on his stock and took part away. He then removed to Dublin, leaving his haggard and household goods, but occasionally went down to look after them. All his stock of sheep, black cattle and horse were taken and soldiers from Navan, commanded by Captain Farrell fetched away all his corn and hay.
Some of his Irish servants telling him it was not safe to lie in his own house, he lay in a neighbour’s on Friday night and next day went to Dublin. However they burned his house on Sunday night, 5th May, believing he was in it and afterwards said he ordered his own servants to burn it and soon after came up one William Carton, his shepherd, who told him that the Friars and Priests in Navan were very angry with him and threatened him, because he did not countenance the report, and his own servants, had burnt his house by his orders”.
The Battler of the Boyne was fought in July 1690. In it James II was defeated by the forces of William of Orange. James forces were made up of mainly French and Irish soldiers and William’s were mainly Dutch, Germans and Danes.
George D’Arcy of Dunmoe, one of the burgesses in the charter of James of Navan, is supposed to have entertained James on the night before the battle and William on the night after. In this way he was sure he was on the right side. It appears that he did change his loyalty from James to William as he managed to retain his lands and escape prosecution.
This change of loyalty was the inspiration for a couplet: –
“Who will be king I do not know
But I’ll be D’Arcy of Dunmoe”.
Laurence Dowdall was one of the M.P.s for Navan for 1634. He joined the Rebellion in 1641, and was ranked as Captain. He was the organiser of men and provisions for Skryne barony. For this stand he was outlawed and his lands were confiscated. He was restored in his lands by King Charles I because of his loyalty. However under Cromwell his lands were again confiscated.
The lands at Athlumney were granted to certain planters by Cromwell. When Charles II was restored as King the Dowdall family sought to regain their lands. Laurence Dowdall was dead and it was his son, Lucas, who was named as nominee owner of the lands. Lucas has to fight many a legal battle and make many appeals to the King to regain his lands. He was made a baronet around 1663. This was an attempt by Charles to appease him. However Lucas did not give up and in 1668 he was confirmed in the estate at Athlumney.
Lucas’s son inherited the estate. Launcelot Dowdall, the owner of Athlumney castle, sided with James II at the Battle of the Boyne. He vowed that William Prince of Orange would never rest or get shelter under his roof. Dowdall set fire to his castle one fine evening and then calmly took his belongings across the river where he sat to watch his home burn. He sat there while the fire grew. Throwing sparks high into the air his home gradually disappeared into a smoldering ruin. He left while the ashes were still hot.
Later he fled to the continent. He was attained of High Treason in 1692. The castle and estate was forfeited in 1700 and sold in 1702 – 1703. Launcelot Dowdall left behind his home in ruins to live the life of an exile in France.
(ILL. 16. ATHLUMNEY CASTLE CIRCA 1850)
THE COACH ROAD
The coach road from Dublin to Navan was made by a Trust set up in 1729. In that year there was a postal service in Navan on Monday and Friday. Letters arrived from Dublin on a Tuesday and Saturday. There was a daily service by 1800.
The Navan Dublin road was completed in 1729. Two years later in 1731 an Act was passed for a road from the Navan road at Blackbull to Trim and Athboy. The junction of the Trim and Navan roads at the Blackbull was a renowned resort of highwaymen. In 1733 the Navan road was extended to Kells and Nobber.
The Navan Long Coach left the Sun Inn, Queen St., Dublin on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at noon and arrived at Navan at 5:30p.m. The inside fare was 7s 7d and the outside fare was 5/5. The names of the Inns of Navan at the time are recorded – George Inn, Bull Inn and Blacklion Inn.
All vehicles were to be charged at tollgates. The tolls in 1731 were “for each coach, berlin, chariot, calash, chaise or chair drawn by any less number of horses than six and more than one, the sum of 6d, for every wain, cart or carriage with two wheels having more than one horse, mare, gelding or mule the sum of 3d: for every carriage commonly called a chair or chaise with one horse, mare or gelding the sum of 2d: for every cart or other carriage having but one horse….1d: for every horse, mare, gelding, mule or ass laden or unladen and not drawing 1/2d: for every drove of oxen or near cattle the sum of 10d per score…. And for every drove of calves, hogs, sheep or lambs 5d per score”.
The coach road was to support itself by the payment of tolls at the tollgates. There was a tollgate at Kilcarn Bridge where the road crossed the Boyne. There was a tollgate at the “Round O” for the Nobber – Kingscourt road. The road to Slane was not a toll road and could be freely travelled. At the other side of town at Bannon’s Cross at the northern end of Canon Row there was a tollgate for the Kells – Cavan coach road. This was also the road for Enniskillen. Part of this tollgate was taken to Rathaldron Castle and used as a fence when the road was made toll free.
A bridge over the Boyne was built at Navan sometime between 1733 and 1756. Bishop Ellis in 1733 notes the fact that people had to ford the river to get from Athlumney to Navan Church. The bridge appears in the Map of Navan in 1756. This bridge was the first to connect Navan to the east side of the Boyne and is known as the New Bridge. It is thought that the Corporation of the time was against the building of the bridge.
(THE MAP OF NAVAN MADE IN 1756 BY THOMAS WILLIAMS)
Toll roads declined in the early part of the 1800’s. The railways speeded up this decline. In 1842 there were six tollgates on the Dublin – Navan road each receiving 16s per week. The company could not survive on such low incomes and so in that year the Board of Works took over the Navan road. But this was not successful either and in 1855 a final inquiry into the remaining Coach Road Trusts was held. The tolls were removed and the roads made free and put in the control of the Grand Juries.
Navan was granted a corporation of Portreeve, Burgesses and Freemen of the town under various charters. The Mayor or Portreeve was elected annually in an assembly consisting of the Portreeve in office, burgesses and freemen. This election took place on the 13th of September and the officers began to act from the 29th of that month. The same Portreeve is not allowed to be re-elected for a second term. The Portreeve was a justice of the peace and acted as such in the petty sessions. There were twelve burgesses elected annually from the freemen of the borough on one of two days – 13th or 29th of September. There was also to be a Town Clerk and two serjeants at mace. The Serjeants at Mace were elected and they executed the process of the Borough Court when it was in session. They received a small fee for this work. There was also to be a Recorder and a Craner. The Craner was appointed by the Portreeve. The Craner weighed the articles for sale at the Market Day.
The Portreve had the right to impose tolls and customs and from the returns paid the other officials. The Portreeve sold the right to collect tolls to the highest bidder. The serjents at Mace were to stop any goods coming into town that the tolls and customs had not been paid on.
Some of the minute books for the corporation still survive today. At the turn of the century they were in the hands of R. H. Metge Esq., Athlumney and they are now in the National Library, Kildare St., Dublin.
In 1740 there was a large weekly market at Navan and four fairs were held annually. Navan had a meat market called the Shambles which was used by the Dublin butchers as their common market before Smithfield in Dublin was built. In 1742, a resolution was passed that no swine should be allowed on the streets under the penalty of 1s. The following year it was ordered that any wandering swine should be houghed or killed.
In 1745 the corporation of Navan ordered that the walls be repaired in order to prevent loss of tolls and customs by the illicit entry of goods to the town. The Portreeve, burgesses and freemen had the perk that they did not have to pay any tolls or customs. In 1756 on September 29th Mr Richard Dancy was appointed “Scavenger and Supervisor of the lamps, fire material, the well and the pump in the street at the yearly salary of fifteen pounds sterling”.
At one time the Corporation of Navan owned about 1,200 acres of land called the Commons of Navan, three fair greens and a hurling park. This common land was parcelled out to friends of the portreeve and burgeses or taken over by squatters or encrouched upon by neighbouring landlords.
The members of the corporation did well out of the disposal of the property. A lease dated 11th February 1713 between the portreeve, burgeses and commonality of the town and borough of Navan of the one part and John Tench gentleman, town clerk of the borough of the other part, whereby the corporation conveyed to Trench, Moninbegals Hurling Park, containing three acres, pen fold and the little bog adjoining containing eight acres, to hold for ever at the rent of £1 2s 0d per annum.
The Commons of Navan was encrouched upon by the neighbouring landowners – the Prestons and the Ludlows. These were also the people who controlled the corporation so there was no-one to complain to when the Commons were being “stolen”.
The Corporation appointed a man to be “Ranger of the Commons to “care for the firs, grass and sod of the said Commons”. In 1767 the Corporation met to discuss what to do with the Commons as it was becoming “a harbour for vagabonds”.
In 1776 forty acres of Commons were granted to Dr. Beaufort for a glebe and thirty for a school house. The latter was to be at the rent of 15s per acre for the lives of Dr. Beaufort and Mr. Barry and 27s afterwards. There is no record of these grants in the vestry minutes. Dr. Beaufort did not avail of the grants or else they fell through.
In 1813 an agreement to grant to George Brady a plot on one of the fair greens for building for a term of 999 years at a rent of 30s a year. He never paid any rent. He built a large house called Brady’s Buildings which was built in Robinrath townland.
Many landless people moved into the Commons and squatted on the lands. The corporation appointed a “ranger of the Commons” but he permitted people to build and enclose portions of them. Thompson in 1802 R.D.S. Survey says “The Commons of Navan are the worst regulated of any grounds of this description in the country and I am sorry to say are receptacle for vagabonds from all quarters”. The land passed into the ownership of the squatters.
The last of the Commons and property owned by the corporation was disposed of between 1800 and 1832. F.D. Hamilton, a portreeve of Navan, disposed of much of the corporation’s property. In 1834 it is recorded “The corporate property in the Town consisted of three Fair Greens of considerable extent. These have also been built upon, and are nearly enclosed in many instances with the permission of the late Mr. Hamilton”.
Mr. Hamilton died in June 1832 and with him died all the evidence of the mismanagement of the corporation’s property. All the people granted leases at nominal rents gradually stopped paying them and acquired the lands completely.
In 1785 John Fay widened the Dublin Gate by ten foot and at the corporation meeting on the 13th of September 1786 he was exempted from tolls and customs. In 1778 John Cusack widened the approach to the old bridge (Watergate St.) by six foot. He was granted a similar exemption from tolls and customs. This was the nearest these Catholic merchants could be to being freemen. They were allowed enjoy the benefits of being freemen but could not have the official status of freemen.
Trimgate Street was widened in 1796. The succeeding minute book from 1808 to 1840 when the corporation was abolished is lost. The corporation was replaced with Town Commissioners who acted until 1898 when Navan Urban District Council came into being.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE 1700s
Dean Cogan treated the history of all the parishes of the diocese of Meath up to 1870. The Bishop of Meath, Dr. Patrick Plunkett, ordained many priests at Navan. In 1669 he held an ordination in the old chapel of Bailis in the parish of Athlumney. Dean Cogan records “There was a church in the Parish of Navan situated between Navan and the bridge of Kilcairne in the townland of Balreask called by tradition ‘St. Columb’s Church’. There was a burying ground around it. All the stones have been carried away. It was glebe land in Dean Cogan’s time.
The Penal Laws were passed during the period after the Battle of the Boyne from 1691 to 1727. These put constraints on the Roman Catholic Religion. Roman Catholics were deprived of many rights:- the right to hold land, to enter University, to hold Public Office and only registered priests were allowed to say Mass. In 1704 Rev. Garret Darcy was registered as parish priest of Navan, Donaghmore, Ardsallagh and Bective.
A bounty was placed on the heads of any unregistered priest. Peter Ludlow was friendly with the parish priest of Johnstown, Father Clarke. Fr. Clarke lived in a farmer’s house at Oldtown near the Boyne and there was always a boat ready to take him across the river to a safe haven at Ardsallagh House if the Penal Laws were being rigorously enforced.
Three priest hunters from Navan decided to catch Fr. Clarke and claim the bounty. They lay in wait outside the farmer’s house where the priest resided. A servant boy was asked whether the priest was in the house at the time. The boy became suspicious of the three men and went and warned the priest. The priest emerged from the house wearing a large overcoat. The three ruffians rushed the priest. Fr. Clarke pulled out a big black-thorn stick from his overcoat and lay into the men. After this warm reception the men beat a hasty retreat. Fr. Clarke decided to seek sanctuary of Ardsallagh House. The priest hunters followed him.
The men went to the big house and asked to see “the master”. Ludlow went out and demanded what they wanted. They told him their story – how they had gone to arrest a priest and had been resisted by force. One man complained of his back, another his shoulder and all three moaned. “Tell me”, said Ludlow, “Did one priest beat the three of you”? “He did. Your Honour”. Ludlow in apparent indignation at one popish priest beating the three upright men, called for his whip and scutched the three from the castle “because they were not able for one priest”. This story is recorded in Dean Cogan’s History of Meath
In the reign of George II (1727-1760) a schoolhouse was erected near the ruins of Ardmulchan church. This school was taught by a Protestant teacher, Mr. Story. A rival school was set up in Farganstown by a Roman Catholic, Mr. O’Ruark, which attracted away pupils from Mr. Story’s school. Mr. Story reported O’Ruark for teaching in violation of the statue against Catholic schools. O’Ruark was saved only by the intervention of Mr. Merydith of Dullardstown.
