Short Histories of Navan
Article written in 1966 by Canon Ellison for the Brochure published in connection with the
Navan Trade Fair which was promoted by the Navan Chamber of Commerce.
An Uaimh: NAVAN
By Rev C.C. Ellison. M.A.
The strategic site upon which the town stands – an elevated ridge in the angle formed by the joining of the Rivers Boyne and Blackwater, partly protected in the rear by the Leighsbrook stream – must have been a place of habitation from very ancient times. The former existence of a ford at Athlumney would also render it a place of importance. The motte at the western approach to the town, partly a natural deposit of the Ice Age and partly an artificial mound commands the site’s unprotected side, and was fortified when the Anglo-Normans took possession late in the 12th century. Around this stronghold a community would tend to be established before the days when towns, as we know them, existed.
This mound, Navan Moat now an overgrown and partly demolished, was said by some to cover the tomb of an Iberian princess, who died of a broken heart, when her husband, having gone on an expedition to Ireland, forgot her and married a royal lady from Tara. Hence the burial chamber in the mound gave to the town the name by which it was formerly known and is now officially called – "An Uaimh" ( the cave ). Modern research however has cast doubt on this theory and "the cave" may refer to one of the souterrains which exist near the town. The ancient name of the place, found in the Annals, was "Nua Chongbail" (New Town), which may have become anglicised as "The Novane" and finally " Navan."
The New Town grew up around the Celtic Monastery established on the height above the final stretch of the River Blackwater, long known to anglers as the Mollies.
Jocelyn de Angulo ( the name later became Nangle) the first of a long line of Anglo Norman Barons, replaced the native monks with those of an Augustinian order in 1189, and in the 15th century the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a famous place of pilgrimage and devotion.
The town was fortified by the Normans, but as it was not on the borders of the Pale it never became an important fortress. In 1539 the Ulster Irish sacked the town and carried off much booty, and in the same year the Abbey, already much ruined, was dissolved. All trace of it in time disappeared, a cavalry barracks being built on the site.
In 1469 King Edward IV granted the town its first Charter of Incorporation, and the Corporation was granted further charters, with added privileges, in 1494, 1623, 1661 and 1689.
From the 17th century onwards the town’s importance as a commercial and market centre increased, helped by the opening of the Boyne Navigation Canal about 1790 and fifty years later by the construction of railways.
At the end of the 18th century there were eight corn mills in operation, powered by water and steam, and the largest of these were allied with extensive distilleries. Other products of the town were paper, linen, sacking, leather, bacon, soap, candles, nails and machinery, while there were many small home industries. Agricultural produce and livestock were sold in great quantities at the markets and fairs. In 1860 Clayton’s Mill was established and in 1890 a printing press.
In the present century many of the older industries have died out owing to changing conditions, and new ones have arisen, adapting the old mills beside the rivers to their needs in some cases. In the past 150 years the population has remained fairly constant, but the appearance of the town has greatly altered for the better with the disappearance of the old walls, the demolition of many old buildings, and the erection of new housing areas around it. Churches, convents, halls, schools and hospitals have been built or reconstructed and some fine new factories have sprung up.
Since1922 Navan has become the most important administrative industrial, commercial, educational and public health centre in County Meath, and one of the chief centres for the manufacture of furniture and carpets in the country.
Aspects of Navan History
Séamus Owens, Rathkenny
No aspect of the story of Navan can be studied in isolation from the story of Ireland as a whole and the history of Meath in particular with which it is inseparably linked. It is necessary first to have an appreciation of the situation of the town in relation to the country as a whole and secondly a proper idea of the importance of the town with regard to the social, religous and political events of over 2,000 years.
Long after the ice age the earliest evidence of man in Ireland shows that the Neolithic, or new stone age peoples settled on promontories and at estuaries near the coast. Following the courses of rivers, these early settlers soon made their way inland and settled at various vantage points they found suitable to their needs. With no tools or weapons save those of wood or stone, they employed many methods to effect a crossing over the rivers. Not least of these was the method of fording or wading across with the help of rocks, branches and trees. Navan's earliest bridge was probably a ford at Poolboy, between Watergate Street and Flower HIll. This was over the Blackwater as the Boyne at this place was too wide and hazardous. Boats, ropes and rafts were used to effect a crossing to the Athlumney side. Fording could be practised only in dry seasons. The nearest likely ford over the Boyne at that time was probably where the old Kilcarne Bridge is.
