Ardbraccan Anecdotes

Canon Ellison


St. Ultan and St Breacan

"Navan for a Market, Ardbraccan for a cow",- the reputed words of a certain Dean, of whom we have heard rather a lot (some say too much) about lately.  But of course the local people do not need to be reminded that Navan has always been a notable centre for commerce and (dare we say it) its satellite Ardbraccan famous for its cattle.

But in fairness to Ardbraccan let it be said that it was a fortress town, an episcopal seat, an important civil and ecclesiastical centre before Navan was even marked on the maps of Ireland. Navan and Ardbraccan were paired off to their mutual advantage for many centuries, both being given by that generous dispenser of other people's property, Hugh de Lacy , to Jocelyn De Angulo, alias Nangle.  Ardbraccan raised the cattle and Navan sold them.

St. Ultan, the Patron Saint and first Bishop of Ardbraccan, put the cows to good use when he fostered 500 children, orphaned by a "parents only" plague.  He evidently did not care for milk himself as he said to have lived on herbs and water, a diet which kept him clear headed enough to record the history of St. Patrick and St. Brigid.  He is supposed to have been related to the latter, so maybe she advised him on the rearing of his 500 foster children.

He is now regarded as the Patron Saint of paediatricians, a well known children's hospital and a special school in Navan being named after him.  His well is still to be seen at Ardbraccan, though the place is oddly enough called after his predeccessor St. Breacan, a brother of St. Loman of Trim and a nephew of St. Patrick.  Having preached the Gospel in these parts and converted the "ancient and degenerate" local tribes, he soon went off and ended his days on one of the Aran Islands, where his tomb slab was discovered about 150 years ago.  Perhaps he didn't like milk either!  The parish has retained the name of Breccan's height ever since, while the Church, which must be at least the third to have stood on this site, is dedicated to St. Ultan.


Ultans successor and pupil, Tirechan, wrote down the "Acts of St. Patrick", which are to be read in the famous Book of Armagh.  He must have been an honest man, for he confesses that he knew very little.  Hence historians are disposed to take his writings more seriously than many of the effusions of the ancient scribes.  Ardbraccan remained a poplous place for many centuries, judging by the number of times it was sacked and burned by Norsemen and Irish alike before "1166 and All That", alias the Norman Invasion.  As the churches were almost the only stone buildings in those days, they were used as places of sanctuary for both people and goods.  The Law of Sanctuary availed little when a torch applied to the thatch roof soon smoked out or roasted the occupants.  But in a short time a new roof was put on and life continued much as before until the next raid.  Sometimes the raiders preferred to carry off the Ardbraccan cows rather than people.  In spite of all these goings on, Ardbraccan managed to produce many celebrated men of learning and piety.

The O'Kennellans and the Nangles

One of the Irish Charters jotted down in the Book of Kells refers to the buying out of the ground rent of Ardbraccan from the old owners of the soil, the O'Kennellans, for 3 ounces of gold.  This happened about the time that the see of Ardbraccan was merged with others to form the diocese of Meath.  The experts might be able to tell us whether the transaction had any influence on the subsequent granting of the Manor of Ardbraccan as Meath's episcopal seat.  The O'Kennellans later settled in Spain, where they handed on the name Ultan and filled many posts of importance.  The Nangles who dispossessed them, were in their turn evicted in the 17th century and joined the "Wild Geese".  Under the Nangles Ardbraccan became a dependancy of the Augustinian Abbey of Navan, which in course of time amassed great possessions.  But Abbot Peter was deprived of the Vicarage of Ardbraccan in 1469 because his house was "badly conducted".

Bishops Alexander Petit and Edward Staples

Some two dozen Bishops of Meath occupied the Manor before the Reformation, living in a great and strong castle and enjoying the revenues of some 360 acres of land.  Many held high offices of state, and must often have been absent on business, but one of them, Lord High Treasurer Alexander Petit, we are told, never neglected his duties in Ardbraccan.   The first reforming Bishop, Edward Staples, had a hard time of it, apparently having a suffragan to help him.  Proposing to preach "The New Theology" in Navan, he was warned by one of his clergy that the people would "eat" him!  Before being deposed by Queen Mary for the grave offence of marrying a wife, he managed to raise some money quickly by letting much of the land at Ardbraccan to the Diocesan Registrar on long leases.

Episcopal Seat of Meath

From about 1400 A.D. until a few years ago Ardbraccan was the residence of the Bishops of Meath, an honour suited to its situation.  It was accessible from Dublin to the south, Armagh to the north and Drogheda to the east, a valuable feature when Bishops held (as they did up to the Disestablishment) high offices of state and had to spend much time in the seats of government.   Ardbraccan also made a fair enough centre for the Premier Diocese, at least before Clonmacnoise was added on 400 years ago.  But with the coming of the railways and a lessening dependence on the horse, it became inconvenient and some of the Bishops lived much of time in or near Dublin, travelling by rail to east or west Meath as required.  The motor car, of course, changed all this and made episcopal perigrinations easier, though the custom of looking on Dublin as a centre of diocesan administration has continued to the present day.