In the early 1700s a little mud walled thatched chapel was erected at Leighsbrook Navan, separated from Leighsbrook House by a stream. The road now known as Railway Street was then known as Chapel Lane. In this chapel the Roman Catholics of Navan worshipped for seventy years. When the Penal Laws were being strictly enforced and their church closed against them Mass was celebrated at night down by the Boyne at Blackcastle.
In the early 1700s a community of Franciscan Friars settled at Flowerhill in Navan. They received charge of the parishes of Donaghmore and Dunmoe. The last of these fathers was Rev. Mr. Teeling who died around 1780, and was interred in Rathkenny. No Catholic School was allowed in the town of Navan but there was a hedge school at Donaghmore.
Garret Darcy was succeeded by Dr. Luke Fagan, Bishop of Meath, whose secretary and administrator was Rev. Nicholas Dempsey. Dr. Fagan became the Archbishop of Dublin in 1729 and was succeeded in Meath and Navan by Dr. Stephen MacEgan. Dr. MacEgan died in 1756 and was succeeded in Navan by his curate, Dr. Christopher Fleming.
Around the year 1772 the chapel at Leighsbrook crumbled and the roof fell in on Christmas Day. For many months after this Mass was celebrated in a yard off Trimgate Street with a sentry box providing shelter for the priest. A mud wall thatched house was then erected on a portion of the site of the present church. The neighbouring farmers used this during the week as a barn for threshing corn and on Saturday night the little boys swept the floor and made preparations for the following day. The door was taken off its hinges and placed on two barrels to serve as an altar. This served as an altar for eight or nine years.
The penal statute against Catholic belfries was rigorously enforced. To evade this statute they erected a bell along the side wall of the neighbouring brewery kept by a Catholic. This summoned the parishioners to worship on Sunday and the labourers to work the rest of the week. This bell was in Mark Martin’s brewery in Bakery Lane and the bell continued in use up to 1858. There is a story that an old man was being evicted from his home for his religious beliefs. He was passing the brewery one day and heard the bell and thanking God said, “May the spring that supplies you never go dry”. The spring in this statement is Tuberorum well.
The Rev. Christopher Fleming was in declining health and in late 1775 or early 1776 he resigned the parish of Navan in favour of Rev. Patrick Moore P.P. Kilberry and he petitioned the Holy Sea to have this arrangement approved of and confirmed. On the 9th May 1776 his resignation was accepted and Rev. Patrick Moore appointed. In the meantime a controversy was taking place in the diocese over the validity of this resignation in favour of another. This controversy ended with the renunciation of all claim on the parish by Rev. Moore. Fr. Fleming died in 1779 and was buried in the church yard of Athlumney.
THE PROTESTANT CHURCH 1700 – 1820
Dr. Welbore Ellis, Protestant Bishop of Meath, visited all the parishes of his diocese in 1733 and his records were deposited in the Public Records Office.
John Grace was rector of Navan. The parish of Navan contains 1851 acres, the parish of Dunnamore 2206 acres and Ardsallagh 950 acres. The rector receives the tithes of these parishes as his income. The history of the parishes is briefly traced and their confiscation is documented. In Navan parish there was 3 acres of glebe at “Balreaskee”. In Donamore there was 8 acres of glebe.
“There are in the whole union 36 families of the established church, the rest are popish except 12 women married to papists. There is a mass house and a popish priest’s. The church of Navan is in good repair, and has a bell, the isles are flagged and seated throughout. There is a font of stone and the communion table is railed in and the churchyard is enclosed with a wall of lime and stone.
The incumbent resided at first in the town of Navan but since removed to lodgings in the country in a popish family which gives offence. There is divine service and a sermon every Sunday in the church of Navan and prayers every Wednesday and Fryday and every holyday”. Bishop Ellis notes the ruined church in the parish of Athlumney and states that there is no need to rebuild it “The church is ruinous, nor is it necessary to repair it, no part being much above 2 miles to Navan to Navan by Kilcarn Bridge, and not much above a mile by the ford when the waters are down”.
A church was built in the early 1700s to serve the Protestant community. It was a plain building with no spire, chancel or vestry. It had a porch at the western end and the belfry was in the west gable.
Dean Swift the well-known writer visited Navan many times as the guest of Mary Preston, wife of Peter Ludlow. Dean Swift was for a period rector of Laracor near Trim.
In 1747 Daniel Cornelius Beaufort became rector to be succeeded by his son, Daniel Augustus Beaufort, who remained rector for 53 years. In 1759 the vestry decided to build a steeple and a vestry to the western end of the church.
During the years 1765 to 1766 the church was enlarged, the northern wall rebuilt, two galleries erected, the church re-roofed and new interior furnishings added. In 1767 the seats were auctioned. A pew above the reading desk cost £10.10s and a pew below the reading desk £5. 5s. In 1764 an organ was acquired and a choir of young ladies accompanied it. An organist and a bellows blower were hired. There were wooden canopies over the seats of the Portreeve and the neighbourhood nobility.
There was a shelf under the gallery to the right of the entrance door for Lord Ludlow’s Loaves. Lord Ludlow and the Ardsallagh Estate provided 5s. worth of bread each week for the poor. The Duke of Bedford continued this practice up to about 1907.
This church was never really completed. In 1804 it was decided to board up the top of the tower as a temporary protection. In 1813 a loan from the Board of First Fruits and a gift of £600 was obtained to build a new church. At this time many new churches and glebehouses were being built under the enthusiastic Bishop O’Beirne. In 1815 it is recorded that the services were held in the Tholsel while the rebuilding was going on. Dr. D.A. Beaufort, the rector, helped in the drawing up of the plans for the new church.
In 1818 the new church was opened and the pews allocated. The pews were arranged along the sidewalls lengthways. There is a pew with a canopy over it for the bishop.
Dr. Beaufort resigned in the year the church was opened, 1818, and was succeeded by his church warden, Mr. Philip Barry of Boyne Hill. In 1823 the present bells were obtained. There is one large bell and one small bell. The clock was put up around this time as well.
Canon C.C. Ellison has written a booklet and articles on St. Mary’s Church, which are available in the County Library.
The Dublin newspaper “The Correspondent” reported in the issue of 23rd May 1741 “We hear from Navan that on Saturday last (16th) a fire broke out there (Navan) which in a short time consumed 24 houses and ruined several poor people.”
Eleven years later on 14th April 1752 “An Accidental Fire broke out in the town of Navan……………which consumed 23 houses with the effects of a number of Poor People to whom they belonged.”
In 1769 on the 8th of July a fire consumed the still house of Mr. Frances McNamee.
ARDBRACCAN IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Dr. Henry Maule was Bishop of Meath from 1744 to 1783. He erected a charter school for orphan boys beside the Church of Ardbraccan. Charter schools were places where the boys had to work and so pay for their education. They were often exploited and kept in poor conditions. Charter schools had a very bad reputation.
John Howard visited the charter school five years after Bishop Maule died in 1788. He described what he saw “In the Boy’s Charter School at Ardbraccan things were worse. 43 boys were in one small room, four or five lay sick on the floor of the school room and neither the house, bedding nor the children were described as clean”.
A writer for the Hibernian magazine visited Ardbraccan and the charter school in 1809 and wrote in June of that year: “Being a few minutes walk to the charter school, I visited it. I was never very partial to these institutions, and so much has latterly been said on the subject in public, I confess I entered the house with many prejudices against them. An inspection of its economy, however, convinced me that these prejudices were groundless, and to dissipate them it is only necessary to visit the seminary of Ardbraccan. There are sixty boys in the establishment, who have been rescued from idleness, poverty and vice, with their consequent evils, and are here trained up under a very active and intelligent master, in a way to render them useful and virtuous members of society. The incorporated society have also established an extensive cotton factory under the inspection of the master, where twelve looms are constantly employed in the premises, and many other industrious artizans in that neighbourhood. The manufacture of cords and velveteen’s, have been already brought to a high degree of perfection, which if the finishing were equal would for fineness and durability of texture rival English fabric.”
Conditions had improved from 1788 but charter schools were very poorly run and a Royal Commission was held to investigate any chartered schools. Ardbraccan was found to be badly run and was closed in the 1820s. The building was later demolished and the only remembrance of the charter school today is the large stone in the nearby graveyard on which is carved the names of a number of young boys.
St. Ultan’s Church was built in Ardbraccan in 1770 or 1777. Some writers suggest that its tower is a medieval tower and that it has window slits to shoot arrows through. It was the parish church of the Bishops of Meath.
In the graveyard is the Montgomery tomb built by Bishop Montgomery, Bishop of Meath (1610-1620). The tomb also contains the remains of Bishop Richard Pococke (died 15th September 1765), Bishop Henry Maule (Bishop 1744-1783) and T.L. O’Beirne (Bishop 1798-1823).
Thomas Charlton is also buried in the graveyard, as are the orphan boys who died in the Charter house just outside the gate of the church. The church had two bells one large and one small. These were later stolen.
With declining church congregations in the Church of Ireland, Ardbraccan was closed in the first half of the twentieth century. Its interior furnishings were removed and used in the rebuilding the church at Florencecourt, County Fermanagh, after it had been burnt.
(ILL.18. ARDBRACCAN HOUSE)
Ardbraccan House is built on the site of an Anglo Norman Castle. It was built as a residence for the Protestant Bishops of Meath. Bishop Evans left money for the building of a mansion in the early 1700’s. Bishop Henry Downes came with Dean Swift to lay out the ground but little progress was made. Bishop Price employed Richard Cassells, the famous architect who designed many of Georgian Dublin’s public buildings, to design a palace for the Bishops of Meath. Richard Cassells was also employed around the same time 1747 to design the charter school at Ardbraccan. Richard Cassells supervised the building of the two wings of what was to be a palladian mansion. However Bishop Price was elevated to Archbishop of Cashel and his successor had neither the money nor the interest to finish the building.
Bishop Henry Maxwell, a younger son of the first Lord Farnham, decided to complete the mansion. He obtained designs from Rev. Daniel Augustus Beaufort and Thomas Cooley. The famous English architect, James Wyatt, produced a sketch of the garden front and Bishop Maxwell boasted that neither scholar or tutor would dare live in it as it would be so grand.
The central block was begun in 1776 and finished in 1778. The whole mansion is described as having a 2 storey 7 bay centre with two 2 storey 5 bay wings. The mansion has a tunnel to the farm and stable yards under the garden terrace.
In 1811 a new road was made around the Bishop’s parkland so that the public road would not pass through the Bishop’s gardens. There was a special dispensation for Ardbraccan parishioners who were going to church. They were allowed through the bishop’s ground. Bishop Stopford erected and kept a deer park at Ardbraccan.
Just over a hundred years after the Bishop’s Palace was completed it was sold as it was too expensive for the Diocese of Meath to support. Bishop Plunket sold Ardbraccan House in 1885 to a son of Rt. Hon. Hugh Law, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Ardbraccan Rectory became the See House and known as Bishopscourt.
Three quarters of a mile north west of Ardbraccan House is the White Quarry which provided the limestone for the building of many public buildings in Dublin in the 1700’s.
MEATH COUNTY INFIRMARY
The Grand Jury of Meath decided to build a hospital at Navan to serve the county. The early days of the hospital is recorded in two pamphlets “A brief account of the rise and progress of the County of Meath Infirmary” and “A general account of the County of Meath Infirmary from its opening in March 1767 to April 1775”, printed by William Sleator at Castle Street, Dublin.
From “A brief account” – “The gentlemen in the neighbourhood of Navan, from their observations of the various calamities and miseries the poor undergo for want of proper and timely assistance in their several maladies and disorders, did propose to found a county hospital. Accordingly a subscription was opened at an assembly in Navan on October 1st 1753 and soon after the foundation of a county hospital was laid on a convenient and healthy situation on an eminence at the entrance to the town.”
The infirmary when it opened had 10 beds. Eighty seven out patients were treated in the first year. Dr. Knox was the physician and Mr. Sempell the resident Apothecary. Out of the eighty two patients in the first year, two died – one of thrush and whooping cough and the other of what was described as “gout in the bowels”, nine patients were still in the hospital at year’s end and nine had been discharged as incurable.
William Cleapem was appointed Surgeon at Navan in 1766. He was one of the fifty elected to the College of Surgeons when it was founded in 1784. The state of the patients in 1774 to 1775 was interns 132, died 1, cured 97, still in house 21.
John Howard, a Quaker who made a life long study of conditions in hospitals, prisons and schools, visited Navan Infirmary in April 1788. He noted the inscription over the door taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew “I was sick and you visited me” and the date of the building 1754. “This infirmary is in good condition. Has five rooms for patients – wants white washing – the sheets brown and only one on a bed – no pump – no proper bath. Besides the presentments there is an annual ball for the support of this house”. On the date of John Howard’s visit, 25th April 1788, there were 24 patients in the infirmary.
