Lecture to Meath Archaeological and Historical Society at Ardbraccan

September 1964

Beryl F.E. Moore, M.A.


ardbraccan ch

Ardbraccan Church  built mid 18th century with the Photo © N&DHS

14th century tower of the old St Ultan's Church behind it.

Ardbraccan has a very long, honourable and interesting history. I have decided to divide it into three sections:-

- Its Pagan History

- Its early Christian History to about 1180

- Its history since the Anglo Norman invasion

Ardbraccan's Pagan History

Tree Worship

One of the oldest forms of nature worship, favoured particularly by those people who practised agriculture pursuits as their means of livelihood.  The old Norse conceived life itself as a tree.  When speaking of our ancestors we refer to our" genealogical tree ".  One of the six oldest crests is a tree.  The first chapter of the Bible describes the Garden of Eden as being around two mythological trees - the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life.

Our Celtic ancestors worshipped five mythological trees in Ireland and two of these were sited in Ardbraccan district, one almost certainly near the well (afterwards called St.Ultan's ) and the other likely on the top of the Hill of Faughan.  The first was called Bile Tortain and the latter the Mullyfaughan tree.  The Ardbraccan Tree Ceremony was one of the most important of the pagan calendar of yearly festivals.  St.Patrick specially arranged so that his first visit to this district shoud coincide with the great Tree Ceremony because he knew he would there meet all the chief persons of the Kingdom of Meath.

We are told that before St. Breccan gave his name to Ardbraccan, it was called Magh Tortain, and the people were the Tortans, a tribe of the Oirghialla.  Another authority refers to the tree as Craebh Uisnigh.  It is spoken of as being an ash tree, which is surprising as the ash was not sacred to the Druids, but it may have been chosen for its immense size or peculiar shape.

Well Worship

Our ancestors were doubtless well worshippers, and must have come from a hot dry country to the East of Europe or West of Asia where wells were few and far between, and regarded as the abode of gods and godesses.

The worship of wells could not have started in a country where there is an abundance of water.  Druid wells were wells of enchantment and generally had some element combined with the water - iron or sulphur - which gives it a curative effect.

Priestesses are thought to have presided over these wells and to have received the devotees who came seeking a cure.  When Christianity was introduced into Ireland the first fearless missionary saints invariably made for the pagan wells in each district to preach the gospel and if they converted the chieftan and his people they would baptise the converts in the well, thus rendering it a Holy Well.  Then the chieftan would give a fort to the Founder Saint so that he could establish a Christian church on it in their midst.  Nearly all early churchyards are round for this reason because they were situated on a rath.  Nowadays our churchyards are square because an acre of land is bought and called God's Acre - an acre is a square measure.

The Irish seemed to have retained their love of wells and to like having religious ceremonies at them, on the eve of a festival or on the festival day of the saint who originally brought the Christian message to their area.  John O'Donovan says he believes that every Celtic Church had its Holy Well near at hand, but the memory of a number of them has been lost, and even the name of the saint who brought Christianity to that place and founded the first church there is often forgotton.

There were several important Druid wells in Ardbraccan.  One was later to bear the name of St. Ultan.  Two wells near Ardbraccan were dedicated to a pagan goddess and after the advent of Christianity were rededicated to St. Brigid - one is St. Brigid's well at Neilstown and the others are at Martry and the spa well at Ongenstown.

References to Well Worship in Irish literature.

Adaman's Life of St. Columba: - "Another time, remaining for some days in the country of the Picts, the holy man (Columba) heard of a fountain famous among the heathen people, which foolish men, blinded by the devil, worshipped as a divinity.  The pagans seduced by these things paid divine homage to the fountain".

Tirechan related in "The Book of Armagh": - "St. Patrick in his progress through Ireland, came to a fountain called Slan (Slaun) which the Druids worshipped as a God and to which they used to offer sacrifices."

