BvRoute 16.1 Co. Meath // Co. Longford

Boyerstown & Bohermeen / Ardbraccan (Co. Meath / West)

Boyerstown (Baile Baighe), a small townland, was the location of extensive archaeological excavations in 2004, prior to the construction of the M3 Motorway. The somewhat underwhelming results showed that farming had taken place locally over thousands of years.

St Cuthbert’s church (RC) is one of three churches in the parish of  Bohermeen.

Bohermeen is the modern name of the townland and district formerly known (and still labelled on some maps) as Ardbreccan.

The Hill of Faughan (366ft), a relatively steep prominent landmark against the flat plains of Meath, was crowned in ancient times by the Bile Tortan / Sacred Tree of Mullyfaughan, and is nowadays topped by a telecommunications mast. Some believe the name derives from fraughans / bilberries, traditionally consumed on 1st August, the pre-Christian Festival of Lughnasa, while others insist it comes from fothain, meaning  “protection, shelter, covert”. Niall of the Nine Hostages (d.c.400AD), ancestor of the powerful Uí Néill / O’Neill clan, is said to have been ceremoniously carried for interment in a cave on the hill, but all traces of prehistoric graves have been destroyed by ploughing and quarrying. Faughan Hill has been suggested as the site of the late C5th Battle of Ocha / Olca.

Ardbraccan History

 

In Pre-Christian times this place was called Magh Torthain and was inhabited by the Tortans, a tribe of the Orghialla known as Ui Borthain, who worshipped a sacred ash tree called Bile Torthain / Craebh Uisnigh, at which Saint Patrickwitnessed an important ceremony attended by many chieftains and druids c.450 AD. The tree is said to have been cut down in 660 AD or blown down in 770 AD.

 

By then the district was probably already known as Ard Breacain – “the height of Braccan”, referring to the mound on which Saint Breacain /Braccan founded a monastery sometime before migrating to the Aran Islands, where he died c.650 AD. The Gaelic toponym was later anglicised as Ard Braccan / Ardbraccan / Ardbreccan.

 

St Breacain’s foundation flourished under his successor as abbot, the scholarly prophet Saint Ultan, a relative of Saint Brigid and an intimate friend of Saint Fechin of Fore. In 656 AD he established a hospital to care for children orphaned during the ‘Buidhe Chonnaill‘ plague, said to have been provoked by rulers who, worried that there was not enough food to go round, asked their holy folk to pray for the thinning of the “common multitude“.

 

As  abbots were also commonly regarded as bishops, the monastery became the seat of a small diocese, ruled by a series of prelates for five centuries. It is thought that Arbraccan had jurisdiction over chapels in the surrounding areas now known as Allenstown, Ongenstown, Killenagolach, Kilsaney and Markiestown (historically aka Durhamstown / Durmstown / Dormstown / Dorreanstown). Next to the monastery a succession of churches were built, each larger than the last to accommodate the growing number of worshippers.

 

Ardbraccan is recorded as the site of a mid-C9th AD victory by the Uí Néill over the Norsemen, who frequently attacked and plundered the monastery. In the year 1031 they burned the Daimhliag (“stone house”), a large circular church, together with between 200 and 1000 people who had sought refuge in it, and took away 200 more to be sold abroad as slaves.  In 1115  “The great stone church of Ardbraccan with it full of people was burnt by the Munstermen“. The last abbot, the poet and scholar Giolla Modhuda O Cassidy (d. 1143), was forced to close the monastery, leaving a church open for parishioners. In 1156 the cows of Ardbraccan were carried off by the Danes of Dublin and the king of Leinster, Diarmaid MacMurchada / Dermot McMurrough, who ten years later assigned the parish some land at a high annual rent.

 

By the early C12th the ancient kingdom of Mide / Meath contained eight small bishoprics: Clonard, Duleek, Kells, Trim, Slane Fore, Dunshaughlin and Ardbraccan. At the 1152 Synod of Kells these were reduced to three – Clonard, Duleek and Kells. At a Synod held near Trim in 1158 these became two – Clonard for Westmeath and Duleek for East Meath. In 1194 these two were united in the Diocese of Meath, and from a very early period Ardbraccan was the ” see, centre and seat of the Meath Bishops “(although some two centuries later King Henry IV had to order the then incumbent to live there).

