Kind John Visits Meath 1210
In the summer of 1210 John, king of England and lord of Ireland came to Meath on his excursion to subdue the restless natives. He had previously visited Ireland and Meath in 1185 when Hugh de Lacy, lord of Trim, had prevented him from establishing himself as lord of Ireland. John arrived in Ireland in 1210 to bring Hugh’s sons and other Anglo-Norman barons to heel. Hugh’s son, Walter was lord of Meath and married to a daughter of William de Briouze who had incurred the king’s displeasure. Hugh’s other son, Hugh, had become earl of Ulster about 1205 when John de Courcy was forced off his lands by the de Lacys. William de Briouze held the lordship of Limerick and also lands in Wales. William refused to provide hostages to John and fled to Ireland where he received the support of his son-in-law, Walter de Lacy.
Walter’s brother, Hugh, offered his support. This act of defiance was to bring about a clash with John who travelled to Ireland to restore his authority in 1210. The two de Lacy brothers, Hugh and Walter fled the country before he arrived and they ended up hiding away in a monastery in Normandy. The brothers worked as lay brethren until their identity was eventually discovered by the abbot. De Briouze also escaped but his wife’s mother and brother were starved to death by John.
John landed at Crook, near Waterford with a formidable army, on 20 June 1210 and was to remain in Ireland for over two months. John proceeded to Dublin and into Meath. A number of Walter de Lacy’s tenants submitted to John at Dublin and placed their castles and lands under his protection. John marched into Meath and took a number of castles. John was at Greenogue, on the present borders of Meath and Dublin on 30th June. John re-granted some of Hugh de Lacy’s lands to his own loyal subjects. He granted Ratoath to Philip of Worcester. On July 2nd and 3rd he was at Trim where he took possession of Walter de Lacy’s castle and main town. While at Trim the king did not reside at the castle instead he pitched his tents in an area which became known as “The King’s field”, modern day Porchfield.
On 4th and 5th he was in Kells, stopping at Ardbraccan on the way. John met Cathal Crobderg O Conchobair, the king of Connacht at Ardbraccan. Cathal provided troops and personally entered into the chase of Hugh de Lacy with the royal army. John presented a powerful war horse to Cathal who removed the saddle as the Irish rode bareback. At a later meeting at Rathwire, now in Westmeath, Cathal refused to hand over his son as a hostage upon which John seized four of Cathal’s underlings.
John and his army then moved north taking the castle of Nobber on his way into Louth before returning to Drogheda on 8th August. John took the castle at Millmount into royal hands, in which it was to remain. While other castles were later restored to the de Lacy’s Drogheda castle became a royal castle. John then moved to Duleek and back to Kells, onto Fore and Rathwire. On 16th August John stayed at Castle Bret which has been tentatively identified as in the Kilcloon/ Moyglare area by Fr. Gerry Rice. From there he returned to spend the remainder of his time in Dublin.
While in Ireland John’s attention was taken up by creating an administrative structure and laying the foundation for a government of Ireland. He created twelve counties including Meath, Dublin and Uriel (now Louth). John also introduced the position of justicar or governor general who would rule Ireland on his behalf. John also created an exchequer and introduced the English system of justice.
The king returned to England at the end of August 1210. The de Lacy’s were later pardoned and restored to their positions having paid considerable fines. King John’s Castle, Trim, commemorates the time a king of England visited Meath.
George IV in 1821
‘Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry. When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away’. The children’s rhyme commemorates George IV of England who loved his food, drink and every indulgence including a number of mistresses. As prince, George, lived the good life and had even married one of his mistresses, Mrs. Fitzherbert in a Catholic ceremony, in contravention of the Act of Settlement and the Royal Marriage Act. The Fitzherberts of Blackcastle, Navan, were said to be related to Mrs Fitzherbert. George was forced to deny his marriage with Mrs Fitzherbert and in return for paying off his debts had to marry Caroline of Brunswick whom he grew to detest.
In 1821 King George IV was the first king of England to visit Ireland for more than one hundred years. George succeeded his father, George III, the previous year. George had a tumultuous relationship with his wife, Caroline. They had lived separately for more than twenty years and she had lived on the continent from 1814, only returning to England in 1820 for the accession of George. George ordered the doors of the cathedral closed so Caroline could not be crowned queen. The king did what he could to ensure Caroline was not recognised as Queen and even sought a divorce. Caroline was very popular amongst the people until it was revealed she had an Italian lover. Divorce proceedings were not begun as George’s adulterous affairs would have been revealed in any legal case.
George’s coronation took place on 19 July 1821 and it was on that day that Caroline fell ill. She died less than three weeks later and poison was mentioned as a cause of death. There are many parallels between the life of Princess Diana and Queen Caroline.
On his visit to Ireland in August 1821 George disembarked at Howth, staggering off the boat. His footprints are preserved in the West Pier. The death of his wife was announced in the Dublin newspapers on the day of his arrival.