Joyce says: - "Some of the well customs that have descended to our own day seem to be undoubted vestiges of pagan adoration.  After the general spread of the Faith, the people's affection for wells was not only retained but intensified, for most of the early preachers of the gospel established their humble foundations (many of them destined to grow in after years into great religious and educational institutions) beside these fountains, whose waters at the same time supplied the daily wants of the little communities, and served for the Baptism of converts.  In this way most of our early saints became associated with wells, hundreds of which still retaine the names of these holy men who converted and baptised the pagan multitudes on their margin".

Joyce also says; - "The commonest word in the Irish language for a well is Tobar, and Holy Wells have at all times been held in veneration in Ireland.  It appears from the most ancient Lives of St. Patrick and from other authorities, that before the inroduction of Christianity, wells were not only venerated but actually worshipped both in Ireland and Scotland."

Tree Worship

Votive offerings were hung on trees for the pagan priestesses - beautiful robes or jewellery; but the poor could only give tokens - rags or pins.  In Persia the plane tree was the sacred tree; in Egypy the palm; in Greece the wild olive.

The Celts regarded the oak as their sacred tree and planted it above their sacred wells.  Much later the ash and the hawthorn were added by the Celts.  All these trees have inedible fruit.  The Persian word for tree is Dar and Dryad is formed from it.  The Celtc word is Darragh and Druid is formed from it.

Pre Celtic Ardbraccan

The Celts were an Iron Age people, equipped with iron weapons of war and iron implements of agriculture.  Thus they were at a great advantage over the primitive Bronze Age and Stone Age people they found in possession of this country when they arrived.  The last stand of the Bronze Age and Stone Age people was at Teltown where they retired to defend the graves of their ancient dead, and they were finally beaten here.

Uí Borthim is the name of one of these defeated tribes which inhabited the Ardbraccan area in the early Christian days. St. Breccan came here to try and convert them at Brechnigh.  Archdeacon Healy says that he was successful in this endeavour and founded a church at Brechnigh which then adopted the name of Ardbraccan after the Saint.

O'Donovan says "The ancient inhabitants of Ardbraccan were driven out totally from this neighbourhood and with them has gone all memory of where Bile Tortain and the Church of Tortain was".

Faughan Hill

This hill is the only elevation in the Ardbraccan neighbourhood and can be seen for many miles on account of the flatness of the surrounding countryside.  It used to be covered by two plantations having a broad gap running between them which made the summit very conspicuous.  These plantations were cut down in the 1920's.  The hill is 366 feet high.

There were pre historic graves on the hill but quarring and ploughing have completely destroyed them.  Nothing can now be seen on Faughan Hill but the view is extensive and fine. "The Old Parish of Martry" was a former name of this height and a very primitive people are said to have lived here, perhaps driven up here by the better equipped Celts.  A  mythological tree was sited on this hill - The Tree of Mullyfaughan.  It is said to have grown on the highest point, perhaps at Mullaghmore - the great summit.

Festival of Lughnas

This great hilltop Sun Worship Harvest Festival was celebrated on 1st August, the first day of three months of harvest when the sun was beginning to wane.  Our ancestors who were an agricultural people deemed it very important that the sun should be propitiated and shine sufficiently strongly and long to enable the crops to be harvested.

This ceremony was bound up with fraughans or bilberries.  One of its commomest names was Fraughan or Bilberry Sunday after the Christian era when it was celebrated on the first Sunday of August rather than the first day of August.  Fraughan chains - like daisy chains - were made by sticking the stalk through the berry, and the chains were worn as chaplets or necklaces.  The fruit was also eaten.  The young people who ascended the sacred hill picked fraughan berries and brought them home to the old people who couldn't attend.  Bilberry juice is a very powerful, so the faces, teeth, chest and hands of the devotees must have been heavily stained, and made them conspicuous.

The hill upon which a Fraughan Assembly was held must command an extensive view and be near an ancient thoroughfare, and the hill of Faughan fulfills these requirements except for the "R" which is missing from its name.  It is now believed that the "R" dropped out by some mischance and that this hill was a famous Fraughan Assembly hill site.