Bishop Henry Jones

Another distinction which can be claimed by Ardbraccan is its connection with Trinity College Dublin.  Cromwell and company (in whom of course any bishop was persona non grata) in a 1650 " Act for the better Advancement of the Gospel in Ireland",  ordained that the " Farm of Ardbrackan with the Parsonage of Trim belonging to the Bishoprick of Meath" would be better used as an endowment for Trinity College Dublin. But on the Restoration of Charles 11 these properties reverted to the See, and Bishop Henry Jones was given leave to sue for ten years' overdue rent. It would be interesting to know whether he ever got it ! What he did get somehow, - and as Cromwell's scout master and a formidable swordsman, he had plenty of opportunity for getting things - were the Book of Kells and Durrow. In fact he became a very bookish man altogether and a list of his " Books of Navan " when he became Bishop of Meath shows that perhaps he had come to the conclusion that " the pen is mightier than the sword " In fact he became Vice Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin and presented these wonderful volumes, he had somehow acquired, to the Library, where ever since they have drawn visitors from all over the world.

Bishop James Ussher

Some 40 years before this celebrated donation, the famous James Ussher was Bishop of Meath for four years, having being one of Trinity's first graduates and Professor of Divinity. He could not have been much at Ardbraccan, preferring to spend most of his time in more highbrow surroundings, and was mildly rebuked by the Primate for spending so much time out of his Diocese. He became Primate himself in 1625 and though one of the foremost "brains" of his age, retained a truly Christian sense of humility, his last recorded words being " O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission". He was buried in Westminister Abbey.

John Stearne

john sterneThe Parson of Ardbraccan had not even a house to live in at this time but the episcopal castle was occupied, if not by the Bishop, at least by his relations. Here was born on 26th November 1674, another of the most learned men of the time, Ussher's grand nephew, John Stearne. Termed Father of University Medical Teaching in Ireland, he became first Professor of Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin in 1662 and founded the College of Physicians.

He was the writer, among other other things, of one of the first textbooks on Psychology. He did nothing by halves, studying at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as Dublin and filled in his spare time by adorning Trinity College Dublin's Chair of Hebrew!

John Stearne Jr.

His son John Jr. was ordained by Bishop Dopping of Meath in 1662 and became his Domestic Chaplin and Vicar of Trim. Later he adorned the offices of Vice Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, Dean of St. Patrick's, Bishop of Dromore and later of Clogher. Dean Swift worked to secure his promotions and commented favourably on his dinners. Among Stearn's many benefactions was one of £600 to Swift's Hospital. He remembered his first Diocese by leaving £30 a year to be added to the Chelwood Charity Fund.

Chelwood Charity Fund

This fund was funded by Dr. John Chelwood, Rector of Ardbraccan in the 17th century and father of Knightly Chelwood of Martry. In 1703 Chelwood gave the Bishop £500 to be invested, the interest to provide apprentice fees of £3 a head for boys who could read and say the Catechism, and this at a time when there were only four Protestant families in the parish. The scheme was later amended to provide education grants of up to £25 for boys between 14 and 21 years, and failing sufficient male candidates, to allow girls to benefit. Present day beneficiaries may rejoice that they are not bound to terms of apprenticeship such as held sway 150 years ago. For example, John, son of William Jenkins, Stonecutter, of Red Commons, Ardbraccan, being bound apprentice to his father in 1812, may have had the legal terms of the Chelwood Indenture somewhat softened by paternal application.

We hope he did, for the Indenture bound him for seven years " During which term the said Apprentice his said Master faithfully shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commands everywhere gladly do. His shall do no damage to his said master, nor see it to be done by others,.... He shall not waste the goods of his said Master, nor give or lend them unlawfully to any. He shall not commit fornication nor contract matrimony, within the said term. Hurt to his Master he shall not do, cause or procure to be done by others. He shall not play at cards, dice, tables, or any other unlawful games, whereby his said Master may have loss, with his own or other goods,... without licence of his said Master he shall neither buy nor sell. He shall not haunt nor use Taverns, Ale - houses or Playhouses, nor absent himself from from his said master's service day, but in all things as an honest and faithful Apprentice he shall behave himself towards his said master, and all his, during the said term."

The craftsman undertook to teach and instruct him " with due correction , and to provide him with meat, drink, washing, lodging, clothing, "  and all necessaries befitting such an apprentice...according to the custom of the country". Nothing is said, we notice, about pocket money, not that the boy would have had much chance of using any!

The Charlton Bequest

Thomas Charlton, the originator of the other well known charitable bequest, which still operates in Counties meath and Longford (in the 1960s ), lived at Mount Charlton, Curraghtown, which is not far from Ardbraccan and the family tombslab may still be seen in the Churchyard there. A considerable sum is distributed each year by Roman Catholic and Protestant committees in the two counties for the benefit of daughters of Day Labourers. But with changing social conditions the exact definition of these increasingly rare heads has become a matter of som difficulty. The Charlton family also held property near Clonmacnoise, where the Rev James Wolfe Charlton was in charge of the parish about 1850 and built a schoolhouse for the hundred or so parishioners who lived in " the rising village of Shannon Bridge " and who were cut off from their Parish Church in winter by "a dangerous section of the Bog of Allen."

Henry Maule, Bishop of Meath 1744-58

Henry Maule, Bishop of Meath 1744-58, was on of Ardbraccan's most benefactors. He founded a colony of small farmers and a Charter School, which appears to have been better run than the majority of these much maligned institutions. It later developed, under the Incorporated Society, into a kind of Technical School, where weaving and other useful skills were taught. In 1755 Bishop Maule is said to have conveyed a plot of ground in "the Town of Ardbraccan" to the Churchwardens as a site for a Clergy Widows' Alms House, but the Alms House seems never to have got beyond the planning stage.