A fever hospital was erected at Navan in 1818. It had four wards each capable of holding 10 beds. In 1835 the infirmary had seven wards capable of containing forty beds but only had 26 beds. The staff consisted of a physician, an apothecary, a matron, a nurse, a porter, and a laundress, a maid and carrier.
In 1972 a collection of medical records and accounts for the Meath Infirmary were sent to the County Library. The Meath County Infirmary was officially abolished on the 1st of October 1974 and ownership was transferred to the North Eastern Health Board.
ELECTIONS OF 1754/55
On 27th December 1753 John Preston, Navan M.P. and Portreeve died in office. Elections had to be held to replace him in these two offices. Edward Noy, the Recorder of Navan had himself elected as Portreeve by a small clique of his friends. He immediately nominated over one hundred new freemen so that he could not be voted out. However a legal case was made and the election was declared null and void. A new election was ordered. This took place on the 30th July 1754 and the candidates were Thomas Barry and Thomas Carter. Edward Noy did not contest the election at all. Thomas Barry was declared elected but there was much impersonation. One man impersonated his uncle who suffered from sciatica and used crutches. He came to the election and was found out. He burst out laughing and ran from the room. On the next Election Day on the 13th of September of the same year Peter Metge and Thomas Carter were the candidates. Peter Metge was declared elected as Thomas Carter was not properly nominated.
John Preston had to be replaced as Member of Parliament. An election was held two years after his death. Parliament was not regarded as very important and it was far removed from the ordinary common people. John Preston was replaced by his namesake John Preston, his son. He was sworn as M.P. on the 25th of October 1755. John was a grand nephew of Nathaniel, the other sitting M.P. for Navan from 1727 to 1761.
Under the date 7th October 1755 the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons formally issued a warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make a new writ for the election of a Burgess for the Borough of Navan in the room of John Preston Esq., deceased. This election was held on October 20th and it resulted in John Preston’s election.
Richard Hamilton, the defeated candidate, presented a petition complaining of election abuses. The House of Commons Committee of Privileges heard evidence from both sides. It was alleged that even the dead voted. The cases of certain voters were investigated. The Prestons objected to one voter, Theophilius Ormsby who was an attorney and the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. His father kept an inn in the town and was a registered voter. He was objected on the grounds of being married to a Catholic. He was deprived of his vote. No Catholic could vote or be a freeman of Navan. Luke Murtagh’s case was examined at length by the Committee of Privileges. His parents were alleged to have been Catholics and he was supposed to have attended Mass at Ardmulchan. He was made ineligible to vote.
The Committee presented a lengthy report to the Speaker of the House the following December. Preston’s election was declared null and void by 105 votes to 99. Richard Hamilton, Stackallen, the defeated candidate was sworn as M.P. for Navan on the 12th of December 1755. John Preston unseated Richard Hamilton six years later in 1761.
In 1801 Ireland lost the degree of independence it had with Grattan’s parliament and was joined to Britain under one parliament. The numbers of M.P.’s representing Ireland was reduced. The corporation of Navan was disfranchised. Compensation for the loss of the right to elect an M.P. was paid. Fifteen thousand pounds was paid as compensation – half to John Lord Tara and half to Peter Earl Ludlow, the Hon Aug. Ludlow commonly called Lord Preston, and the Portreeve, freemen and burgesses of Navan. The sum £15,000 seems to have been the “going rate” paid to those who had the power to nominate M.P.’s for “Rotten Boroughs”.
CHURCH MUSIC !!
Thady Elliot was the official church musician in the thatched church of Navan. He was blind and played the harp at church celebrations. Arthur O’Neill, another blind harper who was born in Co. Tyrone in 1737, visited Thady Elliot in the mid 1750’s. A practical joker bet Thady a gallon of whiskey if he would play a merry tune called “Planxty Connor” by Carolan during the Elevation. Thady readily agreed. He started playing the tune in the middle of the celebrations on Christmas Day, of all days. The priest was very annoyed and he started stamping his feet. Some of the congregation said that he was keeping time with the music and he was actually dancing.
The priest reproved the harper and promptly sacked him. The job of church musician was offered to Arthur O’Neill. He refused on the grounds of his friendship with Thady Elliot but he recommended another harper by the name of Harry Fitzsimons who accepted the job. Thady Elliot was aggrieved by this. He took a cudgel and lay in wait at the church door. He promised a half-gallon of whiskey to the man who told him when Fitzsimons was coming out of the church door. He was blind so he could not see who came out the door. One man shouted “Sin e, Sin e, (That’s him, That’s him). Thady started thumping and hammering. He hit the church door and just barely missed hitting the priest. Fitzsimons had left by another door. The bould Thady made a public apology later and was reinstated as church musician.
THE BEAUFORT FAMILY
Daniel Cornelis de Beaufort was born in Wessel in Germany in 1700 of Hugenot parents. The Hugenots were French Protestants who fled France after the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day. The Protestants in France were persecuted during the 1600’s and eventually they all left. They scattered themselves all over Europe. Ireland had a good share of them. They were an industrious, intelligent, hardworking group of people. There were two notable families of Hugenot descent in Navan. These were the Metge family and the Noy family.
Daniel served for a period in the Prussian Army but decided that he would rather serve God. He studied for the Calvanist Ministry at Utrecht in Holland. He went to England at the age of 28 and there ministered to several Hugenot communities. He then took Church of England orders. He seems to have come to the notice of important people and in 1738 came to Ireland as chaplain to Lord Harrington.
In 1747 Daniel Cornelis was appointed rector of Navan, a cure he looked after for eighteen years until he relinquished it to his only son Daniel Augustus. who was born in 1739. Daniel Augustus received a Master of Arts degree from Trinity College in 1759. He was inducted into Holy Orders in 1762 and in 1765 he replaced his father as Rector of Navan parish.
In 1789 John Foster, one time M.P. for Navan and by now Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer, presented him to the vicarage of Collon, Co. Louth. There was a vicarage house at Collon and no house at Navan so he moved there with his family. John Foster rented him a farm.
Daniel Augustus was a very poor businessman and was often in debt. He often moved around to different relatives or different places which ever was cheapest at the time. In 1767 he had married a local heiress, Mary Waller of Allenstown, but that did not solve his financial problems. His two sons spent much of their lives paying off their father’s debts.
He left Navan to his curate and was often absent from his duties at Collon as well. He once spent five years in South Wales and he also absented himself later for periods of up to one year.
Daniel was a noted road-maker, map-maker and topographer. In 1792 he published a map of Ireland which was the most complete and exact of that time. In that year he published details of how the map was made and also described the state and church divisions of the country. This book was called “Memoir of a map of Ireland illustrating to topography of that Kingdom and containing a short account of its present state Civil and Ecclesiastical”.
He described Navan in the book “Navan, on the same river (Boyne), beautifully situated but very ill built, is an opulent town, and contains about 4000 inhabitants, most of them industriously occupied in different branches of trade. The commercial interests of this county and especially of this part of it, will be much improved, when the Boyne is made navigable from Drogheda to Navan (a work which proceeds with great vigour)”
He describes the Bishop’s residence at Ardbraccan “The Episcopal residence at Ardbraccan, near the town of Navan, is a large and convenient mansion erected by the present bishop in a style of superior elegance and yet with such simplicity as does equal honour to his lordship’s taste and liberality”.
(PHOTOGRAPH 3 – ST. MARY’S CHURCH – CHURCH OF IRELAND)
Daniel Augustus was also a designer and architect. He designed the new church at Navan, which was completed in 1818. He was also involved in much of the design and building of new glebe houses, schools and churches which Bishop O’Beirne promoted during his term as Bishop of Meath. Bishop O’Beirne failed to get Daniel to build a rectory at Navan. Dr. Beaufort replied to the Bishop in a letter that he was happy in Collon and that he really did not want to saddle himself with debts in his declining years. He retired as rector in 1818 and he was succeeded by his churchwarden, Mr. Philip Barry of Boyne Hill. He died in Cork on the 17th May 1821.
Francis Beaufort was the son of Daniel August Beaufort. Francis was born in 1774 and he spent his first two years at a house in Flowerhill, now demolished. The family left that house and went to Britain. Francis joined the Royal Navy at the tender age of 14. He served during the Napoleonic Wars. He received nineteen wounds in one incident in which an enemy vessel was captured from under the guns of a Spanish fortress. He eventually became Hydrographer of the Admiralty and succeeded in building the Hydrographic Office into the best chart making and maritime centre of its age.
He inherited his father’s love of maps and map making. Indeed some of his charts are still in use as the official maps of certain areas. He travelled extensively, researching areas. He came close to death from a fanatic’s bullet while mapping the south Turkish coast. He is probably best remembered today for his scale of wind strengths. This is called the Beaufort scale and rates the winds from calm to hurricane force. A sea north of Alaska is named the Beaufort Sea in his honour. Closer to home the mall in the Navan Shopping centre is called the Beaufort Mall. Sir Francis Beaufort, famous son of Navan, died in 1857.
BISHOP PLUNKETT OF MEATH
Bishop Plunkett was elected to the See of Meath in 1778 and consecrated in Paris on the 28th of February 1779. Before he left for Ireland he petitioned the Holy See for the parish of Navan “that he might establish there his episcopal residence and have means to support his ecclesiastical dignity”.
On his passage to Ireland the ship on which he sailed was attacked by the American Privateer and Pirate Paul Jones who relieved the Bishop of most of his books, furniture and vestments.
It was not until 1781 that Bishop Plunkett could be inducted to the parish of Navan as a Rev. Patrick Moore’s claims had to be renounced.
In 1779 when Dr. Plunkett was appointed Bishop it was said that some of the Protestants of Navan were determined that no popish bishop would be allowed to live in that town but Bishop Plunkett simply defied them and overcame their opposition without any difficulty.
The Catholic Church was emerging out of the ravages of the Penal days during Bishop Plunkett time. In 1782 the Catholic Relief Act was passed. Schools could again be held. John Quinn held a school at Navan and he appears as a schoolmaster in November 1784 in the Catholic Qualification Rolls in the Public Record Office Dublin. By 1799 there were three or four Catholic schools in the area.
In 1796 the College of Maynooth was founded and shortly after in 1802 the seminary in Navan was founded. On the 30th July 1789 Dr. Plunkett signed a lease from Peter Earl Ludlow for the site of the chapel for a period of 61 years at an annual rent of 10s 6d. A new church was built on this site by Dr. Plunkett’s curate, Rev. Peter Reilly. Dr. Plunkett resided in Navan and ordained many priests in the chapel of Navan.
In 1788 Bishop Plunkett notes 9th December, ” I said Mass to avert the anger of the Almighty God, provoked by the cruel murder of a man near the town”. In 1790 he confirmed 112 people on October 28th and preached on “Cursing and Swearing”.
Bishop Plunkett’s income amounted to £362 per annum and came from marriage licences and from emoluments of the parishes of Navan and Mullingar which he held “in commendum”.
Dr. Plunkett was an extremely hard working Bishop and tried to visit all his parishes at least once a year. He died at Navan on the 11th of January 1827 after nearly half a century as Bishop of Meath and Parish Priest of Navan. His remains were buried in the parish church of Navan.
THOMAS CHARLTON AND THE CHARLTON FUND
Thomas Charlton lived at Mount Charlton estate, Curraghtown not far from Ardbraccan in the 1700s. He lived with two spinster sisters. Around 1780 at the age of 75 Thomas decided to marry, thus depriving his sisters of his estate. On the night before the wedding the two sisters did something to Thomas so that he could never be a father.
Thomas was going to live at his other estate at Edgeworthstown in County Longford after his wedding. He had commenced the building of a mansion to house his bride but after his sister’s foul deed the house was never completed.
Charlton vowed that his sisters would not get a penny out of his estate so in his will he set up a Trust to administer his estate. The interest from the money which was recieved for his land was to be divided between the sons and daughters of day labourers in Meath and Longford who married in that year.
The Charlton Fund is still in operation over 200 years after it commenced. All newly married couples from Meath and Longford are eligible for a grant from the fund in the year of their marriage. The fund is managed by a number of Trustees who meet twice a year in Dublin. There are also local committees in Meath and Longford presided over by the bishops of the counties. There are separate Protestant and Roman Catholic committees. The husband must be over 21 years of age and under 40. The wife must be over 18 and under 40. The Charlton Fund also provides a scheme of grants to Protestant girls between 15 and 25 for educational or apprenticeship purposes. Thomas Charlton, the founder of the Charlton fund, is buried in the graveyard at Ardbraccan.
COLLIER THE ROBBER
Michael Collier the renowned highway man was born at Bellewstown in 1780. He started his stealing career as a carman on the Dublin to Drogheda route by relieving his passengers of little items. He became a legendary figure and performed most of his famous highway robberies around Drogheda and the Mourne Mountains. However he could not get away with it forever. He was captured and sentenced to death. He awaited his death in a cell in the jail at Trim. He was not one to wait around – he made a dramatic escape.
Collier had many more escapades but was eventually recaptured. He was supposed to have given information on his associates to the authorities and this led to his reduced sentence of either seven years deportation or service in the African or Indian Corps. He opted for service with the army.