The Battle of Ocha

This battle was a big landmark in our early history as it fixed the High Kingship in one family to the exclusion of all rivals for over 500 years.  45 Árd Rí (High Kings) ruled from Tara till Brian Borumha usurped it.  The Four Masters say it took place in 478 A.D., the Annals of Conmacnoise say it was fought in 487 and The Annals of Ulster in 482. A.D. 482 is nowadays considered the most correct.  The battle was due to the peculiar way the Kingship of Ireland was determined.  The King could be chosen up to three generations away but if a third generation didn't succeed then no descendant of that line could be chosen.  This led to wanton murders and many usurpations.

The site of the battle is not known for certain but Henry Morris in his work thinks it is the Hill of Faughan, where Niall of the Nine Hostages was buried in a place called Ochan.

It was described as:

High; Near some roadway where hosts were wont to pass;

His funeral went westward from Tara taking the Slí Mór Road (The Great Road).

It passed through Cardistown, Riverstown, across the River Skean, through Balgeeth, Assey, Craystown, Balsoon, crossed this ford in the River Boyne to Clady, and then to Ochan.  This route would lead one to Faughan Hill via "the fine road" (Bohermeen).

In the old description of Niall's funeral procession a place mentioned as near the Hill of Faughan is called Uata.  Mr Morris thought this might have been Oaklands, a house nearby.

Táin Bo Cuailnge

In this great saga Ochan is mentioned.  Queen Maeve and her husband and host came up from Cruachan in County Roscommon and travelled via Bohermeen Road to the ford over the River Blackwater known as Martry Ford.

Niall of the Nine Hostages

Niall of the Nine Hostages reigned as King from A.D. 379 to A.D. 405 and  fought several engagements abroad and had 14 sons.  Some authorities say he took Succet as a slave, who afterwards was renamed Patrick and became our Patron Saint.  Niall died on one of his overseas raids but was brought back to Tara, from whence a great funeral procession set off - most likely to bury him in a tumulus on the top of the Hill of Faughan.  Niall's eldest son, Laoghaire, came to the throne in 428 and four years later St. Patrick returned as a Bishop to introduce the Christian gospel to Ireland.  King Laoghaire never really became a Christian.  He said "Love your enemies!!. My father taught me to hate my enemies, and I can't be a traitor to his teaching".   The Irish found the Doctrine of Forgiveness the hardest to accept.  The High Kings of Ireland took their name from Niall - that is Uí Neill.

Early Christian Ardbraccan

Domnach Tortain

St. Patrick didn't visit Ardbraccan on his first visit to Meath, but after being in Westmeath for some time he decided to return to Meath, and then visited Ardbraccan, arranging matters so that his visit could coincide with the Tree Ceremony.  He knew all the chieftans and a great concourse of people would be attending this famous yearly festival and that it would be a great opportunity to preach the gospel.  This must havebeen a dangerous mission especially as Ardbraccan wasan important Druidic centre, but probably it proved successful and he founded a church here, near to the tree, called Domnach Tortain, the tree being called Bile Tortain.  When hemoved on to carry the Gospel to others he left Justin in charge.  One account says the famous tree was cut down in 660, but another says it was blown down in 740.  In any case it seems to have been many years after first hearing the christian message that the people of Ardbraccan consented to do away with their great pagan wonder worker.

St. Breccan

Ardbraccan owes its name to this early 6th century saint who came to this district on a missionary journey.  He was a son of Eochaidh Balldearg, a Prince of Thomond, and grandson of Carthen Finn the first christian ruler of that territory.  He was baptised by St. Patrick near Limerick as he was a kinsman.  He is credited with writing some prophecies about Ireland's wars and the coming of the Anglo Normans.  It is said that St. Breccan heard that the Oirghialla, an ancient and degenerated tribe, lived around the Ardbraccan neighbourhood and that he swore that as soon as he was ordained he would go there and try and convert them.  In this he was successful but made only a short stay in Meath resigning in favour of his much more famous successor, St. Ultan.

St. Breccan belonged to the 3rd order of saints and favoured the hermit's life.  He finally went to the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway and founded Temple Braccan on Inis Mór - the largest of the islands - and is buried there.  His festival is kept on 1st May on the island, but the Martyology of Donegal puts it as 6th December.  The Martyrology of Tallagh says 1st May but others still say 22nd May.  About 1800 a prominent County Galway priest asked to be buried in the spot pointed out as St. Breccan's resting place on Inis Mór, and when the grave diggers reached six feet they found a small black limestone slab with a crude cross within a circle and aninscription in Irish "a prayer for St. Breccan the pilgrim".  This grave slab is now in the National Museum.