 

Although one source claims King Henry II gave the church land to a Ludlow knight, it would seem that Arbraccan was part of the grant by the first Hugh de Lacy (from that Shropshire town) to Gilbert D’Angelo. Ardbraccan was where on 29th June 1210 King John received submission from the Connacht ruler Cathal Crobhderg O’Connor, and their soldiers joined forces to march northwards against the impudent young Earl of Ulster, Hugh de Lacy.

 

The Reformation led to the suppression of  “papish”  clergy throughout the British Isles, and the Roman Catholic prelates in Ardbraccan were amongst many forced to abandon their posts. The district became the seat of successive Church of Ireland / Anglican Bishops of Meath (Premier Bishops of Ireland), who continued to reside locally for four centuries, at first in a large Tudor house with its own private medieval chapel known as St Mary’s, then in Ardbraccan Palace, and finally inBishop’s Court.

 

In 1747 the first Irish Charter School was opened in Ardbraccan. These schools were operated by The Incorporated Society in Dublin for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland, and admitted only Roman Catholics, with a view to educating them as Protestants so as “to rescue the souls of thousands of poor children from the dangers of Popish superstition and idolatry, and their bodies from the miseries of idleness and beggary.” The Ardbraccan school, like the others, focused on training girls for domestic service in the houses of the gentry and aristocracy, while training boys in agriculture and gardening. As with the other schools, the charter school in Ardbraccan failed and eventually closed down.

 

When a local Roman Catholic parish was re-established in 1822, the ecclesiastical authorities sought a different name from that of the Church of Ireland / Civil parish, and chose ‘Bohermeen’, from An Bóthar Mín – “the smooth / fine road”. While some say this referred to one of the famous five Great Ways that radiated from ancient Tara, others suggest it merely identified the best contemporary road surface in the area. Dean Cogan, author of the acclaimed History of the Diocese of Meath(2 Vols) in the 1860s, who himself had once served as a curate locally, bemoaned the choice of the secular ‘Bohermien‘ (as he wrote it) over the more religious Ardbraccan.

 

The mid-C19th Great Famine hit the population  to a relatively minor extent. Local folklorists recorded the disappearance of entire pre-famine settlements in, for example, the townland of Greetiagh, and anonymous burials of parishioners in some of the ancient mediæval graveyards, notably atMarkiestown, where the last interments in the ancient (now destroyed) cemetery were believed to have occurred in the famine era. (Another old graveyard that did survive at Moyaher contains rare surviving examples of pre-famine gravestones with curious carvings).

 

The major late C19th land reform legislation changed the landownership pattern. The breakup of the large estates saw most parishioners move from being tenant farmers to small landowners in their own right. As late as the 1930s most houses in the area were thatched cottages.

 

Bohermeen has had a predominantly Roman Catholic population according to every census done. However, the long sizeable Anglican population dwindled significantly in the late C19th and early C20th.

 

The War of Independence saw local unrest, with the RIC barracks inhe small village of Greetiagh at the foot of the Hill of Vaughan being attacked and burned by Republicans in 1920.

 

Alfredo Kindelán Duany (Cuba 1879 –  1962 Madrid), scion of a family that had dominated pre-Norman Ardbraccan but subsequently emigrated to Spain and enjoyed notable military and naval successes in the metropolis and colonies, was regarded as the founder of Spain’s air force, and strongly advocated the bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, but was exiled to the Canaries in 1947 for his involvement in a monarchist conspiracy. In 1961 the dictator General Franco ironically made him a Marqués.

St Ultan’s church (CoI 1777-1981), a handsome neo-classical edifice, stands on the site of the original monastic foundation and features a medieval bell tower thought to date from c.1400 (on right of photo by Jtdirl). A joint Anglican / Roman Catholic project in the mid-1980s restored the church roof and graveyard, where members of both faiths are buried in an exceptionally tranquil setting. A nearby Holy Well, also dedicated to Saint Ultan, is thought to have been used as a pre-Christian place of worship.

