Navan (Co. Meath / Central)
Navan (An Uaimh – “the cave”; etymology disputed) (pop. 30,000), long a small but prosperous market hub, replaced Trim as the administrative capital of County Meath in 1898.
Believed by some to have originally been nameded Nuachongbhail (“new dwelling”), and historically aka Novan and The Novane, the town was called only by its official modern Gaelic toponym from 1922 until 1970, when residents voted (746-161) to resume “Navan”.
Poolboy Bridge on the eastern side of the town spans the River Boyne at its confluence with the small River Blackwater,anciently called Póll Buidhe – “yellow hole”, and also anglicised as Pollbwee. (Photo by JP)
The old town centre, featuring several fine buildings and attractive façades, is nowadays surrounded by sprawling residential developments, mainly built for the families of workers at the nearby Tara zinc / lead mines, the largest of their kind in Europe, opened in 1973, and DUBLIN commuters, many of whom settled locally during the Celtic Tiger years.
The area has a wide range of shopping facilities, schools, sports clubs and other leisure amenities, including pleasant walking routes taking in a number of interesting heritage sites. There are several good accommodation options and places to eat and drink in and around the town.
Barons of Navan
Following the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, the first Lord of Meath, Hugh de Lacy, built his principal stronghold at Trim and divided the territory among ten of his knights, elevated to Palatinate Barons. The nearby Cantred / Barony of Magherigallon / Morgallion was granted to Gilbert de Angulo, from Angle in Pembrokeshire, who built a castle at Nobber, while his brother Jordan went to fight in Connacht and founded the MacJordan / Jordan dynasty.
Gilbert’s son Jocelyn settled in Navan, one of the first communities to be made a Borough, where he erected a bailey on the Motte of Navan c. 1185 and c.1189 founded an Augustinian Abbey on the riverbank . Of the former, local historian Elizabeth Hickey (1917-1999) wrote “Jocelyn de Angulo’s high perched castle (49.5 ft.) at Navan, the highest in Meath, as well as the mottes of Rotoath and Droheda, which were each over 36 feet above the surrounding townscapes and other Norman mottes, are believed to not only have been constructed for immediate defensive purposes, but served as well as emergency beacons of communications using smoke or fire to alert other mottes of the impending danger or sieges by the native Irish”.
The surname De Angulo soon became corrupted to N’ogla and then Nangle.Jocelyn’s son Gilbert, 2nd Baron Navan, was one of the first of the Norman ascendancy to be described as “Hibernis ipsi Hiberniores” – “more Irish then the Irish themselves.” He followed his grand uncle west to fight with Cathal Crovderg, king of Connacht, and became known as MacOisdealbh / MacGoisdelbh (i.e. son of Jocelyn), rendered back into English as MacCostello, which in time became Costello. Another of Jocelyn’s sons, Richard, settled in Munster to become the ancestor of the family for whom the Nagle Mountains are named. Up to the mid-C13th Gilbert’s successors as Barons of Navan, namelyWilliam, Philip, and Milo De Angulo / Nangle, were recognized as heads of the whole family including the Costellos and Nagles.
The Nangle Barons of Navan remained the most powerful local family for three centuries, intermarrying with leading Norman and Gaelic families and participating actively in regional and national affairs until the time of the Reformation. Strongly identified with the “Old English” Roman Catholic gentry of the Pale, they found themselves in increasing disfavour with the Tudor and Stuart administrations. Sir Thomas Nangle, 19th Baron Navan, was implicated in the Kilkenny Confederation rising and in 1642 was attained for High Treason, forfeiting much of his property. His descendant served with distinction in the French and Austrian armies, and Francis Nangle, 23rd and last Baron of Navan, died heirless in Vienna in 1781.
Baron Darcy of Navan, in the County of Meath, was a title in the Peerage of Ireland, created in 1721 for James Darcy, grandson of the English peer Conyers Darcy, 7th Baron Darcy de Knayth. He was succeeded by his daughter’s sonJames Jessop, who assumed the surname of Darcy but never married and the title became extinct on his early death in 1733.
The Motte of Navan, a green mound in the Moatland district just north of the town, has remnants of the late C12th earthworks constructed by Jocelyn de Angelo, but is regarded in folklore as the tomb of the Iberian princess Odhbha / Ova, first wife of the legendary Milesius‘s son Heremon and mother of three of his children; she died of grief when he abandoned her for Tea. Some believe that the broken-hearted lady’s odd name is the root of Navan’s various toponyms.
Navan´s Town Walls & Gates probably served to defend the medieval settlement against raids by Gaelic clans attacking the fringes of the Pale. Navan was burned and plundered during the 1539 invasion of Meath by the Ulster chieftains O’Neill and O’Donnell, who were pursued northward by Crown forces and defeated at the battle of Ballyhoe near the Monaghan border. Of the town walls, belatedly reinforced in 1542, only traces remain.