We are told that St. Breccan built his church "on a mound" and on this same mound every succeeding church has stood.  Presumably it was a fort donated to him when he preached Christianity successfully to the Ui Borthim and other tribes who lived in the early days around Ardbraccan.

St. Breccan's High Cross

An early authority refers to this monument but it is generally considered that High Crosses are of a much later date.  However one could have been erected later and dedicated to St. Breccan. Nothing is now known of it in Ardbraccan.

St. Ultan

In manuscipts written before 715 A.D. St. Ultan is referred to as Archbishop and is said to have led a very austere life, eating only herbs and drinking water.  He also belonged to the third order of saints.  He wrote a life of St Patrick and two hymns in honour of St. Brigid.  He also wrote a life of St. Brigid in alphabethical order.  His festival is celebrated on 4th September.  He was of the race of Hua Conchovair and therefore likely an O'Connor, and is said to have been related to St. Brigid on the mother's side.

He was famous for his kindness and charity, and while in Ardbraccan, fed, clothed and educated 500 children orphaned by a plague which carried off their parents but did not strike the young.  In recent years a childrens hospital in Dublin was suitably called after him.  An old authority credits him with being the founder of the See of Ardbraccan.  He also went to the Aran Islands after a short stay in County Meath.  The Annals of Clonmacnoise placed St. Ultan's death in the year 653.

st ultan's well

His Holy Well (pictured left) is in the demesne but was originally within the Celtic Monastery and bishop's domain, and later within the Anglo Norman bishop's grounds.

St. Ultan's well is 9 1/2 feet in diameter and stations were regularly held there till 1850. Several other wells bearing his name are to be found mostly in County Meath.

In 784 relics of St. Ultan were taken by the Danes and what became of them is a mystery.


St. Ultan's Well (now dry) pictured 2013. Photo © N&DHS

St. Tirechan

This saint followed St. Ultan as bishop of Ardbraccan and therefore was second bishop of this see. he wrote "The Acts of St. Patrick" from the mouth of his master St. Ultan.  This life is to be found in the Book of Armagh.  The dedication runs thus - "bishop Tirechan writ these things from the mouth or from the book of Bishop Ultan, whose pupil or scholar he was".  He died abiut 625, so his master must have survived him by many years, unless there is a mistake in these early dates.  Accuracy at such an early period is difficult to obtain.

Map of Monastic Ireland

Ardbraccan is shown as a second class monastery for men continuing till after 1111 A.D.  This is the date of the Synod of Rathbreasail when the Irish dioceses became properly organised.  The early Celtic Houses were often more missionary centres than regular monasteries.  They were placed either under a Bishop or under an Abbot. In a great number of cases they constituted little more than five or six dedicated men or women who lived together and devoted themselves to the care of the sick poor who in those days had no doctors, nurses or hospitals.  About 1100 A.D. the great religious orders came into being on the continent and each formulated its own set of rules.  By 1125 A.D. branches of these houses began to make their appearance in Ireland.  After the advent of the Anglo Normans this was greatly speeded up, and from then on the Celtic establishments big and small began to pine away.

Danes and Irish

The church of Ardbraccan was burnt on many occasions by the Danes and later by the Irish in conjunction with the Danes.  The first recorded plundering was in 886 and from then on every few years we hear of a trgedy occuring here.  In 1031 we are told 200 persons were burnt in "the great church of Ardbraccan" (the Daimhliagh) and 200 carried away into captivity.  They were often sold as slaves in England or France.  In 1069 the Danes and Irish plundered it.  In 1115 we read "The great stone church ofArdbraccan with it full of people was burnt by the Munstermen".  In 1156 Dermod Mac Murrough and the Danes of Dublin carried off the cows of Ardbraccan.  In 1170 the abbey steeple fell.  In some years we are told that "the churches of Ardbraccan" were burnt; the plural being used.