Elizabeth Conyngham, the wife of Henry Conyngham of Slane was one of the mistresses of George IV. Born in London, Elizabeth Denison married Henry, Viscount Conyngham in 1794. A noted beauty, she was considered vulgar by some elements of society. Attracting the attention of royalty, Tsarevitch Nicholas of Russia was one of her admirers. When King George came to Ireland it was rumoured that he had come to Ireland to visit his mistress at Slane. The king visited Slane Castle and it is believed that the reason the road from Dublin to Slane is one of the straightest roads in Ireland is because it was so designed to get him there quickly. He dined in the spectacular Gothic Revival Ballroom and the bedroom he slept in is known as the King’s Room to this day. Elizabeth’s relationship benefited the Conyngham family with her husband being raised to the title of Marquess and being provided with a number of royal offices. Lady Conyngham was an influence on George IV as she was against the death penalty and supported Catholic emancipation. The entire family lived with the king and at his expense in England. The relationship ended on the death of the king in 1830 and Lady Conyngham lived on until 1861. She lived a full and long life, dying aged ninety-two. In her later years she walked to church every Sunday supported by George IV’s cane. Her son was the first person to address Queen Victoria as “Your Majesty.”
The king also visited the Smith family at Annesbrook but the reason for the visit is not clear. Henry Jeremiah Smith of Beybeg House married Margaret Osborne of Dardistown Castle in 1802 and they acquired Annesbrook and were in residence when George IV paid his visit in 1821. The king received invitations from the major landowners and nobility in Ireland and yet he chose to visit Annesbrook. The ionic portico was erected for the royal visit as was the gothic banqueting room with a splendid plasterwork ceiling. George suffered from diarrhoea during the visit and did not enter the banqueting room. As the additions were erected in a hurry the foundations were not adequate and the room sank.
George left Ireland from Dunleary, which was re-named Kingstown in his honour.
A Meath Connection to Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria did not visit Meath but she did pay four visits to Ireland during her reign, in 1849, 1853, 1861 and 1900. On her 1849 visit the Queen stopped briefly at Carton House, near Maynooth. In 1900 nationalist politicians organised a picnic on the Hill of Tara in opposition to a picnic that the Queen was hosting in the Phoenix Park for children.
A Meath man is said to have served as a body guard for Queen Victoria at her coronation in 1837. John Donnellan Balfe was born in county Meath, possibly in Nobber, on 8 January 1816, to James Balfe and Sara Sutherland. Educated at Clongowes Wood College Balfe joined the British Army. As an officer in the Life-Guard for two years Balfe served as body guard to Queen Victoria at her coronation. Having left the army Balfe became involved in Irish politics. Balfe farmed 150 acres at Sallybrook, outside Drumconrath. Initially a supporter of Daniel O’Connell Balfe later became involved in the Young Irelander’s movement. Balfe was nominated as a member by Charles Gavan Duffy and seconded by William Smith O’Brien. Balfe was given the role of liaising with the British Chartists, the forerunners of the trade unions. In 1850 Balfe married Mary, daughter of Terence Reilly of Ballybeg, Co. Meath. A number of the Young Irelanders planned a rebellion but were transported to Tasmania for their trouble. When they arrived they discovered that Balfe was there ahead of them and had been appointed deputy comptroller of the Convict Department. It was uncovered that Balfe had been an informer on the activities of the rebels to the British officials in Dublin Castle. The Nation newspaper in Ireland printed an expose of Balfe’s activities. John Mitchel later described Balfe as ‘a monster’ for his betrayal.
Balfe became the voice of the Governor Denison in Australia. In 1853 Balfe resigned his post and settled on his lands at Port Esperance. Elected to the House of Assembly he became a vocal contributor to debates and served from 1857 to 1881. A political journalist, Balfe became editor of ‘The Mercury’ newspaper in 1868 for a very short period being dismissed for taking a drink. Balfe had also agreed to vote according to the wishes of the newspaper proprietor. In the 1870s Balfe was editor of the Tasmanian Tribune. In 1875 he published ‘Life in Old Ireland in Olden Times.’ Balfe died at Hobart, Tasmania, in 1880.
George Wingfield Bourke, 4th son of Robert, 5th Earl of Mayo was chaplain to Queen Victoria. Hayes, Navan was the residence of the Bourke family who held the title the Earls of Mayo. Rev Bourke is commemorated in St. Patrick’s Church, Slane. Born in 1829 Rev. Bourke was rector of Pulborough in Sussex and became chaplain in the ordinary to Queen Victoria and honorary chaplain to her son, Edward VII. Bourke died in 1903 and is buried in England. One of the family who held Hayes was Major Sir Edward Alexander Henry Legge-Bourke. Victoria’s daughter- in-law, Queen Alexandra, was sponsor at his baptism. Known as Harry Legge-Bourke, he held the office of Page-of-Honour to HM King George V between 1924 and 1930. His grand-daughter, “Tiggy” Legge-Bourke was nanny, later companion, to Princes William and Harry and a personal assistant to Prince Charles from 1993 to 1999. Princess Diana disliked Tiggy and even accused her, wrongly, of having an affair with Charles. Prince Charles visited Meath taking in Newgrange and Butterstream Garden on his trip in 1995.
Another royal connection to Hayes is a horse. Colonel Stephen Hill Dillon was tenant at Hayes in the mid-twentieth century. The Colonel kept a stable of racehorses including a horse called Devon Loch. The Colonel trained the horse at Hayes before selling him to the Queen Mother. In a famous incident Devon Loch sprawled spectacularly 50 yards from the post in the Grand National of 1956.