Navan’s Market Square, at the confluence of the town’s three oldest streets (long the site of aMarket Cross dating from c.1585, now preserved in the NMI), lined with handsome C19th and C20th buildings, has been dominated since late 2011 by a 16-tonne limestone monument depicting a Bull being restrained by two men, carved by Galway sculptor Colin Grehan in 2002, which was erected despite a popular petition against it led by a Councillor who objected that visitors would be entering Navan “via the bull’s arse“. (Photo – www.thejournal.ie)
(A local historian has suggested that, as in several other Irish towns, the original Market Place and the later Square were probably mainly frequented by townsfolk of English origin, latterly Protestants, while the Fair Green area was the commercial focus for the native / Roman Catholic community).
Navan Abbey, closed by King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, was converted in 1711 into a Cavalry Barracks and remained in British Army ownership until 1912, when the site was purchased by the Roman Catholic Church, and from 1919 to the 1950s was occupied by a boys’ school called St Columba’s Abbey, run by the De La Salle Brothers .
The Preston School for Protestant girls, founded in 1686 by Alderman John Preston of Dublin, was amalgamated in 1969 with Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham (Co. Westmeath); the Main Street premises now feature a large shopping centrre.
St Mary’s church (CoI) was originally built in the early C18th, with a steeple and vestry added in 1759 and more improvements in 1765. Most of the building was reconstructed in 1818. The poor were given 5s worth of bread each week by Lord Ludlow and the Ardsallagh Estate, a practice continued by the Duke of Bedford and the Russells until 1907. A special balcony was long reserved for the use of the landlord and his family.
Lewis (1837) recorded that Navan and Athlumney had five corn mills, two paper mills, two distilleries (capable of producing 30,000 gallons of whiskey), one tannery, a flax mill employing 260 people, flour mills and Ireland’s main sacking factory. There was also a charitable loan society entirely supported by Mrs Fitzherbert of Blackcastle House (built in 1827, destroyed by fire in 1987; the site now features shopping and residential developments).
St Mary’s church (RC), an elegant edifice dating from 1839, is officially located on Trimgate Street, but the more widely used entrance faces onto the Fair Green. The interior contains a unique wood sculpture of the Crucifixion created by Edward Smyth (1749-1812). the locally-born sculptor remembered for his work on Dublin Castle’s Chapel Royal and James Gandon‘s Custom House, Four Courts, King’s Inns etc.
(The modern Roman Catholic parish of Navan, taking in the medieval parishes of Athlumney, Cannistown, Donaghmore and Dunmoe, is also served by St Oliver’s church, opened in 1977. The district has at least one Evangelical congregation as well).
Our Lady’s Hospital occupies the site of the Navan Union Workhouse, erected in 1842 and under the management of one Mr. Cowley was renowned as the best managed workhouse in Ireland during the Great Famine. The adjacent fever hospital attached to the workhouse was said to have “ample acommodation of a superior kind“. (Navan’s official population was nonetheless reduced from 5595 in 1841 to 3979 in 1851 due to starvation, disease and emigration).
Navan Railway Station (1850-1958) remains relatively intact, and although long closed to passengers, the former Drogheda – Oldcastle branch line is still used by freight trains serving Tara Mines. The larger Navan Junction Railway Station (1850-1963) and other railway stations on the former Clonsilla-Kingscourt line are derelict, but a strong public campaign hopes to see passenger services restored by 2015.
The Sisters of Mercy opened a sewing room in Bakery Lane in 1853 with funds provided by the Duke of Bedford. In 1857 they took over Leighsbrook House, which they substantially altered and turned into St Joseph’s Convent & School. Part of the complex is used forHealth Board offices.
Pairc Tailteann, named for the all-Ireland Tailteann Games held regularly in the ancient kingdom of Mide / Meath (probably at Teltown near Kells) that may even have inspired the Olympic Games, was the Agricultural Show Grounds until 1935, when it became the GAA‘s official County Ground, and has hosted major triumphs by local Gaelic footballers and hurlers over the years.
Claremont Stadium, the home of Navan AC and Parkvilla FC, has an Olympic athletics track, soccer grounds and a Sports Hall catering for basketball, badmington, handball etc.
The Solstice Arts Centre, opened in 2006, contains a 320-seat theatre, three galleries, a studio and a café.
The Lantern on Watergate Street, Navan’s oldest pub, is a well-kown live music venue that also has evenings of traditional dancing, story telling sessions etc. Smyth’s pub also hosts live music.
St Mary’s Musical Society / SMMS, formed in 1968, performs regular concerts, showns and pantomimes.
Navan Choral Festival has been held every May since 1979, while the Navan Live! Music Festival of recent years has hosted an eclectic range of popular musicians.
Navan Town Park is currently undergoing development as a regional amenity.
Meath County Council & Navan Town Council ‘s splendid plans for new offices are currently on hold.
Navan was the birthplace of Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, FRS, FRGS (1774–1857), the creator of the Beaufort scale for measuring wind force. His family were of Huguenot origin, and his father was a clergyman and cartographer. Although his childhood home was destroyed to make way for road widening, the site is at least commemorated with a plaque.
Pierce Brosnan (b.1953 in nearby Drogheda), the Hollywood film star best known for playing James Bond, lived for much of his childhood with his maternal grandparents in Navan.