Giolla Modhuda O'Cassidy

Giolla Modhuda O Cassidy an abbot of Ardbraccan died in 1143.  He was a very learned man, a great historical and a famous poet.  Three of his poems have come down to us and were edited in the 1800s by Dr. O'Donovan.  They treat of the history of Ireland from 428 A.D. to the death of Malachy 11 in 1022 A.D.  In 1055 the Annals of the Four Masters tell us that Maelbrighde, Professor of Ardbraccan, died.

Murtough King of Ireland

In 1166 this king granted to Ardbraccan in perpetuity a parcel of land at an annual rent of three ounces of gold - where was this gold to be produced from?  Was the answer the old gold workings in the Wicklow mountains or was the gold imported from the continent by people of importance.  Royal Meath records a peculiar circumstance under the year 656 A.D. It states how the plague called "Buidhe Chonaill" has deprived many infants of their mothers and St. Ultan collected them and had then fed with the milk of cows.  This was the first hospital for orphaned children in Ireland.

It is said that the population at this period had become so dense, that food enough could not be produced by the entire soil of the country.  Apprehending a famine, the rulers invited the clergy to meet together and pray that the lower class or "inferior multitude" might be thinned, lest all of them should starve.  The two joint monarchs of Ireland, the kings of Ulster and Munster, and many other persons of rank were among the victims of this plague, and we read also that it carried off several abbots and holy personages.  These were St. Fechin of Fore, St. Ronan of Iscaroon, St. Aileran the Wise, St. Munchan, St. Ultan of Clonard and others.

Ardbraccan since the Anglo Norman Invasion

Ardbraccan Motte and Bailey

These adventurers invaded Ireland in 1172 and shortly afterwards reached as far north as Navan.  History says "d'Angulo raised a motte and bailey in Ardbraccan for his crossbow archers".  Some maps mark the small mound beyond Ardbraccan Glebe as d'Angulo's Motte.  It has a two or three feet high encircling rampart at a distance of twelve to twenty feet from the mound itself.  I have the feeling this is a tumulus and that the Motte and Bailey was in Ardbraccan demesne and that the first stone castle was erected on it or beside it.

The Nangles

The origin of the name d'Angulo is interesting.  The family got an angle of Pembrokeshire in South Wales and took this name.  One branch of the family settled in County Wicklow and did not go any further north fighting against the Irish and they called themselves by the English equivalent "de la Corner".  Other members of the family became Nangle afterwards and still later Nagle.

The Anglo Normans in Ardbraccan

Henry 11 gave Ardbraccan district to the great knight Ludlow who soon afterwards brought in Augustinian Friars and in a short space of time Ardbraccan Celtic Monastery disappeared from the pages of history.  St. Mary's Abbey, Navan, seems to have serviced Ardbraccan's two churches, St. Mary's and St. Ultan's, and its five chapelries in Grange, Allenstown, Kilsaney, Ongenstown and Dormanstown from 1200 A.D.  The Anglo Normans favoured their own priests, monks and abbeys.  I think St. Mary's Ardbraccan must have been the private chapel of the Anglo Norman Bishop of Meath or the manorial chapel of the great family in the castle. Henry 1V vested property in the name of the Bishops of Meath and ordered them to live in Ardbraccan as the centre of the See of Meath.

A new and more modern way of dividing up parishes, deaneries and dioceses was just starting about 1100 A.D.  The coming of the Anglo Norman continental monks and priests speeded it up, but took the whole matter out of the Celtic clergy's hands.

Cathal Crovderg O'Conor of Connacht made his final submission to King John of England in Ardbraccan in July 1210 A.D. and joined the King on his expedition into Ulster against the turbulent Baron de Lacy.  This was not the Meath de Lacy but the one who got a large slice of the Northern Kingdom and was now rebelling against the English king.

The Meath Bishoprich

There were originally eight small dioceses within the Kingdom of Meath.  They were Clonard, Duleek, Kells, Trim, Slane Fore, Dunshaughlin and Ardbraccan.  At the Synod of Kells in 1152 these became 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 Bishoprich of Meath and from a very early period Ardbraccan was the "see, centre and seat of the Meath Bishops".