He was given his release papers some years later and emigrated to America. He was not successful there and returned to Ireland to run a public house which also failed. After this failure he divided his time between Drogheda and Navan. Whenever he had money he squandered it and spent it on whoever was in his company at the time. He lived in Tuberorum Lane behind the courthouse. He would go off the drink at times and would drink water from Tuberorum well. There was a question and answer associated with this “Collier is off the poteen? Yes. He’s on the Tuberorum.” Collier the robber, last of great highwaymen, passed away in Drogheda in 1849.
NAVAN STARTS THE AIR RACE
Navan is supposed to be the site of the first balloon ascent in the British Isles. The balloon ascent was reported in Dublin newspaper shortly after it took place. The ascent took place on Thursday 15th April 1784. The balloon was released from its moorings at half past two. The basket contained a Mr. Rosseau and a drummer boy. “On cutting the cord it rose perpendicularly amidst a profound silence. After 39 minutes it became totally invisible, but one could distinctly hear the drummer beat “The Grenadiers March” for fifteen minutes after. At four o’clock it grounded in a field near Ratoath.”
MILLS AND CLOTH
Many mills were built on the Blackwater and the Boyne rivers at Navan. What is now known as Spicer’s Mill was built around 1785 by Connolly and Fay. In the year 1784/85 John Fay’s mill on the Blackwater was supposed to have milled 3702 cwt of flour. It was said to be the biggest mill in Ireland at the time.
Flax was grown around Navan at the end of the 1700s and the start of the 1800s. It was grown especially around the Ardbraccan area. Arthur Young in his “Tour of Ireland 1776 – 1779” notes that “At Navan there is a fabrick of sacking for home consumption; the weavers earn 1s a day at these works.
THE BOYNE CANAL
As early as 1710 a canal on the Boyne was proposed. Markes Plunkett of Navan advocated a canal in that year. Canals were to be the communication routes of the future many thought.
Work was started on the Boyne in 1759 by the Commissioners of Inland Navigation. They completed the work on the Lower Boyne (Drogheda to Slane). Between 1759 and 1789 these thirteen miles were developed by the Commissioners at a cost of £75,000. The canal was being completed at a time of high grain prices. England was cut off from Europe because of the Revolution in France. The price of grain had been guaranteed by the Foster Corn Laws.
The Commissioners of Inland Navigation were dissolved in 1787 and an Act was passed in Parliament to set up a body of local commissioners to supervise the Lower Boyne Canal. The commissioners for making the canal were the Earls of Mornington and Bective, the Hon. W. Conyngham, B.T. Balfour, the four Members of Parliament for Meath and Louth, the two M.P.’s for Drogheda, the Mayor of Drogheda, the Bishop of Meath, Baron Metge, Lord Headfort, John Preston, Hamilton Wade, Skeffington Thompson, W. Moyle, Dixie and Henry Coddington, Edward Harman and David Jebb. Surveys were directed to be made from Slane to Navan and from Navan to Virginia and Trim and from Trim to Dublin. Two years later a supplemental act was passed for creating £12,500 Debenture Stock at 4 per cent for making the canal from Drogheda and Trim.
In 1790 the River Boyne Company was incorporated by Parliament. The secretary was C. Murphy Esq. and the Treasurer G. Thompson. The Act also provided that unless the company, within the five years after the navigation had been completed from Slane to Navan extended it to Trim, the Lower Boyne from Drogheda to Slane would revert to public ownership.
The line to Navan was completed by 1800. The Boyne Navigation canal connects Navan to Drogheda. There are two sections Navan to Slane (Upper Boyne Navigation) and Slane to Drogheda (Lower Boyne Navigation). There are 20 Locks on the whole stretch. These Locks are (in order from Navan to Drogheda):- Metges Lock-Ruxton Lock, Rowley’s Lock-Taafes Lock-Stackallen Lock, Cocker’s Wood Lock-Guard Lock-Castle fin Lock-Guard Lock-Cruicetown Lock-Carrickdexter Lock-Slane Castle-Guard Lock-Rosnaree Lock- Guard Lock-Staleen Lock-Guard Lock-Tiernans Lock. The locks are named after their location or after prominent shareholders in the original canal company. The navigation covers a length of 19 miles from Navan to Drogheda and is partly river and partly canal.
Most of the canal is on the south side of the river but two stretches of it are on the northern side. The towpath for the horses also changed from one side of the river to the other. The horse would have to step onto the barge and be poled across to the other side.
The canal was only usable for eight months of the year as there was too much water in the river during the winter and too little in the summer. Much of the canal still remains but there are places that it has been completely destroyed.
Just beyond the “New Bridge” in Navan is another bridge called Sommerville Bridge. This bridge was over the Boyne Canal and built in 1792. On one side of the bridge is the start of the canal that was to go to Trim and the other side is Metges Lock, the start of the Boyne Canal. The work to Trim was never finished although nearly a mile of diggings had been done. The link to Trim was to be called the Ludlow lock. In 1800 the company petitioned the newly created Directors General of Inland Navigation for aid. The company had raised £40,677 by subscription and loans and had spent £38,052 on the Slane to Navan line. The tolls were 1 1/2 per ton per mile. There were 12 boats from 40 to 60 tons burden. The engineer in charge of the canal and its proposed links was Daniel Monks.
The line to Trim was not finished and so the Lower Boyne reverted to the Director Generals of Inland Navigation. The Upper Boyne was vested in the River Boyne Company and this continued until 1894.
The record books dating from 1799 are now in the County Library courtesy of Mr. C.E.F. Trench. There is a Minute Book and an Accounts Book. A total of £196,683 was spent on the whole canal which worked out at £10,430 per mile. The canal had a very hard financial time from the start. In 1835 the tolls were £707 and expenditure was £1,985 over twice as much as the returns. It was mainly coal and wheat which went up river. This amounted to 5004 tons in 1853. The 5,364 tons that went down river was mainly the products of the mills – wheat, flour and oatmeal.
Lewis in 1837 says “The chief trade is in provisions which is extensively carried on with Drogheda, and seems to have been consequent on the opening of the Boyne Navigation from that part to further extension inland, which has been attempted but not yet carried into effect, would contribute greatly to its increase and to the general prosperity of the neighbourhood”.
The canal never really paid its way. On the 18th September 1894 the River Boyne Company handed over the Upper Boyne Navigation to the Board of Works who already controlled the Lower Boyne Navigation. In 1894 a Bill was enacted transferring the ownership of the canal from the Board of Works to a new company called the Boyne Navigation Company.
This new company could not make the canal pay either. In 1902 James McCann of Ardsallagh took over the canal from the Boyne Navigation Company on a lease of 7 years. A pleasure cruiser the Ros na Ree operated a passenger service in the summer months between Oldbridge and Navan during the years 1905 – 1914. The Great Northern Railway issued a circular ticket for this route. The canal still did not pay and so the Boyne Navigation Company went into liquidation in 1913.
In 1915 the canal was bought by John Spicer, son-in-law of James McCann, for the sum of £500. The canal continued in operation until about 1923 when it was abandoned. In 1969 Mr John Spicer handed over the canal to An Taisce.
While the Boyne was being drained in 1969 the V shaped weir which directed the water into the start of the canal at Navan was removed by the Office of Public Works.
An Taisce planted 800 trees at the Navan end of the Navigation with the help of a grant from the Heritage Trust. An Taisce also restored and cleared the towpath of the canal for nearly four miles from Navan. It was proposed that the canal should be cleaned and reopened as a public amenity. A quarter mile portion was cleared at Slane. Unfortunately Metge’s Lock at the Navan end has been completely filled in and there are areas where the canal has been completely filled in as well especially in one stretch from Slane to Drogheda.
UNREST IN THE 1790’S
A Militia was formed as a local defence force in the late 1770’s. This was so that the regular troops could be withdrawn to cope with the American War of Independence. Companies of Yeomanry were set up in the 1790’s to cope with the threat of invasion from France and also the insurrection by United Irish men. Navan Corps Cavalry and Infantry were activated in 1779 and 1784. The officers were Colonel John Preston, Captain Peter Metge, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Barry and Philip Barry. Ardbraccan Rangers Cavalry under Captain Robert Thompson, Lt. Thomas Thompson and Lt Thomas Gerard were activated from 1803-1805 and in 1807. The Navan Cavalry under Captain John Preston were active from 1796 to 1798 and 1803 to 1807. In October 1798 the Lord Lieutenant issued commissions to the following officers in Screen Cavalry – Earl of Fingal to be Captain, Ralph Dillon to be 1st Lieutenant and Lancelot Sherton to be 2nd Lieutenant.
The Yeomanry were armed, yet they were not trained or disciplined and were not really in the control of their officers. The Yeomanry was particularly brutal in dealing with any situation they were called upon to deal with.
Bishop Maxwell of Meath was not a popular man in the locality of Ardbraccan. Bishop Maule, Bishop of Meath 1744 – 1758, had established a small colony of English farmers at Ardbraccan. Bishop Maxwell having built Ardbraccan House wanted to create a parkland around it and so wanted to evict these small farmers. Rev. Thomas Butler, the bishop’s chaplain and also a Justice of the Peace, assisted the Bishop in these evictions.
At eight o’clock in the evening of October 24th 1793 Rev. Butler was leaving Ardbraccan House by the back gate. He was shot at from behind a hedge. He managed to return to the house but died later that night.
A subscription list was opened and people subscribed to this fund, out of which a reward for information of the killing was offered. There was also a reward of 4 guineas for anyone giving information on the whereabouts of any guns in Catholic hands. The military led by a drunken constable terrorised the neighbourhood of Navan on nine or ten nights consecutively. The Catholics in Navan were persecuted and frightened.
On Market Day a leading merchant, John Fay, a labouring man named Mullen and others were arrested and charged with the murder of Rev. Butler. John Fay was a very important man in Navan. He owned the biggest mill in Navan and was a model citizen. But he was a Catholic and this led to jealousies and religious persecution. Mullen was charged with the killing and John Fay was charged with being an accessory before the fact. Fay was supposed to have provided the gun and administered the Catholic Defender’s secret oath to Mullen and others. The two men were held in Dundalk jail.
An informer by the name of Lynch came forward and gave evidence against Fay and Mullen in the hopes of getting a reward from the authorities.
On 13th March 1794 at the Lenten Assizes at Trim Fay and Mullen were put on trial. Lynch’s evidence on Mullen was disproved as Mullen had been working all day somewhere else and could not have committed the murder. Fay was honourably discharged. In 1794 there was a pamplet entitled “The Trial of John Fay Esq., of Navan, County of Meath for conspiring with others to kill and murder the Rev. Thomas Butler of Ardbraccan and for administering unlawful oaths to several persons stiling themselves Defenders” printed in Dublin by Brett Smith. A copy of this very short pamphlet is in the County Library. No evidence was offered on any of the charges. John Philpot Curran defended John Fay. John Philpot Curran was made famous by his defence of the United Irishmen after their unsuccessful 1798 rebellion. His daughter Sarah was deeply in love with Robert Emmet, the leader of the 1803 rebellion. In September 1794 the true culprits in the murder of Rev. Butler came to light. Thomas Shieran and three men by the name of Lawless from Ardbraccan were convicted of murder and hanged.
The United Irishmen had been suppressed in 1794 and various acts had been implemented by the Government to cower the people and frighten them away from this secret society. The forces of the crown terrorised the people. The Irish people could put up with it no longer and rose up in rebellion. The rebellion broke out in different parts of the country in 1798 without no one leadership or control. The main areas that rose were Wexford, Antrim and Down and Connacht. Dr. Plunkett the Bishop of Meath preached that the rebellion was a criminal insurrection.
A force of insurgents made their way towards Navan. The officers of the Navan Cavalry, John Preston and Philip Barry, wrote to the Garrison of Kells requesting troops on the 24th of May 1798.
The insurgents came closer and encamped on the Hill of Tara on the 26th of May. A military force of over 400 military and one cannon attacked the insurgents. The insurgents were only armed with pikes, four hours of fighting ensued. At one time the rebels surrounded the cannon but the military with their steady fire gradually mowed down the men with pikes. The rebel force was dislodged from the cemetery on Tara with a loss of 400 men killed and wounded.
The Earl of Fingalls’ Yeomanry (from Skreen) were the most prominent in the attack on Tara Hill. No quarter was given. The wounded and dying Irishmen were either killed or hanged immediately. The Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny was moved from its original position and placed over the graves of the dead insurgents to make a memorial and monument to the brave “Men of ’98’
ST. FINIAN’S SEMINARY
Roman Catholics were emerging from the dark Penal Days around 1800. The first secondary school in the Diocese of Meath was founded at Navan in 1802 and was dedicated to St. Finian. The first president was Very Rev. Eugene O’Reilly who directed up to 1827 when he became parish priest of Navan. He was succeeded by Rev. Patrick O’Connor who became PP of Skryne. The Rev. Nicholas Power was the next President. The seminary is also remembered by the name of the street beside it called Academy Street. In 1835 the Roman Catholic Academy is described as a boarding and day school. The day pupils paid £6 per year and the boarders £25 to £35 per year. The subjects taught were classical and mercantile knowledge. Religious instruction was for the boarders only.