Ardbraccan Palace


Ardbraccan House, one of Ireland’s most highly regarded Palladian country houses, was the episcopal palace of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath from 1775 to 1885.

 

Initially commissioned in 1734 by Bishop Arthur Price (1678-1752), the two wings of the house, designed by Richard Cassels, were built before the main four-bay two-storey block of the house was completed under the supervision of James Wyatt in 1776 for Bishop Henry Maxwell (d. 1798), whose two sons succeeded their grandfather and uncles as 5th and 6th Baron Farnham.

 

Although reputed to have servants’ quarters made from gravestones taken from the localMarkiestown burial ground, the mansion was widely acclaimed for its architectural elegance, and the bishops lived in some considerable style, supplied with produce from the extensive estate.

 

The last resident prelate was the Most Rev William Conyngham Plunket(1828-1897), 4th Baron Plunket, who went on to become the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral and Archbishop of Dublin, and whose statue on Kildare Street is a familiar landmark.

 

Ardbraccan House was bought by Hugh Law, son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and uncle of the Nationalist MP / Cumann na nGaedheal TD of the same name, and remained in the ownership of his descendants until sold by Col. Owen Foster in 1985 to Tara Mines for use as guest accommodation for visiting businessmen.

 

In the late 1990s the house once again changed hands. The new owners invested large sums to completely restore the mansion. In 2002 the restoration of Ardbraccan House won the An Taisce Best Restoration of a Private Building award. It is now open to the public in summer.

Bishop’s Court / Bishopscourt House was the name given to the former glebe house used as the residence of the Anglican Bishop of Meath from 1885 to 1958. The first bishop to live there was the Most Rev Dr Charles Reichel (1816-1894) and the last was the Most Rev Dr James McCann (1897-1993), who went on to become Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland. The small mansion was bought by the Holy Ghost Fathers, who renamed in An Tobar (“The Well”). When the old church underwent some vandalism, its valuable stained glass windows were removed by the Church of Ireland and donated to An Tobar, which is now used as a retreat centre. The grounds contain a small but elaborate hedge labyrinth.

Durhamstown Castle, a  complex built around a medieval Tower House once owned by Queen Elizabeth I‘s erstwhile favourite Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex (8th creation), Lord Deputy in Ireland, is one of the oldest continually lived-in buildings in Ireland. Since the 2003death of Samuel CLelland, it has been divided into apartments and is currently home to a homeopathic clinic.

Allenstown House was a large five-bay, four-story Georgian mansion built c.1750 byWilliam Waller (1710 – 1796), descendant of a famous English Royalist family. It was inherited in 1809 by a grand-nephew whose son,  James Noble-Waller (1800 – 1874) had only one male heir, and passed in 1920 to his grand-nephew Vice-Admiral Arthur William Craig (1872 – 1943) who gassumed the surname Craig-Waller. The estate was purchased in 1938 by the Irish Land Commission, which broke up the land. Despite being of architectural and historical significance, the house was controversially demolished in 1940.

Allenstown / Baile Ailin was briefly settled by Irish-speaking immigrants from the West of Ireland in a 1937 attempt to turn it into a Gaeltacht community;  unlike neighbouring Ráth Cairn / Rathcarne and Baile Ghib / Gibbstown, the project was an immediate flop as the colonists almost all returned to Connacht or emigrated

St Ultan’s church (RC), originally called St Cuthbert’s church, was first erected in 1817. It was altered and improved in 1897 and rebuilt in the mid-1980s to enable a controversial post-Vatican II “re-ordering”, losing an elaborate reredos, but retaining some fine stained glass windows.

The White Quarry to the north of the townland was in operation from the C14th  to the mid-C20th, and provided Arbreccan limestone for many of Dublin’s finest buildings including the Customs House and Trinity College.

John Cowley (1923 – 1998), the actor who played Tom Riordan in the RTE series “The Riordans” throughout its 14-year run until 1979, was a native of Arbraccan.

Corstown, within the Roman Catholic parish of Bohermeen, is served by the church of Christ the King.

St Baithen’s church (CoI 1853-1968), serving the former Anglican / Civil parish of Balrathboyne, was sold in the early 1990’s and converted into a private home.

Bohermeen and Cortown are

 

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