For some 1300 years Bishops lived in Ardbraccan. In Celtic times the Bishop was often the Abbot or the Abbot was appointed Bishop when the office fell vacant.  From Anglo Norman times the Irish had little say in the appointment of their Bishops.

Bishops of Meath

From the coming of the invaders to the time of the Reformation 24 Anglo Norman Bishops were appointed over the See of Meath.  All of them were Englishmen and many belonged to noble and titled families.  Most of them held big secular government posts as well.

We read from 1641 that the Bishops of Meath lived in a "strong castle" which was rebuilt in 1760 by Watt the great English architect as a fine house for the Bishops.  Another book of the same period says "a castle in the Bishops demesne figured prominently in the Eleven Years' War" between 1641 and 1652.

Alexander Petit, Bishop of Meath, 1385 to 1400

Alexander Petit was Treasurer of Ireland under Edward 11 and Richard 11, but we are told "he never neglected his duties in Ardbraccan".  Many documents addressed to him at Ardbraccan are still to be seen in the British Museum and other important libraries throughout the world.  He is buried in St. Mary's Trim.

William Silke, Bishop of Meath, 1435 to 1450

He died at Ardbraccan but was buried in the magnificent tomb in Killeen with a beautifully carved lifesize bishop on it.

Edmund Ouldhall, Bishop of Meath, 1450 to 1459

Edmund Ouldhall was a Carmelite Friar and brother of the Lord Chamberlain of Ireland.  Though all 24 bishops lived at Ardbraccan only one was buried there and that was Ouldhall who was laid to rest in St. Mary's Ardbraccan in a magnificent tomb.  After the Reformation St. Mary's and St Ultan's seem to have become ruinous, and were finally about the middle of the 18th century taken down,their stones redressed and used to build the new present Protestant Church along with the stones of Ongenstown and Markystown churches.  The two slabs, with the large chalice and wafer built into Bishop Mongomery's tomb when it was last repaired, are thought to have belonged to Bishop Ouldhall's sarcophagus.

In 1530 the Reformation began and in 1547 the Lord Protector wrote saying the Roman Catholic Bishops must leave Ardbraccan See House forever.

George Montgomery, Bishop of Meath, 1610 - 1620

tomb ardbraccanGeorge Montgomery designed a tomb in Ardbraccan for himself, (left) his wife Saraand his only daughter.  His daughter died first and was placed in the tomb in 1614.  Montgomery was interred in 1620 and his wife in 1638.  During the 17th century wars the tomb was much damaged.  While St. Ultan's old church was being removed and the present church built, it was repaired in 1750 and 1777 with various carved stones discarded when the old church was demolished.  Shaw Mason says the figures on this tomb are "some of the crudest productions of the chisel  that can be conceived".

North side of the Montgomery Tomb.

Three figures, Bishop in full eccesiastical robes with GLM, wife and daughter to his right in Elizabethan head dress.

Below three women with angels on either side and inscription in Latin, "Surges, Morieris, Judicabeiris", which is said to mean "Vandals destroyed" this tomb more than time.

Photo © N&DHS

East Side of the Tomb.

Two pages of the Bible inscribed Bishop, wife and daughter, in Latin, a helmeted bust, a mitre held by two men, date 1614.

South Side of the Tomb. Bishop Pocock slab.

West Side of the Tomb. Bishop, Wife and Daughter.

The Montgomery Crest is a dexter hand, couped at the wrist, holding a fleur de lys.

The Montgomery Coat of Arms is a tilting sword and spear, crossed, three gem rings ( tilting ring) and fleur de lys.  The tilting ring was tied loosely on a pole and the knighton horseback charged at full speed with his tilting spear at theready.  If he drove it through the ring it became impaled on his spear and he won his tilt.  There is a second coat of arms on this tomb and it has been suggested that it belongs to the Eglington family to which Montgomery was related.  Four angels are carved, each with one hand pointing to heaven where the soul abides.  The Motto is NON, NOBIS, NATI.  The Angel Gabriel is portrayed blowing a twisted trumpet.