The seminary was moved to Mullingar in 1908 and the land on which the school stood was sold. On this land the County Hall was built. The oval shaped study hall still remains on the height at the entrance to the town.
Blackcastle house is on the site of an older dwelling and there may have been a manor house on the site dating from medieval times. The present building was erected in the 1820’s or 1830’s when the Ruxtons inhabited it. It replaced a single story thatched house with two curved windows at the front and a two storey slated addition. This was demolished to make way for the new house. William Wilde described it in 1849 “Blackcastle, the seat of Mrs. Fitzherbert – a square, modern building designed more for comfort than architectural beauty; but the grounds, which are naturally picturesque, are well laid out”.
The 1821 Census for Navan town survived the burning of the Public Records Office in the Four Courts in 1922. Most of the rest of the 1821 census was destroyed in the fire.
The population of the town was 3,500 people. Navan had a circulation library at the time. There were no prisoners in the jail at the time of the census. The occupation of the people are given: Hatter, Flax spinner, Flax hackler, Butcher, Brogue maker, mat maker, Tow spinner, Rat catcher, Process-server, Quilter, Nailer, Dyer, Ragman, Wheel wright, Confectioner, Excise man etc. In the Barony of Navan Upper and Lower 139 urban dwelling paupers were recorded and 33 rural paupers. This included the towns of Navan and Trim.
The Tithes were a tax on the occupiers of land which was used to support the established (Protestant) church. All tenants paid for the support of a church whether they worshipped there or not. In the parish of Navan in 1750 the sum levied was £60 by a cess of 3d per acre. In 1822 with salaries for organists, vestry clerk, sextoness, organ blower, bell ringer and organ tuner the tithe had gone up to 10 1/2d per acre.
Tithe Applotment Books recorded the occupiers of the land in each parish, the quantity and quality of the land by them and the amount that was to be paid in tithes. For example Patrick Conway owned 1 rood 13 perches at the Commons, Navan, and was allowed 9 perches as waste and he paid a tithe of 10 1/2 d per annum. The widow Tighe who owned 3 roods 36 perches in the Commons paid a tithe of 2s 9 1/4 d.
The Tithe Applotment Books record the occupiers of the land in the years 1823 to 1837. It was the tenant not the landlord who paid the tithes. Naturally many tenants objected to paying the upkeep of a church to which they did not belong. In 1788 there was a “riotous resistance” to the collecting of the rate in Donaghmore. In 1804 the people of Athlumney and Abbeylands refused to pay and in 1806 the church wardens had to make seizures of goods in Athlumney to pay the tithe. In a riot against the tithes in Castlepollard nine or ten people were killed in 1831. From 1839 the payment of tithes by tenants was abolished and the tithes were to be paid by the landowner.
A lady was travelling by mail coach through Navan and observed the great number of destitute girls soliciting alms and following the coach with outstretched hands. The lady was filled with compassion and she started to think how she could help these poor children. A few days later she went to Bishop Plunkett and gave him a donation of £500 for the erection of a convent in which the destitute girls of the town were to be “relieved and receive a gratuitous education”. Another lady also gave a donation of £500 and with this money the site of Loreto House was purchased from Mr. Murphy of Navan.
The foundation stone was laid in 1830 by Fr. Eugene O’Reilly and work was completed by 1833.
The Loreto Convent at Rathfarmham was the first of that order in Ireland. Navan was to be the first affiliation to this convent. On the 20th of July 1833 the Loreto Convent of the Institute of the B.V.M., also called St. Anne’s Convent, was officially opened and blessed. St Anne’s was the first Catholic Day school kept by the nuns in Ireland. The first superioress was Mrs. McCarthy but she returned fairly shortly to Rathfarnham. The next superioress was Mrs. Murphy called in religion Mother Francis. Francis Murphy was the daughter of Patrick Murphy of Ardmulchan. When she had been younger she had been in love with a young man. One day she went to meet her young man off the coach. While he was getting off the coach he fell and died before her very eyes. After this sad incident she decided to become a nun. Mother Francis was not happy as superioress and was succeeded by Mother Agatha.
In 1852 it is recorded that an earthquake shook Navan and the Loreto Convent. This occurred on November 8th of that year. In 1896 in the year of Dr. Nulty’s Golden Jubilee the Bishop bestowed on the Loreto Nuns a mansion standing in extensive demesne at Athlumney. This became St Michael’s Convent. It was extended by the building of two wings. In 1930 a chapel wing was completed.
A branch of the Loreto Convent order was formed in Balbriggan with sisters from Navan. In 1933 the Loreto Convent celebrated “A hundred years of Catholic Progress”. In 1953 a new National School attached to St Anne’s Loreto Convent was opened.
In 1853 a group of nuns from Kells arrived in Navan and settled in a house in Academy Street which Fr. Eugene O’Reilly had bequeathed to them. The Sisters of Mercy opened a sewing school in Bakery Lane with funds provided by the Duke of Bedford.
The Mercy National School was taken under the Board of Education on the 1st of June 1856. One year later the order took over Leighsbrook House. They raised the roof and constructed a school there. The first superioress was Mother Catherine. The Sisters of Mercy also nurse in Our Lady’s Hospital.
(PHOTOGRAPH 4 – CONVENT OF MERCY)
1832 CHOLERA EPIDEMIC IN NAVAN
A cholera epidemic swept through Ireland in 1832 and 1833. Local Boards of Health were established and they applied to the Central Board for funds. They were usually matched pound for pound for the local contributions. Houses were disinfected by white washing them. Dunghills were removed.
On the 24th of August 1832 the Navan Board under the chairman of Fr. Eugene O’Reilly applied for a grant of one hundred and seventy pounds from the Central Board. The application form contains the names of the landowners in the area, the population and the chief means of employment in the parish for the poor. In Navan’s case this employment was labouring. The sum of £170 was granted by the Board on the 22nd of September 1832. The grant states that “after the first week from the appearance of Cholera, the Board at Navan had paid but one physician weekly”. It was recorded that Fr. Ennis, the Navan Curate, was occupied from morning till night during the cholera epidemic.
ORDNANCE SURVEY 1836
The first comprehensive survey and mapping of Ireland took place in the 1830’s. The main co-ordinator of the Survey was John O’Donovan. Navan and surrounding parishes was surveyed by a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers with a name of George T.W. Brady (or Bordes). The parishes were covered under a number of different headings – number of townlands in the parish, the townlands, their names, their names in Irish, the meaning of the names, interesting features in townland, area of townland and parish, large houses and other places of interest in the parish.
Features of Navan parish included:
Academy Green-Suburbs of Navan.
Brady’s Building – A gentleman’s house with some ornamental grounds attached in Robinrath townland.
Boynehill House – residence of Col. Gerard.
Belmount – in Limekiln Hill townland the residence of J. Gogg.
Blackwater house – in Abbeylands townland. A gentleman’s house with a large orchard attached.
Fairview – Handsome residence recently erected near the road to Dublin by Dr. L. Byron.
Leighsbrook – A gentleman’s house with some plantation.
Millbrook – in Abbeylands. A gentleman’s house with a paper and frieze manufactory and some pleasure grounds attached.
New Bridge – the breadth of the river at this point is about 190ft.
Pollbwee Bridge – Pollboy – Pollbuidhe – yellow hole or pit on the Blackwater breadth 130ft.
Swan Bridge on the Dublin road three quarters of a mile from Navan on a small stream.
The Swan – a carman’s inn – a mud house on the west side of the road in Old Balreask townland.
In Kilcarn parish the houses were: Gerardstown House property of Mr. Corbally, Kilcarn Lodge – a neat cottage the property of F. Murphy, Upper Kilcarn House – the property of Mrs. Barry, Lower Kilcarn House – the property of W. Dillon Esq.
Dunmoe parish had 975 acres and it had only one townland.
Ardmulchan demesne was the seat of R. Taafe. Harristown – Baile Ianraigh the property of the Earl of Mayo. Haystown Demesne the seat of R. Bourke.
Features in Athlumney parish included Crocknagoney, Crockminan, Skahan’s Well and Killagrin. Crocknagoney, Cnoc na Coinin the hill of the rabbits stands on a sharp inclination over the River Boyne 2 miles from Navan. Crockminan – Cnoc Mionnan – hill of the kids. Skahan’s well – Shanes well in Alexander Reid named after Shane McCaffry. The carn is also in Alexander Reid. Crollege is a cross-roads. Killagrin – Cilla Chrainn – graveyard of the tree on the boundary of Ferganstown and Ballymacon and Alexander Reid about a mile east of Navan.
Ardbraccan – Ard Breacain – St. Brecan’s height
Ardmulchan – Ard Mullachain – the height or hill of the little summit or Meallchus height
Ardsallagh – Ard Saileach – the height of the sallys or willows
Athlumney – Ath Luimmnigh – the ford of the bare spot of land or the ford of Loman.
Ballagh – Beallach – a Pass
Ballybatter – Baile an Bothair – town of the road
Balreask Baile Reisg – town of the morass or marsh
Batterstown – Baile an Bothair – town of the road
Coogherboy – Clochar Buidhe – yellow stony land
Clonmagaddon – Cluain Mhic Adain – Mac Adan’s town
Crockminan – Cnoc Mionnan – hill of the kids
Dean Hill – Named after Dean Bourk, who lived at Haystown Demesne
Donaghmore – big church
Dunmoe – Dun nBo – the fort of the cows
Garlow Cross – Cros an Ghreallaigh – the cross of the trammelled clay or mud
Greags Cross – Graig – a village
Kilcarn – Cill Cairn – Church of the carn
Knockumber – Cnoc Cumair – the hill of the confluence
Little Carnduff – Carn Dubh – black carn
Morrell – Muinear – a manor
Mullaghboy – Mullachbuidhe – yellow summit
Navan – an Uaimh the cave
Park Boy – Pairc Bhuidhe – Yellow park
Portan clogh – Portan cloch – little bank of stone
Rathaldron – Rath Aldruin – Aldron’s fort
Robinrath – Rath Robin – Robins fort
Stackallen – Teach Conain – St. Conans house
A NOVEL BREAK IN
On the night of the 21st of March 1838 James Martin tried to break into the house of Mary Flinn in Kilcarn, Navan, by cutting through the thatch of the roof. Mary Flinn heard the noise and ran for help. She returned with John Fitzpatrick who pulled Martin from the hole in the thatch. A fight ensued and Martin made good his escape.
Poverty was endemic in Ireland in the latter part of the eighteenth century and the early half of the nineteenth century. Between 1831 and 1836 a Royal Commission sat to investigate the condition of the poor in Ireland.
The Commission took evidence from many people. One of them was Fr. Eugene O’Reilly the priest of Navan who said that in his locality the food of the labourers and the poor was potatoes and salt and occasionally buttermilk; but their ordinary drink was water. During the harvest time they had three meals a day and at all other times two and in summer one. He said “The agents of the absentee landlords set a number of cabins to some of the tenants who reset these cabins to others at a rack rent. They are obliged to keep manure near their door and the pig in the house”.
The Commission recommended the building of workhouses to house the poor. In 1838 “An Act for the more effective relief of the destitute poor of Ireland” was passed. This divided the country into poor law unions and workhouses were erected at central places in each of these. In Meath there was five Poor Law Unions – Trim, Navan, Kells, Oldcastle, and Dunshaughlin and a workhouse was built in each.
Navan Poor Law Union was declared on June 25th 1839 and comprised of 93,327 acres and a population of 34,482 in 1831. The workhouse was contracted for in 1840 and was built to accommodate five hundred paupers. A Board of Guardians made up of some of the prominent people in the Barony was set up to oversee the workhouse. There was thirty three members on the Navan Board of Guardians. Some of the records of the work of this body are preserved in the County Library. Mr. Cowley was the workhouse manager for over sixty years.
The workhouses were to be a last refuge for the poor. Navan’s workhouse was erected on the outskirts of the town at Brewshill. It was between Robinstown Road (then the Trim Road) and the road to Athboy and it is now part of Our Lady’s Hospital. The workhouse graveyard still exists in the hospital grounds near the railway.
The workhouses were made uncomfortable so that “lazy” people were not encouraged to enter. A clause inserted in the Poor Law Act meant that anyone occupying more than a quarter of an acre was prevented from receiving relief from authorities. Many people gave up their land and moved to the workhouse. The workhouse did not have room for them all and so would take them in for a while and then discharge them and give them outdoor relief. This led to the Brewshill area being turned into a slum area where the people who depended on relief from the workhouse lived.
FR. EUGENE O’REILLY AND THE NEW CHURCH
Fr. O’Reilly served as a curate in Navan from 1797 till 1802 under Bishop Plunkett. The Bishop then appointed him President of the newly founded seminary of St. Finian. He continued in his work there until 1827 when he was appointed parish Priest of Navan on the death of Bishop Plunkett.
