Ardbraccan House.

 

Ardbraccan was the seat of the diocese of Ardbraccan founded by St. Breaccan and St. Ultan. In the middle ages Ardbraccan became the seat for the Protestant bishops of Meath and a large house was erected with a chapel dedicated to St. Mary. The bishops of Meath were interred in the churchyard at Ardbraccan. The house was replaced by a Georgian building in the eighteenth century. The kitchen and stable wings were completed first in the mid 1730s and then the central block was erected about 1776. The two wings were designed by Richard Castle, the pre-eminent architect working in Ireland at the time while the central block was an amalgam of the designs of Thomas Cooley and James Wyatt, together with amateur Navan architect, the Rev. Daniel A. Beaufort. The house was constructed with limestone from the nearby White Quarry. The house is set in mature pasture land with formal gardens and walled gardens. There is a courtyard of domestic and agricultural buildings to the north of the house. The farm and stables are joined to the house by a tunnel under the garden terrace. A dome-shaped icehouse, dating from about 1800, is located to the south of the outbuilding complex. A gable fronted gate lodge was constructed about 1776 when the main house was completed. Known as Ardbraccan House or Bishop‟s Palace the house was the residence of the bishops of Meath until 1885, after which it became a private residence.

In 1734 Bishop Arthur Price decided to replace the old Tudor house with a new residence and commissioned Richard Castle to prepare plans. Arthur Price had been vicar of Celbridge and resided at Oakley Park. Here his steward at Oakley Park was Richard Guinness, who was acclaimed for his brewing talents. Richard‟s son, Arthur, went on to establish the Guinness Brewery in Dublin in 1759. While the new house was in the process of construction Price was elevated to Archbishop of Cashel and construction came to a halt. The kitchen wing was used as the bishop‟s residence for more than thirty years until Bishop Henry Maxwell decided to complete the building. Bishop Maxwell was a younger son of the 1st Lord Farnham of Cavan. James Wyatt, Thomas Cooley and Rev. Daniel Beaufort of Navan drew up plans and it would appear that while Wyatt‟s plans were used but Beaufort and Cooley also influenced the final house. Beaufort attended the laying of the foundation stone but had to leave early due to a toothache. Beaufort described the house as being "in a style of superior elegance, and yet with such simplicity as does equal honour to his lordship's taste and liberality.‟ Maxwell is said to have boasted that he would build a palace so grand that no scholar or tutor would dare live in it. Bishop Maxwell also constructed the nearby Ardbracan church about 1777. The Bishops of Meath resided at Ardbraccan during the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Rev. James Singer became bishop in 1852 but resided mostly in Dublin and the house at Ardbraccan was shut up in the 1860s. In 1876 Rev. William Plunket became bishop of Meath and he resolved to sell Ardbraccan as the costs of upkeep were too large for a now disestablished Church of Ireland.

The bishops moved to a smaller house in the locality, Bishop's court, now An Tobar. Bishop Plunkett sold the house in 1885 to Hugh Law, son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. At the time Fr. Kearney P.P. Bohermeen suggested purchasing the Bishop‟s Palace as a seminary but his bishop did not agree with the suggestion. The house remained in the Law family until it passed by marriage to the Foster family. In 1985 Colonel Owen Foster sold Ardbraccan House to Tara Mines who used it as an occasional guest residence for visiting businessmen. The Fosters moved to the old schoolhouse at the entrance to the churchyard and were noted for their great care of the grounds of the church. In the late 1990s the house was once again sold.

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