Montgomery Family:

At the tournament in France arranged for the accession to the French of Henry 11 and hismarriage, a Montgomery ( a great French family of that period ) was chosen to fight with the newly crowned and married King as Montgomery was an outstanding swordsman.  Montgomery's sword was splintered by the King at the first blow but he didn't throw it away as he was in honour supposed to do.  A the next stroke a splinter went into the King's eye and he died in agony three or four days later.  Henry on his deathbed said he didn't blame Montgomery but the latter was afraid to stay in France because Henry's mother Catherine de Medici had sworn to take vengeance.  He fled to Scotland where he was given the title of Braidstone.

He once returned to transact some business in France and wascaught by Catherine de Medici, put to the torture and executed publicly.  His childern were made villains - the lowest order of human beings.  Montgomery on hearing this said "I don't mind about the children because if the can't raise themselves again through their merits, they deserve to remian villains".  Two hundred years later the Montgomery family left Scotland with James V1 when he went to London to be crowned James 1 of England.  As land was being forfeited in Ireland Sir Hugh Montgomery got some land in County Down.  That is how the family came to Ireland.

Henry Maule, Bishop of Meath, 1744 -1785

Henry Maule was buried in Ardbraccan in 1714

Richard Pocock, Bishop of Meath, 1765

Bishop Pocock was a great traveller and was called "Pocock the Traveller". As Archdeacon of Belfast he made a three and a half year tour of Ireland visiting all the places of archaeological interest.  He kept a voluminous diary and described all he saw.  Later as Bishop of Meath and occupant of Ardbraccan Palace he set off on several trips abroad,
to Asia Minor, the Holy Land, Egypt and Arabia.  He noted that near the Pyramids he saw other tombs exactly similar to Newgrange.  He visited a monastery in Egypt dedicated to St. Catherine.  A tablet "Bishop Pocock, Ardbraccan" was erected there.  It was still there in 1963 when an American Archaeological Expedition visited there.  When bishop Pocock died no grave was dug.  The end of the Montgomery tomb was opened and Richard Pockock put inside.  On the south side of the Montgomery tomb is a tablet stating "Dr. Rd. Pocock, Bishop of Meath, died 25th September, 1765, aged 63 years."

Bishop O'Beirne, Bishop of Meath, 1798 - 1823.

Bishop O'Beirne was buried in Ardbraccan in 1823.

Ardbraccan Protestant Church

St. Ultans Old Church was a 14th century building of which only the tower remains.  The rest of the church gradually became ruinous after the Reformation.  It was finally demolished, the stones being used to build the present church in 1750.  The latter was designed without a tower and built to the west of the old tower but not joined to it.  (see photo at top of page) Slits for firing arrows are to seen in the old tower chiefly on the west and north sides from which attacks from the Irish would be more likely.  The arrow slits on the other sides were at a later period replaced by windows.  The Needlepoint steeple and vane were erected in Bishop Maxwell's time.  A female head has been placed on a ledge of this old tower for safety, and likely came from a fine tomb in the old church demolished some 200 years ago.  The church was built in 1750 to a design of Watt with stones from four demolished ruinous churches.  There is a tablet on the south wall with a lot of names on it.  They are likely the inmates of the old Charter School which stood to the left of the entrance gate.

ardbraccan graveyardArdbraccan Graveyard Photo © N&DHS

John Hinds of Waterloo Lodge, Trim died in 1848 and was buried in Ardbraccan graveyard.  He was a solicitor and was called "the poor man's friend" because he defended many poor people free who had been wrongfully accused, and often got them off.

The founder of the Charlton Bequest is also buried in this old graveyard.

There is a very old tombstone to a Peter Noulane dated 1581 with the inscription around the edge and a coat of arms in the centre.  As the slab was intended to be a recumbent slab and not a headstone standing at the head of a grave it is impossible to read more than half of the inscription as the other half is buried in the ground.  Another large slab lies near the Montgomery tomb and it looks like the front of a sarcophagus which likely once stood in St. Ultan's old church. No lettering has survived on it.