Fr Reilly made a giant contribution to the religious life of the parish. During his ministry a new church was built, the Parochial House (1845), new infants schools and a Convent for the Loretto Nuns. One of his last acts was to endow a convent for the Sisters of Mercy at Navan.
The church erected by Bishop Plunkett proved to be incapable of taking the large congregations of the 1830’s. The newly appointed parish priest decided that a new church was needed. The new church of Navan was officially opened on Sunday 20th of October 1839 after nine years of planning and construction. The church contains a bust of Fr. O’Reilly, its builder. It contains the sole surviving religious work by Edward Smyth. This is the Cruicifix. Edward Smyth was supposed to have been born in or near Navan in 1749. He and his parents moved to Dublin where Edward became a well-known sculptor. He is best known for his emblems of Irish rivers and the Royal Coat of Arms on the Customs House in Dublin. He portrayed the rivers as faces of people.
His only purely religious work and his only work in wood to survive is the Navan Crucifix. This is carved of lime wood. The figure was removed from the wall around 1950 and the following inscription was on the back “EWD SMYTH-DUBLIN-sculp-1792”.
Dean Cogan describes a cross to be found in the church ground – “a beautiful stone cross chisselled and executed by Thomas Curry”. The erect shaft measures 11 feet and standing on its pedestal 20ft 6ins. The cross bar measures 5ft 1in. On one side is a figure of the Cruicifixon and on the other is the Stabat Mater. A high altar was later erected in honour of Dean Cogan.
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Hall toured Ireland in 1840 and published their discoveries in 1841 to 1843. They note on their visit to Dangan Castle, home of the Wesleys and where the Duke of Wellington was brought up, “The entrance gates to the Park of Dangan still exist, one of the gates that is to say, for another is placed before a Roman Catholic chapel recently erected in Navan”
(PHOTOGRAPH 5 – ST. MARY’S CHURCH – ROMAN CATHOLIC)
DUKE OF BEDFORD INHERITS
George James, the third Earl Ludlow, died in April 1842 and he left no direct heir. He willed his estates to the Duke of Bedford because he admired his political views. John Russell was Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the Great Famine. The Duke gave the Navan estates to this John Russell. Lord John Russell was succeeded by his grandson. The famous philosopher Bernard Russell was the last owner of the estates.
The Russell Arms Hotel was built by the agents of the Duke of Bedford to provide a meeting place for the gentlemen of the county. It was also known as The Clubhouse. In its Tudor room were some photographs of the Meath Hunt and a Race card for Racing at Boyerstown 1 mile from Navan in 1855. On its site was built the Newgrange Hotel.
The Duke of Bedford on inheriting the Ludlow estate decided to take an active interest in the much neglected estate. He instructed his agent Mr. Joly of Dalgan Park House to conduct a survey for improvement. Mr. Joly described the situation at the “Brews” as “scandalous”. This was due to letting much of this area to Mr. Patrick Hamilton who sublet and rackrented the tenants. The Brew’s Hill area was where the poor congregated to live so as to be near any relief that the work house could give. Mr. Joly recommended taking back the lease given to Mr. Hamilton and knocking the whole lot of cabins in Brews Hill, Chapel Lane and Bakery Lane. There had to be a court case to retrieve the lease from Hamilton. Fr. Eugene O’Reilly P.P was strongly against the demolition of the houses and he even organised a petition against it. But work went ahead and much better houses were built on the sites of the cabins.
The Duke of Leinster accompanied Mr. Joly to Navan in February 1849 and they jointly suggested improvements. They note “several parts of the town, as being in dilapidated state”. They proposed the widening of Railway Street or Chapel Lane as it was then. They proposed a new corn market be built for the town. “Navan being in the centre of a fine corn country with a water and rail road carriage to the harbour of Drogheda and this also suggests the propriety of erecting a corn market of which the town stands in much need”. Tenants were to be prevented from taking lodgers or subletting.
The Duke of Bedford knocked the old castle of the Nangles at Ardsallagh. It had been neglected and fell into ruin. On its site he built an Elizabethian style mansion. His agent had a good deal of trouble in trying to find a tenant for this house.
Daniel O’Connell was elected Member of Parliament for Meath in 1841. Daniel O’Connell was from Derrynane Abbey in County Kerry. He was a determined pacifist and a devout Roman Catholic. He became secretary of the Catholic Association in 1823. The aims of this Association was to achieve Catholic Emancipation and the complete removal of any anti – Catholic laws.
Having achieved Emancipation he set himself to getting the Act of Union repealed. He set about doing this by peaceful means. He held many mass meetings to promote his cause and show the government the strength of support he had.
(ILL. 19. DANIEL O’CONNELL)
O’Connell held one of these Monster Meetings on the Hill of Tara on Tuesday 15th of August 1843. It was estimated that nearly one million people came to hear him speak. It being a holy day six open air altars were set up to cater for the needs of the people. People started arriving at Tara the night before. It took Daniel O’Connell two hours to cover the last mile in his open carriage.
In his speech he denounced the Act of Union “On this historic spot I have a sacred duty to perform. I here protest against the continuance of the unfounded and unjust Union”. At the dinner, held in the pavilion, in his honour, he continued the theme of denunciation of the Union. He emphasised that he wanted a peaceful breaking of the Union but acknowledged that the Union could lead to violence “But sooner or later, if statesmen do not correct the evil, and restore to Ireland her right to self – government, the day will come when they will weep, perhaps, tears of blood, for their want of consideration and kindness to a country whose people could reward them amply by the devotion of their hearts and the vigour of their arms”.
Later in the year a similar monster meeting was to be held at Clontarf but this was proscribed on the day it was to be held. Large numbers of police and soldiers were drafted into Dublin to stop the meeting. O’Connell called off the meeting to prevent any bloodshed. It was to be Daniel O’Connell’s turning point as after this he could not get the numbers he had got before. The young deserted him in favour of the physical force organisation. “Young Ireland” and others simply lost interest in him. Daniel O’Connell died in 1847.
THE GREAT FAMINE 1845 – 1848
In 1845 the potato crop, the food of the poor, failed partly and in the following year failed completely. 1847 was a good year but 1848 was again poor. Cattle and corn continued to be exported throughout the famine. These were used by the tenants to pay the rent while they depended on the potato for food. Relief committees were set up in parishes to deal with the effects of the famine. These committees also organised collections of funds to which the Central Relief Board contributed to pound for pound or 10s per pound.
On December 26th 1846 the Navan workhouse held 595 inmates, having been built to contain only 500 people. An old distillery down by the Boyne was used as an extension to carry the overflow of destitute. In December 1846 the workhouse could not take in the masses of people that wanted to get in. They could take two or three of the worst cases but the rest were given some food. Soup and bread were distributed to 368 families. The chairman of the Relief fund wrote “our list continues to increase”. The Relief committees had to sell rice in small amounts at a low price. The chairman wrote “this is one of the poorest and most destitute districts in this part of Ireland”.
The relief committee collected £509 in January 1847 and the Central Board matched this subscription pound for pound. The Duke of Bedford tops the subscription list with a contribution of £120, Rev. McEvoy of Kells contributed £50, Rev. Taylor £20, Trustees of the late R.R. Fitzherbert £20, Earl of Essex £10, Rev. Robert Thompson £10.10s, Sir William Somerville £10, Misses Ruxton £10, Robert McKenna £10, Earl of Howth £10. The list of contributors continues down to the one pound, the ten shillings, the five shillings, the 3/6s, the half crowns and the shillings. All contributions were recorded and matched pound for pound by the Central Board.
The population of Navan was reduced from 5595 people in 1841 to 3979 people in 1851. The effects of the famine continued for many years after 1848. In 1851 the workhouse was accommodating 803 inmates.
Many landlords lost heavily with the Famine. No rents were paid. There were very few tenants able to afford the land that was available. The landowners faced bankruptcy. The Encumbered Estate Act of 1849 provided a court or commission to sell the heavily mortgaged estates. Between 1849 and 1857 over three thousand estates were sold by this court. One of these was the estate of Thomas Gerrard and William Gerrard. The Castle, Townlands and Farm of Liscarton totalling 734 acres was to be sold on the 9th of November 1855 at the courthouse in Henrietta Street Dublin.
THE RAILWAYS COME TO NAVAN
In 1850 the Drogheda to Navan line was opened. In the previous year while construction was progressing a souterrian was found near Athlumney castle. The line was extended to Kells in 1853 and to Oldcastle in 1863. But to go through Drogheda from Dublin was the long way round and so a direct Dublin Navan route was proposed.
The Dublin and Meath Railway was incorporated in 1858 to make a line from Dublin to Athboy and Navan. The contractors, the Moore brothers, started work between Athboy and Trim. They had to abandon work one year later in October 1859 because the landowners were demanding too high a price for the route. They then concentrated on the Navan line.
The Navan line was completed and opened on August 29th 1862. The Dublin and Meath Railway had running power over the Dublin and Drogheda line from Navan to Kells. The Midland and Great Western Railway took a lease on the DMR in 1869 and eventually bought it out in 1888.
The line to Kingscourt was opened on the first of November 1875. The Meath line from Dublin to Navan to Kingscourt was fifty miles in length. It was proposed to extend the line to join the Great Northern Railway but the plan was never put into being.
In the early parts of this century the Great Northern Railway published an official guide which shows the Meath railways. They published this in a booklet called “Snapshots of the Valley of the Boyne, Lock Ramor and Royal Meath”. The railway and the river Boyne and the sights and buildings are described. Navan is described “Navan as a town is straggling and uninteresting. There is a famous Irish tweed manufactory on the edge of the river which is spanned by a fine railway viaduct.”
Navan Junction had four platforms, a station master, four porters and two signalmen in 1912. In 1924 a special platform was erected at Proudstown Park to cater for the race goers. A gypsum siding was put in at Kingscourt in 1939.
The Midland and Great Western Railway was absorbed by the Great Southern Railways in 1925 and that in turn was taken over by Coras Iompar Eireann in 1945. After World War II the use of the railways declined and they were gradually closed down. The Dublin to Navan line was closed for passengers in March 1947. In 1959 the Drogheda line was closed as a passenger service. The track from Dublin to Navan was removed from the 30th of March 1963 onwards. The line from Navan to Kells and Oldcastle was closed on 30th April 1963.
A half mile of the Kells track was relaid for Tara Mines to ship lead and zinc concentrates through Dublin and Drogheda to smelters abroad. Gypsum from Kingscourt was transported to the cement factories in Limerick and Drogheda. Currently there is a proposal to re-open the line from Navan to Dublin.
Weaving, linen and flax spinning were major occupations in the Navan area in the early 1800’s. Flax was grown in Ardbraccan and Donaghmore and other areas. The growing of flax died out in the 1870’s or 1880’s.
A mill on the Boyne below Blackcastle was in existence in 1802. An Englishman founded the mill there to spin cotton. John Blundell leased a site from the River Boyne Company in 1806. In 1809 he leased land at Athlumney from John and Richard Ruxton as a site for a yarn factory. The mill changed from cotton to flax and linen. In 1837 Mr. Blundell had leased all the village of Athlumney from Sir William Somerville and the people made a self contained community. Athlumney mill was six story high and cost £20,000 to build. Flax died out in the last part of the last century. The mill was closed.
James Mc Cann of Ardsallagh revived the mill and converted it to woodworking and saw mills. In 1915 the Goodear Brothers from High Wycombe bought the mill. In 1919 with the Troubles in full flight the English company withdrew. Daniel Alesbury of Edenderry took it over. In 1933 the mill was gutted by fire and finally in 1974 the mill was demolished. The burning of the mill in 1933 led to many woodworkers being made unemployed. These set up their own little workshops and so the furniture industry in Navan was born.
Clayton Brothers of Yorkshire acquired a mill on the Blackwater. The names Frederick and John Clayton first appeared in the valuation list in 1867. The Clayton company looked after its workers and built Milbrook Terrace – two rows of small two storied terraced houses for its workers between 1882 and 1884.
Before electricity Navan was lighted by gas. The gas was generated from coal. The Navan Gas Company was registered on the 12th April 1856. Its first secretary was Matthew Kelly who was succeeded by Michael Morgan. The Gasworks was situated next to Mill Lane and the wall bordering this lane was warmed by the retorts in which the gas was generated. This wall was known as the “Hot Walls” and was a commonly used meeting place. Vagrants, travellers and homeless people often spent a warm night there. A lamplighter went around at dusk with a ladder to light the lamps for the dark night.
In the late 1800s there was a number of bakeries in Navan. Some of these were Luke Smiths (where Spicers was), Keoghans on Brews Hill, Coogans in Watergate Street, Morgans Bakery in the Square and William Lawlor’s Bakery.
There was no piped water supply in Navan until 1896. Up until this time the people depended on the wells scattered around the town. These wells included the town pump in the Market Square, Tuberorum, Spa well on the Circular Road, Christy Lee’s well, Morgans well, Leighsbrook fountain and Ceitinn will.
Bishop Nulty had provided his house with piped water by daming a small stream and building a header tank on the top of Athlumney Castle. When a public water supply was mooted for Navan Dr. Nulty gave a speech and showed lantern slides in the CYMS hall. He showed the people the difference between filtered and impure water. However people were not convinced.