The early settlers of Navan probably lived on the high ground on the town centre side of the River Blackwater. The low ground along the River Boyne at Bridge Street, Academy Street and Dublin Road was subject to flooding and this would have been shuned. The outline of the walls of Navan is shown on a map dated 1756 made for the co-heirs of Lord Ranelagh by Thomas Williams. The Town Wall (see map) started at the back of Mr. Lumley's Inn. This was later the Russell Hotel and is now the Newgrange Hotel. Dublin Gate was on Ludlow Street at Reel's shop. It ran along the Fair Green on St. Mary's Catholic Church side to Chapel Lane which is now Railway Street. Trim Gate is in Trimgate Street at Ryans pub and there is a plaque on the wall here. The road to Trim went up Brews Hill and out the Commons Road. It continued along the side of Dunnes Stores and then in front of Easons and Mark and Spencers. Turn right after Mark and Spencers and there is part of the wall still standing in the Navan Town Council yard on the right. Water Gate was on Watergate Street. The wall was there to control the collection of customs and taxes and was not defensive wall.
Navan -an Overview of its History
From Articles on the History of Navan published by the Meath Chronicle Feb/Mar 1981
The town of Navan originated as a result of the revolutionary changes that resulted from the Norman Invasion. In 1170 DeLacy (who had been given Meath by his king Henry 11) gave Navan to his baron Jocelyn De Angulo. These Normans were professional fighters who made rather short work of the Gaelic amateurs. The earliest town began on the south side of the Blackwater near the Abbey. It was DeLacy who gave navan its Charter and laid out the street pattern, which still survives to this day.
It was a small town with 3 gates, the 3 main streets (Trimgate, Watergate and Dublingate)meeting in the market place, and the whole surrounded by walls. The watergate was on the south of the Poolboy Bridge over the Blackwater, ther Trimgate was on the spot opposite the Community Centre and the Dublin Gate was at the end of Ludlow St. Off the main streets were the tiny lanes stretching to the walls, some of which still survive. These were New Cornmarket, Tuberaurem (which contained the town's water supply), Old Cornmarket, Bakery Lane and Metges Lane. In the Market Square was the Market Cross.
The town got a Portreeve or chief citizen from its charter, also twelve burgesses and the privilege of sending two members to parliament. It got walls, quarterly markets and had the monastery just outside its walls to do duty as the parish church. This had a statue of the Blessed Virgin to which pilgrims came in abundance during the Middle Ages attracted by stories of miracles worked in its presence. The town had three gates leading to three streets which met at the Market Square.
The descendants of the first settlers and those who became part of the town life from the surrounding countryside populated and ran the town until uprooted after 1654 by the Cromwellian upheaval. From 1661 only Protestants appeared in the Corporation and the new lords of the countryside were the Prestons who had replaced the Angulos now the Nangles, barons since the conquest. Through marriage the Prestons became Ludlows and left their estate to the Russells, Dukes of Bedford, in 1830. They were bought out by the Land Act of 1903. Some civil servants acquired the monastic lands on lease after 1539. In 1615 they fell into the hands of Sir Roger Jones, whose descendants, the Earls of Essex, still possess some ground rents in the town. We now have Nangle Crescent off the Windtown Road, Preston Place off Trimgate Street, the Russell Restaurant in Ludlow Street and Bedford Place.
During the 1700s Catholics grew in number and in proportion to the Protestant population so that when representative town government was created in 1840, they dominated town life. The old parish church of the abbey was demolished by 1700 when its stones were used to build a cavalry barracks. The present Catholic church was built in 1836 -1839 replacing the temporary and modest structures used when the Penal Laws were relaxed.
The 1800s saw the tragedy of the Famine, the rise and fall of industry, the building of the Workhouse, the coming of the railway and the investment in water supply, sewage disposal and building. By the 1900s this made for a drab if healthy town of about four thousand inhabitants.
In the 1900s new county buildings were built in 1912 and Navan became the county town replacing Trim. In the 1930s and 1940s it became the major furniture manufacturing town in Ireland and a major carpet centre as well. In the 1960s census reports show the population remaining static but that was because the urban boundary was completely out of date. If you include the environs of Navan, this will give you a better indication of the rise in the population. By 1980 the population of Navan was 13,000 compared with 4,000 in the mid 1960s. In 2013 it is over 25,000.One of the main features which shaped the urban life of Navan in the 1970 was Tara Mines now Boliden. This was the discovery of the largest lead and zinc deposits in Europe. In the 1970s the Navan Shopping Centre shifted the urban centre for the first and only time since the 1100s from the Market Square which had up to then been the heart of the town.