Ardbraccan Palace

Ardbraccan Palace was designed by Watt about 1776 and the mansion was further added to around 1800. It was sold in 1885 to Mr. Law.  A more modest building was constructed for the Protestant Bishops called Bishops Court.

Ardbraccan Ice House

One of these Victorian type refrigerators is to be seen in the demesne.  Ships from Norway brought ice to Drogheda until the end of the 1800s for the owners of big country mansions who had ice houses built well below the surface of the ground.  They were hewn out of rock to keep the temperature low.  Butcher's shops were few and far between in former days and these great country houses killed and dressed their own bullocks, sheep and pigs not to mention venison.

Kindelan Clan

This great family once owned Ardbraccan and ruled it before the coming of the Anglo Normans.  They were a very important clan in the old days but no Kindelan has lived in Ireland for more than 100 years.  The last of the family was baptised in Castlerickard Church and emigrated to Spain whither all the others had already gone.  They have kept all the old documents and letters from friends in this country and intend to publish them soon.  In Spain the family reached great distinction in many walks of life.  They supplied an admiral of the Spanish fleet, two prime ministers, and several field marshalls.  A few years ago some members of the family returned to this country and visited Ardbraccan where the Meath Archaeological Society arranged a lecture for them.  The Book of Kells gives a copy of Kindelan deed bequeating a site to be a monastery in Ardbraccan under the year 1166.

John Sterne

john sterneJohn Stern (pictured left) was born in Ardbraccan.

He was a grand nephew of Archbishop Ussher.

He became the first Professor of Physics in Trinity College, Dublin and founded the Medical School there in 1662.

He knew Cromwell and left a note that he thought badly of him.




Ardbraccan Souterrain

In Spring 1943 a souterrain was discovered in Ardbraccan townland while doing some wartime ploughing.  It is a Y shaped structure, the entrance passage being 9 or 10 feetlong, constructed on dry walling, and with an earthen floor.  The two side passages are 27 feet and 37 feet long with lintelled roofs.  These passages are 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet high. Each passage ends in acorbelled beehive chamber, both of which have paved floors and a diameter of 9 feet. These beehive structures come very near to the surface of the ground and it is extraordinary that in a period of 1,000 years neither have caved in.

A fireplace was found on top of the ground near the entrance and the deposit of ashes contained pig and other animal bones.  The marrow bones had been splitafter cooking.  The pigs were of the "greyhound variety" i.e. with long thin legs suitable for swift running, and therefore likely to have been wild pigs caught in the chase.  A crude bone pin was also found nearby and afragment of a lignite bracelet.  The National Museum excavated the structure and dated it about 900 A.D.


M3 Excavation: -,15992,en.pdf


This site at Ardbraccan 4 was excavated by Archaeological Consultancy Services Ltd (ACS)

as part of the M3 Clonee–North of Kells Motorway Scheme on behalf of Meath County Council NRDO and the NRA.  The excavation was carried out between 8 and 16 August 2006 under Ministerial Direction Number A023/026 issued by DOEHLG in consultation with the NMI.  A field boundary and five parallel lazy beds were identified.  The boundary did not appear on the 1836 first edition Ordnance Survey Map and is likely to be 18th or early 19th century in date.  Two possible pits turned out to be small root systems on the line of the former hedge.


Archaeological Inventory of County Meath, compiled by Michael J. Moore, (Dublin 1987)
p. 50
394 - ARDBRACCAN - OS 24:12/16 OS 25:9/13 (NPL) OD 200-300 N 83, 68
Souterrain - Y-shaped souterrain (total L of passages c. 24m) terminating in two beehive chambers (diameter c. 3m) (JRSAI 1944, 224).    SMR 25:40

1329 - ARDBRACCAN - OS 25:9:1 (1.2, 28.7) 'St. Ultans Church' OD 200-300 N 8281, 6830
Church - References to monastry in tenth century (RMAHS 1957, 19) and record of round tower (Barrow 1979, 169). No early Christian remains.  Medieval tower of four storeys with modern belfry. Sculptured memorial to Bishop Montgomery who died in 1620 beside bell tower.   SMR 25:22     17/10/1984