The Town Commissioners decided to give Navan a piped water supply. They bought the old Mill at Kilcarne and erected a reservoir at Oldtown. The first meeting of the water works committee was held on the 14th February 1896.
A sewage system was put in, in the 1870’s. “Trenches were cut through all the streets to depth varying from 4 to 16 feet but nowhere was there any trace of any older surface, nor were any relics of antiquity found” JH Moore.
The Meath Chronicle newspaper was founded in Kells by Tom Daly in 1897. Twenty years later in 1917 it was purchased by James Davis and he moved the production to the old “Irish Peasant” premises in Navan.
PARNELL – M.P. FOR MEATH
John Martin M.P. for Meath died in 1875 leaving a vacancy in Parliament. Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant landlord from Avondale, Co. Wicklow was nominated as official Home Rule candidate. He was nominated first in Navan in the study hall of St. Finian’s Seminary. He was opposed by a Tory candidate and an independent Home Ruler. When the poll was returned on April 19th 1875 Parnell headed the poll and on the 22nd took his seat in the House of Commons for the first time.
(ILL. 20. CHARLES STEWART PARNELL)
Parnell joined the obstruction group of Irish M.P.s in Parliament. When Isaac Butt died in 1879 Parnell replaced him as leader of the Irish Home Rule party. Parnell saw the importance of the Land Question and saw how it could win popular support for the Home Rule party.
He addressed many meetings on the Land Question. Several meetings were held in the Market Square in Navan. At one such meeting at Navan in 1880 Parnell described Lord Leitrim, a landlord, as “a scourge of the human race”.
Bishop Nulty of Meath took an active stand on the land question. He advocated that the land should be in Irish hands. Indeed he published a book on the Irish Land question. He ordered a collection at churches to defray Parnell’s election expenses. Parnell took an active part in the Land Agitation seeing it as the engine which would drag the Home Rule Train
The clergy of the time were fairly active in the political field. Archbishop Persico came to Ireland in 1887 on the orders of the Pope to research the church’s involvement in politics. He came to Navan to interview Bishop Nulty. He was given a great reception in Navan and a meal at St. Annes in his honour after the reception. Bishop Nulty’s advice was noted. In the following year 1888 Pope Leo, on the advice of Archbishop Persico, condemned the Plan of Campaign. The majority of the Irish bishops and clergy ignored the papal rescript.
In the 1880 election Parnell was nominated as a candidate for Meath, Mayo and Cork City. He was elected for all three constituencies and decided to represent Cork City.
In 1886 Parnell succeeded in getting the first Home Rule Bill introduced. It was defeated in Parliament and the Liberal Government resigned. The Election was won by the Conservatives and Unionists. Parnell survived a smear campaign against him in 1887. An inquiry found him innocent and the documents used to smear him were forgeries by a Dublin journalist Richard Pigott.
In 1889 Captain O’Shea filed for a divorce from his wife Kitty and named Parnell as co-respondent. There was a sensation in Ireland and England. Part of the Irish Home Rule Party rejected Parnell and split away. Parnell would not resign as leader and fought to reunite the party. The Church came down against Parnell. Michael Davitt visited Navan to address an anti-Parnellite meeting on the Fair Green. On his way back to the station to catch the evening train to Dublin he was followed and attacked by a mob. He received a bad wound in the head from a stone which had been thrown at him.
Parnell himself visited Navan on March 1st 1891. Navan Town Commissioners prepared an address to be delivered to him on his arrival to the public meeting and banquet. The address was proposed by John Spicer “We are proud…..that in your hour of trial ……when friends deserted and betrayed you, when you looked around for a friendly hand to help you, we formed for you a body guard to defend, protect and sustain you …… Faithful leader of the Irish Race”.
Parnell married his love Kitty O’Shea in June 1891. The strain of work and rejection was too much for him and he died on October 6th 1891 at Brighton at the age of only 45. Parnell left behind him a deeply divided Home Rule Party.
Pierce Mahony, the Meath M.P., supported the pro-Parnell side, now being led by Tim Healy. In July 1892 an election was held. The Church backed the anti-Parnellite candidates. In North Meath Michael Davitt defeated Pierce Mahony. In South Meath Patrick Fulham anti-Parnellite triumphed over James Dalton by 13 votes. Objections were lodged over alleged bribery, intimidation and clerical interference. Enquiries took place in both constituencies. New elections were ordered. The Anti-Parnellite side were again returned as M.P.s.
The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in 1884 and within the next ten years a club was founded in Navan. But the playing of gaelic games and hurling in particular goes back much further in Navan. A “horling park” is mentioned as one of the possessions of the abbey when it was confiscated in 1539. The game of hurley was much rougher, tougher and less organised in those days. At a Synod in Armagh in 1386 hurling was banned as it led to “mortal sins and beatings and often homicides”. This hurling park is mentioned again in the grants of the commons to a person by the corporation in the 1700’s.
The County Meath Senior Championship was held for the first time in 1894 and the Navan team won the first of their many victories in that year. Navan reached the All Ireland in the following year 1895. The final was against Arravale Rovers who represented Tipperary. The final result was a draw. In the replay Arravale were announced as the winners due to a miscount in the score and they received the All Ireland medals. The referee afterwards apologised in a letter to the press and a special medal was struck for the runners up.
(ILL. 21. PIERCE MAHONY M.P.)
The Navan Club called themselves the Pierce O’Mahony after the Nationalist M.P for Meath in the 1880’s. The team was based in the Flowerhill area and it trained in Tom Strong’s field in Athlumney. In 1895 Richard Blake from Wilkinstown became the first Secretary General of the G.A.A.
Around 1905 the Pierce O’Mahony Club disbanded and divided into two clubs – the Navan Harps mainly from St. Patrick’s Terrace and Navan Gaels initially made up of mainly shop assistants. Two important and well known stars belonged to the Navan clubs – Tommy “Boiler” McGuinness and Matty “Buller” Rodgers.
The first Meath player to win a Railway Medal was Mick Keoghan of the Navan Gaels who represented the county of the Leinster football team against Ulster in 1928. In 1930 Matty Rodgers was on the Leinster team which defeated Munster in the final.
In September 1935 Pairc Tailteann was opened. It was named after the Tailteann games held in Celtic times at Telltown, near Kells. The ceremony of blessing the park was performed by Rev. J.H. Kilmartin Adm. Navan. Bob O’Keefe President of the G.A.A. also spoke at the opening. There was a double bill to celebrate the opening with Cavan beating Louth and Meath beating Kildare. Pairc Tailteann was known as the “Duke’s Field” probably because the Duke of Bedford owned much of Brews Hill.
On 24th October 1948 a new club was formed from the old two and was named Navan O’Mahony’s. The first officers of this club were President, James O’Rourke; Chairman, Terry O’Dea; Secretary, Jackie Carroll and Treasurer, J. Booth.
In 1953 Navan O’Mahony’s won the Meath Senior Championship for the first time. They went on to win five in a row in the years 1957 to 1961. In 1972 a new pavilion was opened and in 1986 work and planning started on turning Pairc Tailteann into one of the best grounds in Leinster.
IRISH NATIONAL FORESTERS
The Foresters are a group which look after the needs of their members through mutual help. The movement started in England in the 1840’s and spread to Ireland about thirty years later. The motto for the Irish National Foresters is “Unity, Benevolence and Nationality”.
Navan Branch which called it self after Dean Cogan was officially registered in 1899. There were many branches in Meath and Ireland in the early part of this century. There were branches at Drogheda, Kells, Oldcastle, Rathmolyon and Trim.
The National Foresters Irish convention was held in Navan in August 1910. Some photos of that convention still exist. Most of the Irish branches failed and disappeared in the rough times of the 1920’s and 1930’s but Navan survived and is now one of the strongest in the country with its magnificent hall in Brews hill. Only about ten branches of Foresters survived in Ireland.
Dr Gaffney, Bishop of Meath, consecrated the site, of a new cemetery at Athlumney on 13th July 1902. The site was given by Mr Luke Smyth. Before this there had been many disputes over burial rights in the old cemeteries of Donaghmore, Ardmulchan and old Athlumney. The oldest families were buried at Donaghmore and Athlumney came to be used by families who came to Navan after the building of the new bridge circa 1750. Coffins which passed through Navan made a circle around the site of the Market Cross in the Square.
At Donaghmore the coffin was carried around the graveyard three times in honour of the Blessed Trinity. This was later reduced to once around as a mark of respect. Dean Cogan states that in his time the coffin was laid on a stone tomb in the graveyard and the “De Profundis” chanted before burial. In this tomb lay Rev. William Killen who had been curate at Navan for many years and in 1802 was appointed parish priest of Skryne. He resigned his parish in 1804 due to declining health. He returned to his beloved Navan and died there in September of that year. Dean Cogan also recorded that at the entrance to the graveyard there was the pedestal of the large stone cross that stood there. There was another cross on “the high road”. In 1870 an aged tree had grown up among the fragments of the pedestal.
In Donaghmore there was a plot called “The Stranger’s Home” where new comers to the town were buried. The members of the British Garrison of Navan, which was the 5th Leinster Regiment, were buried there.
There were a number of professional keener women in Navan. These women went in front of the funeral and when the cortege came in sight of the burial grounds the crying started. It reached its highest pitch as the coffin was carried into the graveyard. The women often worked themselves up so much that they fainted at the graveside.
JAMES McCANN M.P. AND THE IRISH PEASANT
James McCann lived at Ardsallagh House. He divided up his estate into smaller tillage farms. This was a move away from pasture and beef. He established a bacon factory at Navan. He took over the Boyne Canal and attempted to make it pay. He revived the plans to extend the canal to Virginia and Trim. James McCann established a dock yard at Navan to build canal boats. Three canal boats were built at this yard. In 1900 James McCann was elected as Nationalist Party Member of Parliament for Stephens Green division in Dublin.
In 1903 Mr. McCann started a local newspaper for Navan called “The Irish Peasant”. It was started in Navan on January 17th 1903. It took a stand on major national interests. In 1905 the paper became a national weekly. Its price was one penny per copy. It promoted the cause of the tenant farmer. It also promoted secular involvement in education. This upset the clergy and in particular Cardinal Logue. The paper failed because Cardinal Logue threatened to forbid it. The works were later acquired by the Meath Chronicle when it moved to Navan.
James McCann died at Simonscourt Castle, Dublin, on February 16th 1904. A special train was laid on from Navan to Dublin to take seven hundred mourners from Navan to pay their last respects at Glasnevin cemetery.
Ardmulchan House was owned by the Taffe family up until 1904 when it was bought by Mrs. F.G. Fletcher, later Mrs. R.W. McGrath. She had the old house demolished and replaced with an Edwardian style mansion to the design of a company of architects from Edinburgh. In the 1930’s it was occupied by Sir Alexander Maguire. In 1939 his horse “Workman” won the Grand National. This event was celebrated in Navan with an Address by the Urban District Council to Sir Alexander.
SCHOOLS 1900 – 1986
In 1917 Dr. Gaughran introduced the De La Salle Brothers to Navan giving them charge of the National School. The Bishop brought the old militia barracks where the Abbey of Navan had been sited. The barracks was renovated at a cost of £3,600 and the school opened 10th September 1917. The school was named “St Columba’s Abbey School”. Brother Edmund was made first superior. The Castle Clothing Company took over this building when the Brothers moved out.
St. Finian’s Seminary moved to Mullingar in 1908 and its buildings and lands were sold. The County Hall was erected on part of the land in 1911. Mr. Thomas Halligan, chairperson of Meath County Council, laid the foundation stone of Ardbraccan limestone. The Navan Clothing Company acquired part of the buildings.
In 1930 Dr. Mulvany bought back the Study Hall of old St. Finian’s and fixed it up as a school. St. Patrick’s Classical School was opened on the 9th of September 1931. Rev. Matthew Gilsnan was appointed Rector and Rev. Dennis Clarke as his assistant. Student numbers grew so in 1970 the school moved to new premises at Moatland. In early 1971 Dr. Kyne officially opened the building.
Navan Technical School was built on the grounds of St. Finian’s College. It was built beside the County Council Offices on Railway Street. Due to increased pupil numbers a new Vocational School was built in Abbeylands in 1963. By the early ’80s this had proved itself too small and in 1984 a new Community College was opened off the Trim Road.
THE NAVAN MONK
Around 1912 Navan was getting a lot of publicity in English and Irish newspapers because of reported miracles by a man who styled himself “The Navan Monk”. The Navan Monk was in reality Joseph Moore who came from Trim originally. He went to an Industrial School in Galway and from there went to Liverpool. He arrived in Navan as a miracle worker. A widow gave him a plot of land at Gainstown as a site for his monastery. However, he was not allowed to start. Several men from Navan went to his protector’s house in Gainstown to see the monk. They burnt the monk’s clothes. This resulted in a widely reported court case after which the monk faded into obscurity.