Bishop Maxwell of Meath, 1766-1798

During Bishops Maxwell's long episcopate the small farmers were evicted to aid the enlargement of the Demesne and the Town of Ardbraccan declined to about half a dozen houses.

The Wallers of Allenstown

During the episcopate of Bishop Maxwell ( 1766 - 1798 ) one of the big local landlords, William Waller of Allenstown, left 29 guineas to the poor of Ardbraccan and Martry, and 4 guineas per annum to his "poor, drunken, but honest servant, Pat G----, ( if in my service at the time of my decease ) to keep him from starving, as I am sure no one will hire him after I am gone ". The family is gone and the big house is domolished, but the Wallers of Allenstown are still remembered with affection locally as the protectors of the Roman Catholic clergy during the operation of the Penal Laws.

They were great hunting people, and in this connection they literally had to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds. As magistrates they were sworn to uphold the law, but as private citizens they had every sympathy with those who were on the run. Father Barnewell, Parish Priest at Ardbraccan for over 30 years, was several times saved from arrest or imprisonment by the exerctions of the Wallers, and such actions were by no means uncommon among the gentry at the time.

The Wallers, with another local family, the Thompsons, also took an interest in educating the youth of the district. A writer in 1815 tells us that Oatlands School for Girls was a handsome slated edifice. The Mistress was paid by the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion. She was given a free house, garden and potato patch ( already cultivated for her ), free turf etc., in return for teaching the estate girls. The lessons included knitting and needlework, and the writer, in 1815, remarks that the school makes a very useful nursey of servants for the Protestant gentry. The people, he says, spoke a jargon of Irish and English and perhaps Welsh and Saxon.

Ardbraccan House

In William Shee's " The Irish Church ", its History, Statistics etc. ", it is stated that Ardbraccan House cost in all a sum of £10,744-19-0. Bishop Downes in 1724 had ideas of rebuilding the old castle with the money left for the purpose by his predecessor, Bishop Evans. Dean Swift, he tells us, went with him "to lay out the ground for my new house and gardens ". But somehow they could not fond the time for " so necessary a work ", and it was left for Bishop Price to make a start in 1734 by erecting the two outer wings of what was to become one of the finest mansions in the country. Arthur Price, when Vicar of Celbridge, had built a house there and is credited with having proposed to Swift's Stella. To celebrate his translation from the see of Clonfert to Meath he had a set of enormous dinner napkins made, suitably inscribed and adorned with mitres and a loin rampant. After ten years at Ardbraccan he was promoted to Archbishop of Cashel, and because he could not drive his carriage up to his Cathedral on the Rock, employed a company of the 22nd Regiment to take the roof off it!

Not until the long episcopate of Bishop Henry Maxwell ( 1766- 1798 ) was the central block of the mansion erected " in a style of superior elegance and yet with such simplicity as does equal honour to His Lordship's taste and liberality". The design is attributed to James Wyatt, a Staffordshire man who became the most celebrated British architect of his time. He restored several English cathedrals ( Salisbury, Lincoln, and Hereford ), designed many private and public buildings, first in Graeco - Italian style and later in Gothic, and was Surveyor General with the oversight of many important structures, such as Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey where he was buried in 1813. He was the victim of a road accident - his carriage crashed near Marlborough!

Bishop Henry Maxwell 1766 to 1798

Henry Maxwell as an evicting landlord, was not unnaturally disliked by the local people, both at Ardbraccan and on his estate at Crover, Mount Nugent. At Crover they made a bonfire of all their leases, while at Ardbraccan the Curate Thomas Butler , who was also the Bishop's Chaplain, was shot and mortally wounded at the back gate of the Demesne. Clerics in those days were very much Political Personages and Butler had the letters J. P. (Justice of the Peace ) after his name.

Events in Meath in the 1790s make dismal reading, so let us return to Ardbraccan House to remind ourselves of the things of worth and beauty that have come down to us from those troubled days. It is built of the local limestone, which has long been famous for its durability, and with which many prominent Dublin buildings were faced. Bishop Maxwell, the youngest son of the first Lord Farnham and the father of the 5th and 6th Lords, had the means to build on a lavish scale. He is said to have boasted that he would build such a mansion as no scholar or tutor would dare to inhabit. Many of his successors, being tutors, professors or college fellows did dare, though some of them found the residence a bit of a strain.

Bishop Thomas Lewis O'Beirne 1798 to 1823

Maxwell was immediately followed in 1798 by Thomas Lewis O'Beirne, a Roman Catholic farmer's son from Farnagh in County Longford. He had begun his education for the priesthood in France, but later became a tutor in England and received Anglican Orders from the Bishop of Peterborough. Marrying into the nobility, he became the generous supporter of a "crash" building programme in the Diocese, no less than 57 churches and 72 Glebe Houses being built or rebuilt in his time. He spent £600 on improvements, chiefly to the out offices, with Dr. Beaufort (the rebuilder of Navan and Collon Churches ) as his adviser.

Bishop Thomas Lewis O’Beirne and his church-building programme in the diocese of Meath 1798-1823 by Mary Caroline Gallagher.

Riocht na Midhe 2005: Page 69; The Bishop of Meath and the Ratoath Imposter: Thomas Lewis O'Beirne (1748-1823) and Laurence Hynes Halloran (1765-1831).

