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History (incl. O.S. Field names and Graveyard Inscriptions)

Athlumney Mill

Athlumney Graveyard

Historically speaking, Athlumney graveyard is one of the jewels in the necklace of Navan history.   Records verify that when Delacy conquered and settled in Meath he granted the demesne of Athlumney to some Knight who is not now identifiable by name.   A Motte and Bailey at the ford on the Boyne was built, nowadays historically traced to just east of the railway bridge at Navan.   In the 14th Century a small chapel was built to serve the people of Athlumney.   The ruins of the church are still evident today.   It was rectangular in shape with the quarters built in for the Resident Priest.   In the year 1756 when the first bridge was built over the Boyne connecting Navan to Athlumney, this graveyard became the graveyard of the town until the new cemetery was opened at the turn of the century.   However despite its age, Athlumney graveyard continues to be used by the residents of Navan.   Observing some of the names on the tombstones, and dates of internment, old Navan families are clearly identifiable.

 

Adjacent to the graveyard is Athlumney Castle. These large rooms comprise of a large square tower and a castleated 16th century mansion – it was the home of the Dowdall family and it was burnt down by the last member of the Dowdall family to occupy it.   The reason for burning the castle meets with conflicting reports, some hold the view that it was to prevent it falling into the hands of Cromwell, while others held the view that it was to prevent William of Orange getting his hands on it.

 

Reverting to Athlumney graveyard it is interesting to note that the oldest recorded tombstone is dated 1709 and the graveyard contains the remains of two priests, Rev. James Joseph Gaynon D.D. who died in the year 1826, and the Rev. Fr. Hennery Magrath who died in the year 1769.

 

An ancient custom unique to most graveyards exists right up to this very day.   Coffins are carried in and rested on a special slab known as “Chevers-Goff” slab where the prayers are recited and then the coffin is carried around the graveyard before burial.

 

Concluding, Dopping said in the mid 17th century, Athlumney Church is in ruin but need not be repaired as St. Lomans Ford can be used for 8 months of the year and it is only one mile to St. Mary’s church in Navan.   For the remaining 4 months of the year when the Boyne was in flood, access to Navan was by Kilcarn Bridge, a journey of 2 miles for the people of Athlumney.

 

The splendid condition of Athlumney graveyard is attributed to the dedicated work of a small number of people who devote, on a voluntary basis, 2 nights a week, in order that this jewel in Navan history is preserved and maintained in an excellent condition.

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ATHLUMNEY

 

In 1654, Athlumney had a castle and a large stone house, “a water mill and a tuck mill, two fishing weirs, a church, and two open quarries.” [Civil Survey]

 

Its prominence was due to the Normans who built a fortified moat on the bank of the Boyne.   This moat [or motte] has survived to the present day.   It was followed by the castle in the 15th century, and to this was added the Tudor house, about 1590, with the distinctive windows which are such a notable feature of the ruins.

 

Athlumney was owned from about 1320 by a branch of the Norman family of Dowdall. The last of the family, Sir Launcelott Dowdall, supported James II against William of Orange, and after the battle of the Boyne in 1690, he was afraid William of Orange would advance on Navan and take Athlumney Castle.   William Wilde, in Beauties of the Boyne and Blackwater, gives a dramatic description of the destruction of the castle:  “He declared that the Prince of Orange should never rest under his ancestral roof . . . Dowdall set fire to his castle at nightfall, and, crossing the Boyne, sat upon the opposite bank, from which as tradition reports, he beheld the last timber of his noble mansion blazing and flickering in the calm summer’s night, then crash among the smouldering ruins; and when its final eructation [belching] of smoke and flame was given forth, and the pale light of morning was stealing over the scene of desolation, with an aching and despairing heart . . . he fled to the continent . . . and never returned.”  The castle and lands were confiscated and sold.

 

Athlumney church was built by the Dowdall family before the Reformation; the date is unknown.   A report in 1682 shows that it was then in ruins: “church and chancel unrepaired since 1641.

A hundred years ago Dean Cogan described the condition of the Church in his time: “The shell of the church measures internally sixty-three feet and a half by nineteen feet four inches.   The windows and doorways on the north and south sides are gone.   The western end terminated in a row of two semicircular-headed windows, above which stood a third, of smaller dimensions, which formed the triple belfry of the church.  The baptismal font has been taken . . .”

He adds: “Athlumney has been much frequented as a burying ground, especially since the old abbey church and cemetery of Navan were dug up, and the site occupied by a cavalry barracks.”

In 1876, the district of Athlumney was separated from Johnstown and incorporated in the parish of Navan.

In 1879, the Sisters of Mercy came to Athlumney.   A few years earlier, ‘Violet Hill’ has been acquired by the Bishop of Meath.   Dr. Nulty, from Samuel Serancke. They opened a HOUSE OF MERCY, to give employment and a home to distressed women.”   A laundry, a bakery and a poultry raising station were set up.   Further buildings were added in 1935, in part of which St. Mary’s school is now situated.

In 1967 a section of the buildings – the old bakery – was renovated and adapted.   The DAY-CARE CENTRE for children was opened, under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy.

Following the Union of the Sisters of Mercy in the diocese of Meath, the Generalate of the Congregation was established at Athlumney in 1976.

1977 – Opening of St. Mary’s School & Physiotherapy.

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