The major action in Meath during the 1916 rising was at Ashbourne. On April 28th 1916 the 5th Fingal Battalion Brigade of the Irish Volunteers ambushed and defeated an R.I.C. Force. Eleven police were killed and fifteen wounded while the Volunteers lost two men and six were wounded. The police were deprived of their guns and ammunition and released.
Many of the police involved in this action were from Navan and the wounded were taken to hospital in the Navan Infirmary. Bishop Gaughran came to Navan to visit the wounded. The administrator of Navan, Fr. Poland, condemned the rising on the Sunday following the surrender “In this church today rest the mortal remains of eight men who were healthy and stalwart just three days ago…the annals of the happenings of Easter Week 1916 will form the darkest records in Irish History”.
At Navan U.D.C. meeting on the 4th of May the following resolution was passed unanimously “that…we deplore and depreciate the recent disturbance which had led to such a terrible loss of life and property and cause such sorrow, misery and ruin…”
The Magistrates at the Petty Sessions in May said the town conducted itself with “demeanor on the night of the 28th April…their conduct could not have been excelled by any community in the Empire”.
The Credence table in St. Mary’s Church of Ireland church commemorates Alexander Gray, County Inspector R.I.C., who was killed at the Battle of Ashbourne.
The executions and rough treatment doled out by the authorities changed the popular opinion of the people. Their sympathies changed and went with the Rebels.
In November 1913 the Irish Volunteers were founded as a peoples army. In April 1914 a company of Volunteers was formed at Navan. Navan was in the First Battalion of Meath.
In 1914 John Redmond, the leader of the Home Rule Party, advised all the volunteers to join the British Army for the duration of the War and Home Rule would come afterwards. The first big recruiting meeting in the county was held in January 1915 in the C.Y.M.S. Hall.
After the 1916 Rising the Volunteers were reorganised. The Rising itself was condemned at first but the executions that followed changed the people’s opinions.
The General Election of 1918 was fought by the new Sinn Féin party. Liam Mellows was selected as candidate for the North Meath constituency. During a Home Rule Party election meeting at the Market Square in Navan scuffles broke out and a riot nearly resulted. There was an 80% turn out in the election. Mellows won by 6982 to 3758 votes.
On the 21st of January 1921 the War of Independence broke out. In August of that year the Volunteers derailed a goods train at Farganstown. They had been expecting a train of military personnel. On November 1st 1920 Lismullen R.I.C. barracks was attacked. A gun fight lasting a half an hour ensued. Sergeant Matthews was injured in the head. A volunteer left his bicycle with a pump with his name on it at the scene. A charge of attempted murder would not stand up in court and the man was released.
There were many raids on big houses for guns. Roads were cut and trees knocked to set up road blocks. In November 1921 an R.I.C. officer was shot by a military convoy by mistake as he operated a road block at Kilcarn on a rainy night.
In February 1921 the postmaster of Navan, Mr. Hodgett, was taken from his bed and murdered. This cruel murder was perpetrated by men claiming to have been Sinn Féiners but they could have been Black and Tans trying to ruin relations in Navan between the people and Sinn Féin.
In March 1921 the body of a man was found in a lane beside Beechmount. The body was never identified and there were shot wounds in the face and chest. The man may have been a spy brought in from another area to avoid reprisals in their own area. The body was buried in the workhouse graveyard.
In May 1921 a fisherman at Newgate on the Blackwater noticed a body lying in the river. The body was identified as Sergeant Harrod, a 33 year old officer in the South Wales Borderers. He had been courting a serving girl in Ardbraccan. The body was found with the hands bound and he was gagged.
The truce came in July 1921.
Various motions were passed by the U.D.C. in the 1920’s during the War of Independence. Some of these were: 20th July 1920 – “Unanimously resolved…to acknowledge the Authority of Dáil Éireann as the duly elected Government of the Irish people.
3rd August 1920 – a resolution was unanimously passed commending the action of those who resigned from the British forces and recommended them a welcome and support in the country.
21st September 1920 – it was decided to adjourn the meeting, without transacting any business, as a protest against the treatment by the British Government of the Lord Major of Cork and other prisoners on hunger strike.
20th December 1920 – “That we give the necessary assurance that monies coming to us from the Local Taxation (Ireland) account will be distributed to the services to which they are assigned by statute and that our accounts will be submitted for audit to the Local Government Board whose rules and orders will be conformed to by us, any previous resolution on this subject being rescinded”.
This placed the U.D.C. back under the control of the British government controlled Local Government Board.
20th September 1921 – “Recognising our error in returning to the Local Government Board established by the British Parliament in this country, we now formerly renounce our connection with that body and solemnly pledge our allegiance for the future to Dáil Éireann, the Government of the elected representatives of the people”.
27th December 1921 U.D.C. votes in favour of the Treaty.
In 1922 An Uaimh was adopted as the towns name unanimously. Dr. Douglas Hyde recommened this name in a letter to Sean Mac Na Midhe in 1920.
During the Civil War and disturbances, Lismullin House, the home of Sir John Fox Dillon was burnt. This occurred in April 1923. Sir John was a noted breeder of livestock. He had sold off his estates. One Friday night in April 1923 a party of five armed men entered the house. They informed Sir John that they had come to burn the house. Sir John replied “Surely you are not going to burn my place after all I did for your people”. Sir John had lent his motor car to a convoy of men on their way to the Four Courts in Dublin when it was occupied by Republican forces. The men discussed this for a while but decided they had to burn the house. They gave Sir John a time to save some of his treasures and even lent him some help in this task. The house was set on fire by means of petrol and the house burnt to the ground. It was rebuilt after the burning without its top storey.
On the same night as Lismullen was burnt Barronstown house was also set on fire but the fire was put out. Two days later it was again set on fire and while many fittings were damaged the flames were got under control before it could cause any structural damage.
In 1918 St. Columban’s College was started at Dalgan Park near Shrule in County Mayo. There were nineteen students in the first year. In 1927 Dowdstown House was purchased by St. Columban’s Missionary Society. Since 1927 Dowdstown has been the headquarters of the Society. In June 1937 the preparations on the site of the proposed new college was begun. In 1941 the college was moved from Shrule to Meath. At that time there was a community of 160 students and professors.
In July 1936 St. Martha’s College of Agriculture and Domestic Science, Sion, Navan, in charge of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul was opened. This college served up until the 1980’s.
LEISURE LIFE IN THE FORTIES
While the rest of the world was at war Ireland lived in comparable peace. There was plenty of activities in Navan. There were two Gaelic games clubs, The Parnell Hurling and Football Club and The O’Growney Hurling and Football Club, Navan United Soccer Club, Navan Cricket Club Beechmount and Badminton at the CYMS Hall. The Navan Lawn Tennis Club had four courts at Brews Hill. Billiards could be played at the Foresters Hall, the A.O.H. Hall, C.Y.M.S. Hall and the Protestant Hall. Table Tennis could be played in 3 halls. There was a Bridge Club in the Russell Arms Hotel. There was an N.A.C.A. Club. There was fishing on the Boyne and Blackwater.
There was six race meetings at Proudstown Park each year. Hunters had a choice between the Meath Fox Hounds or Tara Harriers. The Boyne Valley Coursing Club held a meeting each October at Hanlonstown.
For the golfer there was a course at Bellinter. Navan Golf Club was founded in 1911 and there was a course at Limekiln hill. However they were ejected from there in 1922. In 1923 Bellinter Park Golf Club was founded and the club acquired sixty acres from Mr. C.H. Briscoe at Bellinter. The Club built a 9-hole golf course on the site. In 1940 the green fees were 2/6 per day, 10s. per week and £1 per month. The club changed its name to the Royal Tara Golf Club and completed the course to a full eighteen hole course.
There was an Annual Agricultural Show on the 7th of September. An annual “Round the Towns” cycle race was held.
Dancers could go to the C.Y.M.S. hall or the Pavillion Hall. There were two cinemas. There still is – the Palace and the Lyric.
There were three private lending libraries and they were all in Trimgate Street. Murphys was a branch of the Torch library, Delanys a branch of Argosy and Duffies a branch of Sundial.
In 1930 the Meath County Council adopted the Library Acts. Miss M.K. McNevin (later Mrs. McGurl) was appointed County Librarian. She was to serve in that position until 1966.
The Library service operated from the Banba Hall which had been the Boys National School. In the first year 5,200 books were issued. By 1942 the service had outgrown its home and the Library moved to a large house at Church View.
In 1967 space was again under pressure and at the May meeting of the County Council Mr. Jimmy Tully proposed the building of a new Library. A site was purchased from Navan U.D.C. Messrs. Louis J. Brennan & Associates, Dublin were appointed as architects. Tenders were accepted up to 8th of October 1971 and Cormac Murray of Ardsallagh began work on 28th June 1972.
Patrick J. White was appointed County Librarian in 1966. He later became Borough Librarian of Dunlaoghaire. Patrick J Daly was acting County Librarian when the new headquarters was officially opened on the 19th of March 1974. This opening was performed by the Minister for Local Government, Mr. J. Tully.
Navan Macra Na Feirme branch was founded in 1946, two years after the foundation of the national body. It was one of the first clubs in County Meath.
JAMES A. FARLEY VISITS
In April 1946 the former post-master General of the U.S.A. visited his ancestral home in Ireland. The U.D.C. presented a special address to him on behalf of the people of Navan on the occasion of his visit.
In 1938 the new carpet factory belong to Messrs. Templeton Ltd., was opened. Mr Sean Lemass performed the official opening. Mr. Newsam was the managing director and Mr. G. Webster was the manager in 1938.
The Navan Credit Union was founded in 1963. In 1967 it purchased its own premises at a cost of £12,000. By 1985 the Credit Union was the tenth largest in the country and had a total of 6,000 members.
The first trade fair was held in 1964 under the auspices of the Navan Chamber of Commerce. It was originally held in the C.Y.W.S. hall and St. Mary’s C.Y.M.S. hall. It grew and grew until 1981 when the Exhibition Centre of 40,000 square feet was built.
Lead Sulphide (galena) and Zinc Sulphide (sphalerite) was found in the pale grey limestone rock north of Navan in November 1970. This was the very first bore hole drilled. This site proved to have a very high concentration ore. It is the largest known lead/zinc deposit in Europe, maybe the world. Tara Exploration and Development Company mine the ore and sent it by rail to the ports of Dublin and Drogheda to export it to smelters abroad. Tara Mines have provided much employment throughout the past years to Navan and to the surrounding district. Tara are based at Knockumber House.
John Hogg and company, furniture manufactures, was founded in 1945. Gael Linn acquired the controlling share in 1961 and changed the name to Crannac (which means young tree) in 1971 Gael Linn sold the factory and one year later it was put into voluntary liquidation. A sit in began. This lasted three months. A co-op idea was thought of. The workers put in their redundancy money. The Credit Union gave loans to workers not eligible for redundancy. Shares were offered to the public. Over £20,000 was collected in two weeks. Foir Teo gave a loan of £50,000. The workers bought out the factory. The co-op was opened on the 1st of August 1972 with 28 workers. Crannac is the most successful workers co-op in Ireland.
The Boyne flooded vast areas of farming lands and riverside towns. Flooding was common in Academy Street. In the 1950’s it was proposed to drain the Boyne. The surveys started in 1956. The weir near the Boyne Bridge was removed in the work which started in July 1968. Fishing interests did not want the bed of the river lowered from Navan to Drogheda as this would ruin the spawning beds. A compromise was reached in which that stretch was cleaned instead of dug out.
PLEBISCITE NAVAN – AN UAIMH
In 1970 there was much debate about whether the town should be offically known as An Uaimh which had been adopted by the U.D.C. in 1922 or as Navan as it was popularly known. Various factions took one side or the other. In the end it was decided to take a vote. This plebiscite was held in October 1970. There were 1,138 people or bodies entitled to vote – all the rate payers in the town. All voting papers were to be returned to T.G. Keogh, Town Clerk, before 5 p.m. on Thursday the 22nd of October. The result was an overwhelming vote in favour of Navan – 746 to 161 votes and so the name officially became Navan.
In 1977 the first new church built in the parish for almost a century and a half was opened at Blackcastle. The foundation stone for the church was laid on the 11th of September 1977 by Most Rev. Dr. McCormack. The contractor was James Andrew and the architect was Edward Smith. The blessing and dedication of the church of St. Oliver Plunkett, Blackcastle, Navan was performed by the Bishop of Meath Dr. John McCormack on Sunday 18th December 1977. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh (1625-1681) was canonised in St. Peter’s Basilica Rome in October 1975. He was born near Oldcastle and studied at Rome. He returned to Ireland in 1670 as Archbishop of Armagh. He was executed on false charges at Tyburn on the 1st of July 1681. His head is preserved in Drogheda and most of the other remains are in Downside Abbey in England.
On 26th of May 1977 the new Kilcarne bridge was officially opened. The building was completed by Cormac Murray Engineering Ltd. The bed of the river at this point is stone which gave firm support to the foundations. It was proposed to demolish the old medieval bridge but after a vigorous campaign to prevent this the bridge was allowed to remain.