Bishop Nathaniel Alexander 1823 to 1840

The next occupier of the See, Nathaniel Alexander, of the family of the Earls of Caledon, also spent large sums on the place, chiefly on erecting glasshouses and altering part of the garden and yard layout. "What I propose to do" he wrote to the Primate, "I consider highly beneficial to the situation of the Bishop here... will leave this a residence very complete and with no chance of delapidations against the premises for many years". Bishop Alexander was a large man with feet to match, and tradition says that he would not allow the autumn leaves to be swept up at Ardbraccan, as he enjoyed the rustle of them as he walked.

Ardbraccan Park

The grounds at Ardbraccan have long been noted for fine timber, including cedars of Lebanon said to have been sown by Bishop Pocock in 1765, and a weeping chestnut which spread out to cover an acre of ground.

In Bishop O'Beirne's time the highroad still ran through the Demesne. In 1811, to prevent depredation and trespassing, it was proposed to make a new road around it from the gate on the Navan side opposite the Parsonage. The Bishop agreed to allow the parishioners to use the short cut to the Church to attend Services and Vestry Meetings, but only on condition that no funeral processions to cross his Park. Wakes and funerals were often rowdy and unseemly affairs in those days. There is an order in the Ardbraccan Vestry Book, which was passed because " information has been given to this Vestry that a barbarous custom prevails in this Parish of bringing whiskey to churchyards at funerals for sale." It requested the Gentlemen Overseers of Licensed Houses, who were appointed by the Vestry, to make this abuse " a peculiar object of their attention".

Bishop Charles Dickenson 1840 to 1842

Bishop O'Beirne lived at Ardbraccan for 25 years and Bishop Alexander for 17, but their successor Charles Dickenson, died less that two years after his consecration. He had been Incumbent of St. Anne's, Dublin, and was the first man to be consecrated for the See for 215 years, as the vacancies during that period had been filled by translation of a Bishop from some other Diocese.

Bishop Edward Stopford 1842 to 1852

It was not a very good advertisement for Henry Maxwell's builder that all the roofs had to be replaced not much more than 50 years later. The job was to cost over £3,000 and the Stopfords took a house in Dublin for a year and stored the furniture in outhouses. Bishop Alexander evidently had never heard of woodworm and Bishop Dickenson spent his all on furniture and plate and nothing on the Palace.

Bishop Dickenson lived in Dublin for most of his short episcopate and when his successor, Edward Stopford, Archdeacon of Armagh arrived at Ardbraccan in 1842 he found himself faced with the need for major repairs to the house and outbuildings while much of the Deer Park wall was in ruins. The tenant of an adjoining property engaged him in a dispute on that old bone of contention, - Who owns the land on which the wall stands? But Bishop Stopford, who was an able lawyer, soon routed him and proceeded to rebuild 1,200 feet of the wall, leaving the charges for three quarters of it to be paid by his successors. " I have a so called Deer Park here", he wrote to the Primate, " which I employ on feeding more profitable animals ". He planned also to build a wall in another place, not just to keep his cattle in but to keep other creatures out from a "dirty village swarming with pigs and children". The enormous bullock sheds and glass houses put up by Bishop Maxwell had fallen into decay and become an embarrassement and he did not propose to repair them. The bullock sheds,slated buildings along the demesne wall, were big enough to cater for more than double the number of beasts he or his successors could manage. The materials were valued at nearly £100, which sum he proposed to spend on a yard clock, which would also serve to keep the Rector up to time with his services! ("Very irregularly managed from want of any mode of knowing the time").

The following piece was not part of Canon Ellison's article.

The Times, (The London Times) 24th Feb 1848: Advertisement.

Special Fund for the Spiritual Exigencies in Ireland.

The following communication from the Lord Bishop of Meath is gratefully acknowledged.

Ardbraccan House, Navan. May 17, 1847.

Reverend Sir,

Every Protestant in Ireland ought to feel deeply grateful to your Society for the active and zealous interest they have taken in the spiritual improvement of this country; and I trust that ere long the same gratitude will be felt by numbers of Roman Catholics now in spiritual darkness, who will be brought to light through the agency of the Irish Society, to which your society has been so bountiful a contributor, this diocese having been the first scheme of their labours and success.

I have the honour to be Rev. Sir, Your very faithful servant, Edward Meath.

Dr. J.H. Singer Bishop of Meath 1852 - 1866

All the mid nineteenth century occupiers of Ardbraccan Palace were heavily involved in educational matters and the current controversies about State and Church Schools. And what would Henry Maxwell have said if he had known that his house was destined to be inhabited for nearly 25 successive years by two ex Divinity Professors (Regius) of Trinity College Dublin. Both these men were consecrated in the College Chapel and occupied the See of Meath for the remainder of their lives - Dr. J. H. Singer from 1852 to 1866 and Dr. Samuel Butcher from 1866 to 1876.

Dr. Singer, being elderly and having no experience of managing a country mansion and estate, lived most of his time in Dublin. Ardbraccan Palace was shut up and a visitor in 1865 paints a melancholy picture of the state of neglect into which it had fallen. " The palace is splendid; the demesne magnificent; incomparably rich and beautiful are the See lands which lie around it; but there is no life there;...but a caretaker, who lodged with his family in a stable loft, and the gatekeeper ... the garden walks were ungravelled, the borders of the beds broken and neglected."

Dr. Samuel Butcher. 1866 - 1876

Dr. Butcher successfully guided the Diocese through Disestablishment, which must have seen more like dismemberment at the time but which proved to be a blessing through the removal of the dead weight of privilege.

The Honourable Mary Ellen Spring Rice (1880-1924).

The only daughter of Thomas, second Baron Monteagle of Mount Brandon, Mount Trenchard, Foynes, Co. Limerick and Elizabeth Butcher, daughter of the Bishop of Meath. Active in the Gaelic League and in the Home Rule movement. Spring Rice suggested that her friend Erskine Childers be approached and asked to run guns in the Childers' yacht, Asgard. She was a cousin of Conor O' Brien, owner of the yacht Kelpie and participant in the 1914 gun running. She died at the age of 44 in the Vale of Clwydd Sanitorium, North Wales, following a two year illness.

Bishop William Conyngham Plunket. 1876 to 1885

When the first democratic election of a bishop took place in the Diocese in 1876 the choice of the clergy and laity of the Synod happily fell on one who was not only an established leader of the Church, but also had the ability and means to make the best use of the official residence. In the following decade, before William Conyngham, 4th Baron Plunket, was translated to Dublin, Ardbraccan Palace and Park rose to their zenith as a dioscean centre. After his time they were found to be beyond the means of the Diocese to maintain and were sold to a son of the Rt. Honorable. Hugh Law, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Today ( the 1960s ) they belong to Lt. Col. O. H. L. Foster grandson of the purchaser.

Bishop Plunket loked on the residence in Ardbraccan as an advantage, in that it was only a two hour rail journey from Dublin, where it would be possible for him to live part of the year. Though he retained his town residence ( now the Clergy Daughters' School ) he entertained lavishly at Ardbraccan and opened his house freely for concerts and other gatherings. In fact, " The Great Ardbraccan Bazaar " became quite a famous institution. When the Bishop held ordinations in the nearby Church, the candidates were housed in one of the side annexes to the residence which became known as " the Batchelors Wing ". Lord and Lady Plunkett loved flowers and laid out many new flower beds in the gardens, while every window had its flowerbox. The house was capable of giving bedroom accomodation to 61 people and was completely filled for some of the house parties, which included guests distinguished in many walks of life.

Bishop Charles Parsons Reichel. 1885 to 1894

Bishop Joseph Ferguson Peacocke. 1894 to 1897

Bishop James Bennett Keene. 1897 to 1919

Bishops Reichel and Peacocke lived mostly in Dublin and when Ardbraccan Rectory became the See House, - named Bishopcourt, after a former episcopal estate in Ballymote Parish, Westmeath - Bishop Keene lived there for a few years before succumbing to the attractions of Dublin.

The following news item was not part of Canon Ellison's article.

The Times, 8 Sept 1897 : Rev. Canon Keane.

A singular situation has arisen in connection with the recent election to the bishoprich of Meath. The only name put on the select list at the meeting of the joint synods was that of Rev. Canon Keane, rector of Navan, but as the statute requires that there should be a majority of two thirds of each order to make a valid election, and he failed to obtain two thirds of the lay votes, the synod could not elect him.... A meeting of the Bishops was appointed for Friday next to make their choice.

Bishop Collins. The Times, 5 Feb 1926. New Bishop of Meath.

The Diocesan Synod of Meath at a special meeting held in Dublin yesterday, elected the Very Rev. Thomas Gibson George Collins, Dean of Belfast, as successor to the Hon. B.J. Plunkett, D.D., in the Bishoprich of Meath.

The new bishop is a distinguished graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained the Primate's Hebrew prize, Archbishop King's Divinity prize, and a first class in the Divinity testimonium examination. He was ordained in 1906 to the curacy of Maralin, and after holding the incumbencies of Drumgath (Rathfriland) and Warrenpoint was made rector of St. James, Belfast in 1910. In 1919 he was appointed Vicar and Dean of St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. The Bishop of Meath is the premier bishop of Ireland and is entitled like the two archbishops, "Most Reverend". There is no cathedral, and the bishop lives at Navan. The diocese which includes the whole of Meath, a great part of Westmeath, and parts of Kings County, Cavan, Longford, and Galway, is co-extensive with the ancient Kingdom of Meath before the conquest of Ireland by the Normans. The population is under 10,000, and the number of clergy is about 70.


1955, the year which saw St. Patrick's Church, Trim, solemnly hallowed as the Diosesan Cathedral, marked also - with the disposal of Bishopcourt - the end of the long residential connection of the Bishops of Meath with Ardbraccan.

Scholars and Tutors

When Bishop Maxwell built the house the profession of a pedagogue was poorly paid and considered to be reserved for the lowest of the lower middle class. Yet from this time the importance of the teaching profession has never ceased to grow, and ironically most of the Bishops who lived at Ardbraccan have been eminent scholars or educationalists.

Lord Plunkett, being a Baron, managed to outdo them all. His statue stands stiffly, book in hand, in Kildare Place, Dublin, outside the Teachers' Training College which he played such a large part in founding. And as the College in moving to Rathmines Castle, we may hope that the statue will be moved too. A castle is a fit location for a baron.

Archdeacon Thomas de Lacy

" There was an Archdeacon who said,

May I take off my gaiters for bed?

The Bishop said, No!

Wherever you go,

You must wear them until you are dead".

Archdeacon Thomas de Lacy was a nephew of Bishop O'Beirne and like him started life as a Roman Catholic. He was an ardent huntsman and apparently in the habit of doffing the gaiters in favour of jodhpurs, or whatever kind of nether garments horsemen wore in the early 19th century, when clerical Nimrods wore black collars on their red coats. The story is told of how he was hoaxed one day while out with the hounds near Kells. Receiving a message that one of his elderly parishioners lay dying, he galloped home to the Archdeaconry ( his official residence ), changed into correct archdiaconical costume and hurried to the old lady's house, only to find that she was fit and well. What he said is best left to the imagination, with the exception of the lament, "Diem perdidi, my race is over!" His fondness for the chase made him very popular with the country folk, if we can believe the yarn quoted by Dr. Stokes in his 2nd Lecture on "Ireland and the Anglo Norman Church", ( still on the divinity course? ). It seem that one day de Lacy had a bad fall while jumping a very stiff hedge and was found lying senseless beside his horse. " There you lie " cried one of the on lookers, thinking him dead, "And if ever an Archdeacon gets to heaven, you will have a good chance of being found there". Dr. Stokes cites this remark to show the long survival of the arguements of the mediaeval causists on the knotty problem of whether an archdeacon, in view of the peculiar habits and temptations of his office, could possibly be saved.

Gerald, Archdeacon of Brecknock in Wales, the famous chronicler and reformer of the Welsh and Irish Churches, got the job simply by pointing out that the incumbent thereof had a wife, which, though not uncommon, was strictly against the rules. His word about the hazards of authorship seem to be still terribly up to date. - " to write books and especially to strike out new thoughts, is a perilous thing today as in the past; and it exposeth us on all sides to the calumnious detraction of the environs".

In 1799 we find Thomas de Lacy in residence at his uncle's Palace in Ardbraccan, " for reasons your Lordship is acquainted with". This must be the writer's excuse for turning him into an Ardbraccan Anecdote! At home in the Archdeaconry he ran a stud and a kind of private zoo, which included a zebra! O'Connell is said to have read out the list of his auctioned property in the House of Commons as an illustration of the need to disestablish the Church. Maybe he was the Archdeacon referred to in Dr. Brooke's "Recollections of the Irish Church ", who kept a pack of harriers, and on seeing one of his curates in the field accused him of being a " Gallio " (i.e. of neglecting his duties. Acts xvii 17 ). The curate was equal to the occasion and retorted by calling the Archdeacon a "Tally - Ho "

Thomas de Lacy was married to a Scottish lady, whose mother was a great friend of the famous Admirals, Nelson and Collingwood, and we find him officiating at a fashionable wedding in Florence and mixing with Dukes and Duchesses. But we must keep to our subject and close by remarking that he presented an organ to Kells Church, and ( so 'tis said ) a bell to his fellow seminarian, Fr. John Sheridan, P.P. Carnaross, for his new church in 1826.


The neighbourhood of Ardbraccan is one of the cradles of organised fox hunting in County Meath for in the mid 18th century Wallers of Allenstown, as well as other local landowners, such as Nicholson, Gerrard, Pollock, and Hopkins, maintained private packs. They were a hardy race, keeping vigil outside the well known earths, before break of day on freezing winter mornings in order to give chase to Reynard when he arrived home. Often they were forced to dismount and continue the chase on foot, for much of the Meath countryside was not as well drained then as now.

In 1816 the scattered country packs amalgamated to form " The Clongills ", the hounds being kennelled in the old castle of that name. The original patrons were Christopher Nicholson, William Waller, John Gerrard, A.H.C. Pollock, C.A.Tisdall, Wm. Cruise, Robert Longfield, John Payne Garnett, Andrew Cruise, George Everard, Henry Pendleton and Hamlet Garnett. Waller managed the pack for 14 years, until it was removed to Mitchelstown near Athboy, under the mastership of Hopkins and became known as " The Meath Hounds ".  Many names still well known in the diocese have been among the pack's supporters. In the 1870s they hunted five days a week and the pack consisted of seventy couple of hounds.

We may recall the names of some of the early Masters of the Meath Hounds, such as

Sir Charles Dillon.

T.B. Thompson 1836 - 1839.

James Noble Waller 1839 -1841.

John Tisdall.

John Pollock and Thomas Rothwell -jointly- 1844 -1845.

Trench Nugent 1845 - 1852.

S.A. Reynell 1852 -1872.

"No man ever did more to promote the interest of foxhunters in Ireland than Mr. Sam Reynell", who was also one of the principal founders of the Westmeath Hounds, as he kept a pack at Killynon from 1842. This lapses about 1848 and for a few years Westmeath territory was hunted by Eastmeath hounds on occasions until Sir Richard Levinge revived the Westmeaths in 1853. No doubt some of the field wished that they had the speed and endurance of the pack, especially on such days, long remembered and recorded in verse, as 16th December 1840. On that day the Meaths hunted from Somerville House past Tara and Dunsany to Summerhill, 22 statute miles over flooded country in two hours and twenty minutes. And at the end, the fox having gained its chosen refuge, there was not a hound wanting of the 17 couple out, but only a few were left of a hundred riders!

( J.N. Waller -Master, R.Hopkins, H. Coddington, J. Pollock, R. Chaloner, F. Smith, R. Smith, H. Lyons, Montgomery, Somerville, H. Packenham, Ford, S. Garnett Jun, Harry Willnow - Huntsman and Pat Carty - Whip.)

St. Ultans

The present church was erected in the 1770s on the site of the splendid Norman structure, of which only the fine medieval tower now survives, standing in isolation a few yards to the east. The shingled spire was added at the time of the rebuilding - a costly and unnecessary addition needing constant painting. The rather grand design by D.B ( Daniel Beaufort ? ), preserved in the Church but never executed, provided for an imposing new tower and spire at the west end 100 feet high. The Vestry minutes record the thanks of the people to Bishop Maxwell for his generous contributions and assistance in rebuilding the Church and donating Plate, Books, Communion and Pulpit Cloths and sundry other matters.

Galleries were added, to accomodate an increasing congregation in the 1820s. Paid sextons and ringers are an almost extinct race today, but the Church must have owed much to their to their faithful services in the past. So we hereby pay our humble tribute to their memory by noting that Anne Lyons, widow, was Sextoness and Bellringer of Ardbraccan for many years after the rebuilding. The Vestry provided her with a cloak, costing 16 shillings 3 pence in 1794, " to be worn on Sundays and Holy Day only, which she promises to keep in decent repair for 7 years". In fact she did better, for a new one was not needed until 1808, when the cost was a guinea. We grumble today about inflation, yet the fall in the value of money began at least as long ago as the Wars of Napolean. Mrs. Lyons was granted a gratiuty of a guinea to augment her salary of £1 per year in 1801, " on account of the present very high price of provisions ..." Even the coinage was debased at that time and counterfeit coins and notes were circulated in large numbers. The Ardbraccan accounts show a loss of over £21 on bad silver, when the government clamped down in 1804. The same ban almost caused serious riots in Trim ( then, as now, a bakery centre ) because the people could not buy bread for several days.

As in most Georgian Churches the seats in St. Ultan's were massive horse box affairs facing one another across the aisle. In the centre, on the north side, stood the Bishop's Throne. It was covered in red cloth and surrounded by his family pew. Over it was a canopy, which someone rather ungraciously described as being like the top of a shower bath! Opposite was the usual three decker desk to accomodate the clergy and clerk. The celebrated Bishop Willaim Reeves liked to tell the story of how on one occasion, soon after Bishop Stopford came to Ardbraccan, the Rector ( Henry Packenham, brother in law of the Duke of Wellington ) gave out the Lesson for the Sunday in place of that for the Holy Day, which took precedence. The Bishop corrected him from the throne. The Rector, very red in the face, was about to argue the point, but his judicious Curate, Michael Egan, " whose face was red by nature or acquisition, pulled him down by main force and saved a scene, for which act of brawling in Church the Rector was profoundly grateful."

The Synodical Seal of the Diocese of Meath

Michael Egan, managed to be for many years Incumbent of Kilnegarenagh ( now usually known as Liss ) at the other end of the Diocese, and also Deputy Registrar. Bishop Reeves, when investigating the antiquities of Meath in 1849, was shown the 13th century synodical seal by Mr. Egan, who had charge of it in the Registry Office in Navan. The Bishop remarks that he was a very red faced man. Later the Bishop had the seal in his possession for some weeks, when it was being transfered from C.P. Reichel to Garrett Nugent in 1882. About that time it vanished and has not been seen since. The impression of the seal, which is the insignia of the Friend's of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trim, has in the upper half a haloed figure bearing a book - perhaps an angel delivering a message to the five people in the lower half, who stand under an arched canopy. In the centre arch there is an object, sometimes called a lamp, but which Bishop Reeves considers to be a chalice.

Maria Edgeworth and Ardbraccan

This is an incident related by Dr. Brooke in his "Recollections of the Irish Church, 2nd series." He recalls how he twice met Maria Edgeworth, the famous novelist, at Ardbraccan in 1818. In the summer he sat next to her at the Bishop's table, and describes her as "a little old lady ... in her 79th year, without anything remarkable in feature or face - save an expression of great intelligence and vivacity." In the winter he met her again at a wedding, and writes " she was full of life and gaiety ". During the signing of the registers " she commenced a fit of drollery and wit and chaffing, which set us all a laughing, upon which the good Bishop put his head out of the vestry door and said 'what's all this noise in the church ?' Answer - ' It is Miss Edgeworth, my Lord '. Bishop in a serio comic tone, ' Miss Edgeworth, I shall be obliged to indict you for brawling in church! ' Miss E... with an amused voice, ' Oh, I fear I shall get into trouble and ecclesiastical censure, I must be on my good behaviour her I see'. She died the following May.

It is good to see that an Edgeworth Society has been founded in our neighbour Diocese of Ardagh and that an Edgeworth collection is to be housed in the town to which this immigrant yet very patriotic family gave its name.

Richard Moore, Rector of Ardbraccan 1780 to 1818

Richard Moore was Rector of Ardbraccan for 38 years from 1780 and must have been the first occupant of the Rectory, which later became known as the episcopal residence, Bishopcourt, and is now the Holy Ghost Brothers Novitiate. A man of learning, he was a King's Scholar of Westminister and a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge. Appointed first to Ballygarth and then to Clonmacduff, he moved to Ardbraccan when Clonmacduff and other nearby parishes were grouped with it in 1780. In 1776 he had become Dean of Emly, a small ancient Diocese in Tipperary, long ago swallowed up by Cashel, but until Disestablishment still bestowing its dignities upon " push and pull " clerics.

Dean Moore was in the habit of visiting the mixed schools of Ardbraccan, examining both Protestant and Roman Catholic children and awarding prizes for superior answering. The Church of Ireland ones were examined on the Church Cathechism and the Catholics on that of their Bishop, Dr. Plunkett.

In summer the catechising of the latter was conducted in the Churchyard, where a flat stone made a convenient seat for the Dean. In his " Diocese of Meath; Ancient and Modern",  Dean Cogan remarks dryly that there was one chapter that he invariably omitted - " The marks of the True Church ".

Dean Moore was on terms of intimate friendship with Fr. Michael Branagan who like himself was a scholar. Born in Slane, Fr. Branagan was in charge of the parishes of Ardbraccan and Cortown for 54 years and was in the habit of reading the Gospel and preaching both in Irish and English. He outlived the Dean by 20 years and their mortal remains rest side by side in the Churchyard where both had so often officiated. It is pleasant to recall that in an age of controversy, often bitter and bigoted, the spirit of Christian charity often prevailed over sectarian divisions. It is said that Fr. Branagan was also on good terms with Bishop O'Beirne ( "the unfortunate Dr. O'Beirne " as Cogan terms him ) with whom he had been at college in France. But as the controversial pamphlets of the time show he gave as good as he got in the wordy warfare over " The One True Church ".

In his later years Dean Moore became somewhat odd and lived the life of a bachelor recluse. Though no poor person was turned away from his door empty handed, no visitor was allowed in the house, where he was attended by a solitary manservant. He passed his days walking in his grounds or bathing in the lake near the house, on which he had a raft of his own making, named "The Glory of Mount Pleasant ". As a visitor to Ardbraccan at the time remarked, " This gentleman is really an original".

Archdeacon Henry Pakenham, Ardbraccan

Dean Moore's successor at Ardbraccan also looked to Emly Diocese to provide him with an ecclesiastical title. He was the Honorable Henry Pakenham, 5th son of the 2nd Baron Longford, and brother in law of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Like his predeccessor, a Cambridge man, he resided at Ardbraccan for 25 years, for 20 of which he was Archdeacon of Emly. Appointed to the Deanery of St. Patrick's, Dublin, in 1843, he was at the same time, as provided by the Church Temporalities Act, Dean of Christ Church - in fact a double barrelled Dean!

Apparently it was he who built on the large drawingroom at Bishopscourt, for the benefit of his ailing wife. Bishop Stopford remarked that he found the air of this room as good and healthful to her as he get by travelling abroad. The same motive caused him on moving to Dublin, to reside in Merrion Square and later in Harcourt Street. Besides, he declared that St. Patrick's Deanery was half staircase, and not adequate for his large family. Bishop Stopford much regretted Pakenham's removal to Dublin, and paid tribute to him as " a most excellent clergyman and amiable man, who labours very hard with his people."

Ardbraccan Memorials

"There be of them that have left a name behind them to declare their praises, and some there be which have no memorial." ( Ecclesiasticus chapter XLIV.) At Ardbraccan can be seen the memorials of a number of the Bishops of Meath, who once resided here. In the Montgomery vault near the medieval tower, and once perhaps within the precincts of the old church, lie also the mortal remains of Bishops Maule, Pocock, and O'Beirne. Bishop Maule is said to have restored the monuments over it in 1750. The old church was at this time in a state of decay, " a great part of its buildings being demolished," as we are told by Isaac Butler, who came here in the early 1740s. " In ye church of Ardbraccan on ye side of ye steeple stands ye remains of a decayed monument of grit stone, consisting of three compartments." The carved Holy Communion Table was given in memory of Bishop Collins by the clergy and laity of the Diocese.

Among the other memorials are the Brownlow reading desk and pulpit and a mural tablet to Robert Thompson of Oatlands, author of the well known " Statistical Survey of County Meath " who died " in the bloom of life, 17th, May 1813, aged 41."

Another tablet recalls the troubled days of the Defender Movement, which preceded the 1798 Rising. It bears the name of the Rev. Thomas Butler, Rector of Clongill and Curate of Ardbraccan. He was Bishop Maxwell's chaplin and was shot and mortally wounded at the back gate of the episcopal demesne on the night of 24th October 1793.

Regarding the Brownlow memorials, we quote, the reporter of the Irish Ecclestiastical Gazette, - " We are glad to be able to announce the completion of a very elaborate memorial pulpit and reading desk to the memory of the late lamented Dean Brownlow, which are now on view at the establishment of C.W. Harrison, 178 Great Brunswick Street. Both are composed of finely wrought Caen stone, with highly polished marble columns of various colours; the caps, panels and all other decorations being richly carved in natural foliage, all in bold relief. Both pulpit and reading desk are simply beautiful, and as a work of art form a splendid specimen, of which the sculptor to whom the execution of the contract was entrusted may feel justly proud. Mr. Harrison informs us the memorial will remain on view for a few days longer."

Above the pulpit was erected a brass plate, inscribed " To the Glory of God and in loving memory of John Brownlow, Dean of Clonmacnoise and Rector of this Parish, who died May 24th, 1882, this Pulpit and Reading Desk are erected by those among whom he earnestly laboured for 39 years and by many other friends." " He being dead yet speaketh ".

An inscription on the west end reads, " Edward Stopford, Bishop of Meath ". Stopford was a man of many parts and one of the most influential leaders of opinion in the years before Disestablishment. Dr. R. B. McDowell has lately published a shory biography of his daughter Alice Stopford Green, who in her many historical writings passionately expoused the cause of Irish Nationalism.

Archdeacon Stopford, wrote Dr. Brooke, was in Church affairs an oracle, only " unlike that of Delphi, he never returned doubtful answers." He was a good mechanic, had built steam carriages and bound his own folios. The great bridge builder Brunel is reputed to have said that he wished the Archdeacon had been an engineer. Stopford even printed a scheme for building in London large blocks of flats for the workers. Such was the man whom his father directed to attend the meetings of the Meath Clerical in order that " the Society may thus be made useful"!

Ardbraccan Anecdotes continued.